Review: ‘Zombie Prom’ at Unexpected Stage

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With Halloween drifting in the cool, autumn air, Zombie Prom, as directed by Unexpected Stage Company Co-Producing Director Christopher Goodrich, and with Book and Lyrics by John Dempsey, is a zany trip back in time to a 1950’s America replete with bomb shelters, broken hearts, and zombies.

Toffee (Julia Klavans), Jonny Warner (Will Hawkins), and company at the prom. Photo by Rachel Ellis.
Toffee (Julia Klavans), Jonny Warner (Will Hawkins), and company at the prom. Photo by Rachel Ellis.

Set in the aptly-named Enrico Fermi High School, and ruled by a hard-nosed principal, the story follows “good girl” Toffee who falls for the “bad boy” Jonny against (what else?) the fervent wishes of her family. Toffee and Jonny break up, and after Jonny apparently kills himself by driving his motorcycle into a nuclear waste dump, and being buried a sea, he shows up as a newly-minted glow-in-the-dark zombie.

The real stars of the show are  not only Julia Klavans as Toffee and Will Hawkins as Jonny, but the first-class choreography of Jane Rabinovitz. Klavans, who also served as the Dance Captain, and Rabinovitz ensured the show displayed dazzling dance moves throughout.

The opening number, “Enrico Fermi High,” featuring Toffee (Klavans), Jonny (Hawkins), Coco (Katie Culligan), Candy (the excellent Kelsey Painter, a Towson University graduate and Shakespeare veteran), Ginger (Stephanie Wilson), Josh (the fantastic Jordan Clark Halsey, an American University graduate), Jake (RJ Pavel), Joey (Philip da Costa) and the school principal Miss Strict (the spectacular Dallas Milholland), started the show off with a never-ending bundle of energy.

“Ain’t No Goin’ Back” by Toffee, Jonny, and the Kids (Coco, Candy, Ginger, Josh, Jake and Joey) moved the story along and Klavans sang a grand solo when she pleaded “Jonny Don’t Go.”

Klavans and the Kids showed spunk with “Good as It Gets” and Klavans and Hawkins and the Kids killed the “The C Word.” After a distraught Toffee opted out of the prom, “Rules, Regulation, Respect,” featured impressive hoofing and singing by Milholland, and the Kids.

Toffee, Jonny and the Kids reprised “Ain’t No Goin’ Back”, and when Hawkins, in impressive green makeup, appeared as a zombie, he and the Kids put on a “Blast From the Past,” which featured awesome zombie moves.

Principal Delilah Strict (Dallas Milholland – second from right) berates her students. Photo by Rachel Ellis.
Principal Delilah Strict (Dallas Milholland) and Eddie Flagrante (Joshua Simon). Photo by Rachel Ellis.

Joshua Simon brought a comically cynical air to his wise-cracking reporter character, Eddie Flagrante. “That’s the Beat for Me” was a jazzy number put on by Eddie, his Secretaries and Copy Boys (the same cast members as the aforementioned Kids). It was toe tappin’ and finger snappin’ good.

As the story moved on, the question was asked: Can love survive three weeks of being dead? A highlight of the show was Klavans and Hawkins’ wonderful duet “The Voice in the Ocean.”

Miss Strict, ever the tyrant, calls Jonny a cadaver and kicks him out of school, leading to “It’s Alive” by Jonny, Miss Strict and the Kids.“Where Do We Go From Here?” by sung by Hawkins, Jonny, Toffee and the Kids was toe-tappingly good. The very well sung “Case Close (Trio)” by Simon,  Milholland, and Hawkins closed out Act 1.

By the opening of Act 2, principal Strict, asserting her authority, had shut down all school activities. Miss Strict, Jonny, Toffee and the Kids open the second Act with “Then Came Jonny.”

“Come Join Us,” set up a TV interview of Jonny by Eddie, and was sung by the harmonizing Motorwise Gasoline Guys (Halsey, da Costa, and Pavel) and Eddie, with dancing by the exotic Ramona Merengue (the talented Stephanie Wilson). The Doo-wopish “How Can I Say Goodbye?” featured lush vocals by Hawkins and the Motorwise Guys.

Klavans delivered gorgeous vocals with her powerful rendition of “Easy to Say,” as she wondered what she would do when her dead ex-boyfriend asks her to the prom. Following a big reveal about Eddie and Miss Strict’s past, they performed “At the Dance” and the excellent, tango-infused “Expose,” replete with impressive tango maneuvers.

“Isn’t it?” by the Kids and “How Do You Stand on Dreams?” by Hawkins and Klavans as they moved the story toward a cheerful conclusion. “Forbidden Love” by Toffee, Jonny and Kids and “The Lid’s Been Blown” by Simon, Milholland, and the Kids were fantastic. The Company’s reprise of “Zombie” showed the same abundance of energy as the opening number.

The company of 'Zombie Prom.' Photo by Rachel Ellis.
The company of ‘Zombie Prom.’ Photo by Rachel Ellis.

Costume Designer Debra Leonard evoked the 1950s with her various outfits, particularly Jonny’s leather (or pleather?) jacket. William Fleming’s set was painted with vibrant color. Musical Director and Keyboardist Brandon Heishman, Percussionist Arielle Miller, Guitarist Robbie Taylor, and Assistant Music Director/Pianist Andrew Dias III kept the music flowing with their fine playing.

Zombie Prom is a fun, off-beat musical with an excellent singing and dancing cast. Do a sped-up zombie walk to the Randolph Road Theatre box office and buy some tickets. It’s a great Halloween gift!

Running Time: Two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

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Zombie Prom plays through October 30, 2016 at Unexpected Stage Company at Randolph Road Theatre – 4010 Randolph Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 337-8290, or purchase them online.

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