Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Camp show a hoot at UW-Manitowoc

‘Zombie Prom: The Musical'

MANITOWOC, Wis. - The strength of the love of a teenage girl brings back her nuked and quite dead boyfriend from his lead coffin in the bottom of the ocean. Couldn’t happen? Could. It’s in “Zombie Prom: The Musical,” which speaks the truth as only camp humor can do.

The show is running through March 26 as a community-campus production of University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc Theatre. It’s not the slickest production on Earth, but, boy is it fun.

The thing is end-to-end humor set to mostly rock music. Rock musicals tend to have a loose-limbed feel to them, and this one does as it plays with not only songs of the 1950s flavor but life in that era, too.

***

Running time: One hour, 57 minutes

Remaining performances: 2 p.m. March 19, 26; 7:30 p.m. March 23, 24, 25

Info: manitowoc.uwc.edu/event/public-promotional-event/zombie-prom-musical

Creative: Based on a story by John Dempsey and Hugh Murphy: music – Dana P. Rowe; book and lyrics – John Dempsey; director – Michael Sheeks; music director – Erin Renae LaFond; assistant director – Hannah Otto; choreographer – Shannon Wadzinski; scenic design – Michael Sheeks; costume design – Claran LaViolette; sound design – Dylan Singh Grewal; lighting design – Derek Frenz; technical director – Jeff LaFond; properties – Haley Rettinger; make-up – Emily Rae Curran; stage manager – Frank Salzberg

Cast: Toffee – Sam Gretz; Jonny – Sean Stalvey; Delilah Strict – Tessa Komorowski; Eddie Flagrante – Phillip Jindra; Mr. Von Scheer, Motorwise Guy – Avery Anhalt; Jake – Cole Becka; Joey – Drake Hanson; Miss Barbara Beech, TV Stage Manager – Lisa Heili; Violet, Sheila – Beth Iannietello; Ginger – Ali Juul; Albert – Joe Krizek; The Bearded Teacher, Dad, Motorwise Guy – Jeff LaFond; Josh – Sam Schoepp; Paprika, Secretary – Katie Jo Shimulunas; Parsley, Secretary – Brittieny Simmer; Petunia, Ramona – Zoe Valitchka; Candy – Shannon Wadzinski; Coco – Cassie Wanek

Orchestra: Guitar and bass – Keith Krumich; keyboard – Erin Renae LaFond; synthesizer – Matt Troyer; drums – Aaron Zommers

***

The comical history stuff starts with the setting: Enrico Fermi High School. Fermi built the first nuclear reactor.

The world was nuts about atomic this and that in the 1950s – both fascinated and afraid. Soon after the story in the show starts, there is a school drill with students taking shelter under desks in event of an enemy nuclear attack. This is kind of a joke in the show, but scarifying drills did happen (I was there). Under a desk during a drill is where the show’s sweethearts meet in a case of love at first sight. Toffee (Sam Gretz) is a math whiz, and Jonny (Sean Stalvey) is the new kid in school who is automatically labeled a rebel because he wears a leather jacket and his name on the back of it fully reveals his nonconformist threat: No “H.” For the principal, Miss Strick (Tessa Komorowski), there will be ell to pay for that.

The show is chockful of subtle and blatant jokes. A few:

+ All the girls tend to be named for something edible. Along with Toffee are Ginger, Coco, Paprika, Parsley and Candy.

+ Main backdrops are displays of the Periodic Table of Elements from science. Upon close look, the elements are mixed up, and some of them have fanciful names.

+ After Toffee and Jonny fall in love and swear to be together forever, Toffee’s parents reject the rebel Jonny and tell Toffee to dump him. When Toffee does, Jonny commits suicide by throwing him into a nuclear dump named for Francis Gary Powers (the spy plane pilot from history).

Suddenly, Toffee is without her sure date for the prom, which has the “cool” theme of “An Evening of Miracles and Molecules.” For the kids around Toffee, the prom is of supreme importance. They tell her to get over Jonny and focus on the prom. After all, “He’s only dead,” one says.

+ Dark humor rolls throughout the show. Some of it is visible: Some scenes have characters creeping about like nuked souls, all gnarly as they move. When Jonny arrives back from the dead, he is greenish of face, blood streaming on the sides of his head and his clothes all a tatter; later at the prom, he still has the same facial look but now he wears a garish tuxedo.

