Taylor Torsky, Cody Foster, & Chris Meier. Image: Clarksville Little Theatre
Music by Dana P. Rowe, Book & Lyrics by John Dempsey
Directed by Rebecca & Neil Brewer
Musical Direction by Johannes Visser
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
After the United States dropped two atomic bombs in 1945 the unnatural power of nuclear energy fueled the rise of a new sub-genre of horror films: radioactive mutants. It Came From Beneath The Sea, Them, Godzilla, are just a few examples. The resulting paranoia finding its way into popular culture expressed the reality that humankind had irrevocably perverted nature.
Zombies would not be common until the 1960s and sometimes a zombie was created by nuclear waste, sometimes not, so Zombie Prom is basically a kitschy satire of mid-20th century culture and teen romances in particular. Songs like “Jonny Don’t Go” evoke every good girl loves bad boy pop ballad you ever heard and the whole thing owes a good deal to Grease and Little Shop of Horrors with a dash of The Rocky Horror Show thrown in.
John Demsky’s book never rises to the wit and daring of those progenitors, but the score is pretty good, the design work is top-notch, and it boasts many good performances from an energetic ensemble. Valerie Webb makes for an adorable and winsome Toffee, who falls hard for leather-jacketed Jonny, sweetly played by Cody Foster. After Toffee is admonished by every adult authority figure for taking up with him, Jonny speeds off on his motorcycle and crashes into radioactive waste at a nearby nuclear power plant. If you think Jonny is truly deceased, I don’t want to say except that you probably aren’t buying a ticket for this show in the first place.
That an undead Jonny returns, prompting a student campaign to allow him to escort Toffee to the prom, could be read in 2020 as a plea for tolerance and inclusion that may not have been on the minds of the show’s creators, so make of that what you will. Mostly Zombie Prom is a harmless fun entry in a trend that can still offend many people. It never pushes the potential for social commentary in science fiction and satire as much as I would like, but it is great fun.
Besides the aforementioned leads, Taylor Torsky as Miss Strict, the school principal, dominates each scene in which she appears. Equipped with a strong and disciplined singing voice and stalking the stage with authoritative, stentorian movement, she drives this production to be it’s very best. Chris Meier as muck-raking reporter Eddie Flagrante is nearly her match (I’m not sure he is intended to be) and the first act closer, “Case Closed (Trio)” begins as a duet for the two that echoes “The Confrontation” between Javert and Valjean in Les Miserables.
As for the rest of the ensemble, the women playing the girls, and an adult or two when needed, were stronger than their capable male counterparts, with generally better voices and movement, working hard to carry off Rebecca Chaney’s ambitious choreography. There were especially impressive moments from Emily Grimany and Jaden Berry. And its always a cause for celebration when a group of musicians provides live accompaniment, and this quartet (Johannes Visser, Su Crocker, Ben Mosser, & Kevin Hines) was better than proficient, although there was some struggle opening night to achieve proper balance in volume levels between the music and the vocals. The cast sang well but this was a rare musical without microphones on the actors (so old school!) and the vocal projection was, unfortunately, inconsistent.
Zombie Prom feels like a small risk for Clarksville Little Theatre. Although it remains a family-friendly entertainment, Neil and Rebecca Brewer’s production pushes the envelope a bit from the traditional that we tend to expect from this company.
Featuring Seth Bard, Jaden Berry, Cody Foster, Emily Grimany, Kennedy Guyse, Ric Martin, Chris Meier, Mark Merk, Abby Napper, Terrence Thomas, Taylor Torsky, Valerie Webb, James Williams, & Ava Whitake
January 10, 11, 17 & 18 @ 8:00 pm
January 12 & 19 @ 2:00 pm
Clarksville Little Theatre
301 E Montgomery Ave
Clarksville, Indiana 47129-3237
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.