Don't miss the fun at this campy musical running through Aug. 5 at TheatreWorks New Milford.
I'm a blast from the past.
I'm a force for the future.
A teen-age zombie, an acquired taste,
Oxy-clear and toxic waste.
I'm a blast, blast, blast --
From the all too recent past! - Jonny in 'Zombie Prom'
New Milford, CT - Matt Austin is a local actor ('Boeing, Boeing,' 'Bell, Book & Candle,') director ('The Lyons,') improvisor ('17 Debacles,') writer and Western CT State University graduate. He is also a self-confessed theater nerd particularly obsessed with shows that are campy with a weird subject matter like 'Little Shop,' and 'Bat Boy.' As a young child, he fell in love with the original cast recording of an Off-Broadway show called 'Zombie Prom' and was clearly delighted to serve as director for this quirky (and very funny) musical comedy currently running at TheatreWorks New Milford.
"While this show is fun and silliness in its purest form, it has an underlying message of acceptance. Acceptance of someone/something that is different from us. In an uncertain world, all we have is each other and we must embrace that," writes the director/set designer/sound designer. While all of that "socio-political stuff" is embedded in 'Zombie Prom,' the show is fun in its purest form and I enjoyed every minute of it.
The musical with book and lyrics by John Dempsey and original rock and roll music by Dana P. Rowe takes place in the nuclear 1950s at Enrico Fermi HS where the law is laid down by a zany, tyrannical principal Miss Delilah Strict (played by the inimitable Jody Bayer.) Pretty senior girl Toffee falls for the class bad boy named Jonny (with no "h.") When she bows to pressure and ends the romance, he charges off on his motorcycle to the nuclear waste dump. He returns as a "Blast from the Past" in a glowing shade of green, determined to win back Toffee's heart and graduate from high school. The rocking musical numbers in the style of the 50s drive the story and laughs keep coming in this not-at-all-scary girl-loves-ghoul production.
The young cast of the TheatreWorks production embraced the fifties vibe, an era that was well before their time. Tommy Ovitt, a senior Theatre Arts Performance major at WCSU where he has appeared in 'The Snow Queen,' 'The Cat in the Hat,' and 'Violet,' was the ever-earnest Jonny before and after turning green. I have watched WCSU Musical Theater major Lexi Tobi grow up on local stages. She was Gertrude in the very first NewArts production of 'Seussical,' played Libby Smith in 'Liberty Smith and Minnie Fay in Richter's 'Hello, Dolly!' Now I get to see her honing her craft at the university (where she recently appeared in the ensemble of the award-winning 'The Drowsy Chaperone.') I loved watching her embrace the role of a teenager in love as Toffee.
Triple threat Dana Wilton was able to shine in her TW debut in the role of Coco and Ramona Merengue; Ms. Wilton, a St. Paul Catholic grad who is a rising sophomore musical theater major at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, has been performing since the age of five. Sydney Coelho, a recent grad of Hofstra with a BA in music education who I remembered as Little Red in 'Into the Woods,' was adorable as the nervous Candy and WCSU Performing Arts major Erin Shaughnessy ('Veronica's Room' at LCT, 'Time Stands Still' and 'Boeing, Boeing' at TW) made me smile often as the bespectacled Ginger. The girls all also played secretaries to the scandal reporter Eddie Flagrante played well by Stephen Dirocco in his TheatreWorks debut. He and Ms. Bayer nailed the physical comedy in "Expose" at the green drenched prom and I was relieved to see that the adult members of the cast were able to hold their own with the very talented younger performers.
The high school boys were played by WCSU Musical Theatre sophomore Dominick Ventrella as Jake, Karl Hinger ('Dog Sees God' at Vagabond Theatre) as Josh and WCSU grad Richard Frey in his TW debut as Joey.
Mr. Austin owes a huge debt of gratitude to choreographer Jenny Schuck ('Bell, Book & Candle') for the excellent dancing that accompanied many of the musical numbers; the choreography brought each one to the next level. Costumes designed by Meg Jones and rented from DB Productions said 50s without a poodle on every skirt. The set painted in black and yellow evoked the nuclear theme and was lit well by Peter Petrino. Although not everyone wore a microphone, I only missed a few lines and the singing was well-balanced. The fabulous band that sat on the upper level of the set included musical director Anna De Masi on piano, Tom Kean on guitar, Jeff Morro on bass and Bob Kogut on drums.
TheatreWorks New Milford is celebrating 50 years. 'Zombie Prom' runs just under two hours (and not six hours, as the director joked in his curtain speech) and is presented without intermission; the fun production continues through Aug. 5.