+ An aggressive reporter for a sensational magazine, Exposé, factors into the action. History-jokes with him include Richard M. Nixon being of unimpeachable reputation and J. Edgar Hoover (the FBI chief) being of sterling reputation. When the reporter, Eddie Flagrante (Phillip Jindra) gets his claws on the Jonny story, all kinds of craziness starts cooking. One of his story takes is “Atomic Adolescent Angst.” Eddie Flagrante shows up with a TV crew and interviews Jonny for national broadcast. When Toffee is asked if she saw Jonny on TV, she says, of course she did, “He was on all three channels.” That’s a ’50s TV joke; at the time, there were only three television stations in this area (hard to believe for kids today).

+ Another joke: Toffee shows up to the prom wearing widow’s black.

+ A ’50s dark humor joke: In a TV commercial, cigarettes are virtuous and cost five cents a pack. The girl in the live TV ad ends her pitch with a cough.

+ Another joke: When a girlfriend tells Toffee she’s got to get on with her life, she adds this: “You’re not a girl anymore. You’re a senior.”

+ Camp, camp, camp – this thing is Camp Bizarre from the get go. The opening obligatory announcements sound like they’re coming over a scratchy school p.a. system. Among usual things – like not to take pictures – is shtick about a space-age device so foul that audience members with them, the principal says, should “destroy them when you get home.” That is the i-Phone, of course.

There is so much fun to be had all over the place that the cast takes to this show and adds personality and personal touches. Director Michael Sheeks and his creative collaborators help put spirit into the show.

Saturday’s performance opened with vocal sourness that faded as the performance went on; pre-show warming up may be in order. Also, enunciation throughout the players should be a focus because a bundle of the numerous jokes were lost along the way – stuff likely too good to miss.

Songs in the show are designed to be of the “Leader the Pack” variety, with a lot of rhythm action and melodrama. But there are variations, like a gospel touch. Notably, there’s an opera-like trio in which three singers sing what’s going on in the mind of his or her character, and it’s something completely different than the other two… and all end with the same words. Delivering that are Phillip Jindra (the reporter), Tess Komorowski (the principal) and Sean Stalvey (ghoul Jonny) in “Case Closed,” ending Act I with !!!!!!! – exclamation points.

Jindra and Komorowski also deliver an exclamation point in a comic-romanticized dance number, “Exposé,” when he takes a running leap into her arms.

The show is billed as family friendly. Kids may not get all the jokes, but the humor is broad and visual enough and clean, if dark, that they could tag along and enjoy hearing their parents laugh out loud.

***

Musical numbers

Act I

“Enrico Fermi High” – Toffee, Jonny, Jake, Kids and Miss Strict
“Ain’t No Goin’ Back” – Toffee, Jonny and Kids
“Jonny Don’t Go” – Toffee and Girls
“Good as It Gets” – Toffee and Kids
“The C Word” – Toffee, Jonny, Ginger, Coco, Candy, Jake, Joey, Josh
“Rules, Regulations and Respect” – Miss Strict and Kids
“Blast from the Past” – Jonny and Kids
“That’s the Beat for Me” – Eddie, Secretaries and Copy Boys
“The Voice in the Ocean” – Jonny and Toffee
“It’s Alive” – Jonny, Miss Strict and Kids
“Where Do We Go from Here?” – Jonny, Toffee and Kids
“Case Closed” – Eddie, Miss Strict and Jonny

Act II
“Then Came Jonny” – Miss Strict, Jonny, Toffee and Kids
“Come Join Us” – Ramona Merengue, Eddie and Jonny
“How Can I Say Good-Bye?” – Jonny and Motorwise Guys
“Easy to Say” – Toffee and Girls
“Exposé” – Eddie and Miss Strict
“Isn’t It?” – Kids
“Forbidden Love” – Toffee, Jonny and Kids
“The Lid’s Been Blown” – Eddie, Miss Strict and Kids
“Delilah’s Confession” – Miss Strict
“Zombie Prom” – Full Company

***

NEXT: “The Last Five Years,” April 6-8

THE VENUE: Opened in 2001 as part of Lakeside Hall, University Theatre on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc is a handsome space seating approximately 300. The space has a wide-angle feel. Gray is one prominent color; it’s in squares of acoustical material in the ceiling and on the side and rear walls. Wood, chiefly light toned, also is prominent in areas of framework and on the front of the raised stage. The stage is a hybrid; while it has proscenium (flat-front), a space in front of that bellies out toward the seating area. The seats are of a metallic blue-gray material with black hard plastic backs. Aisle carpeting is taupe with a thick barb wire pattern in white running through. Along with a main seating area, there are sets of box seats with nine seats on both sides near the front. Leg room is super-ample. Overall look: Inviting. Lakeside Hall is a literal name. Lake Michigan is a few hundred yards away.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays.


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