"Zombie Prom" at Marietta Theatre Company, October 18, 2019 - November 02, 2019
Since the site is not allowing the posting of reviews in its normal place, the backlog of my reviews will be going to the forum
Title: More Dead Than Undead
It’s a bad sign when the lighting scheme starts with house lights off, turning on five minutes before the show, then off for one row, then on as the lights for the show come up, then eventually off. It’s a worse sign when the sound for the show starts with static, then a bit of music, then nothing, with the sequence repeating multiple times until the director gets up from his seat in the audience and goes backstage to correct it. And when the plot starts out as thin as a noodle, the songs are repetitious pop melodies, the harmonies are marginal at best, the acting is broad to the point of being grotesque, and the choreography seems slapdash, hopes for an above-average evening of entertainment are dashed.
At least the second act redeems the show, with a couple of good numbers, plot points that actually move the story along, and a palpable energy from the cast that brings the show to a close.
The set design by Blaine and Mike Clotfelter features a corner two-step platform backed by a wall containing a single door. To its right is a brick wall with "Enrico Fermi High" written on high and fallout shelter signs below. To its left is a bank of school lockers. The stage level floor is used extensively. It’s a workable set, although Blaine Clotfelter’s blocking occasionally has actors sit on the floor, which blocks them from view of people in upper seats in the auditorium.
Maddie Fay’s lighting also impacts visibility. Her design attempts to light different portions of the stage as people move from one space to another, but there are some permanent dim spots onstage throughout. The complexity of the lighting design seems to have trumped the basic concept of letting the audience see the actors.
Aside from the glitches at the start of the show, Gamble’s sound design is quite good. The pre-recorded tracks of the score come through sounding great. Gamble’s music direction is not great otherwise, resulting in uneven vocal performances. The actors wear head mics, but they don’t seem to have much effect. When one fell off a singer’s face at the performance I attended, no change in his volume was detectable.
Props and costumes are effective, with a nice pair of matching leather jackets for zombie Jonny (the personable Parker Ossmann) and a teddy bear. Posters on the walls give a nice 50s high school feel. Even there, though, the adhesive holding them sometimes gives way. At the performance I attended, the director and stage crew wandered back and forth across the stage at intermission, totally oblivious to the poster peeling off the back wall. In the second act, a cast member unobtrusively pasted it back to the wall.
JT Butler’s choreography doesn’t seem terribly complex, yet isn’t terribly well-performed by the cast. There’s a lot of not-quite-synchronized movement. At least the dances are performed with energy.
Energy is one thing that is not lacking in this production. Mr. Clotfelter seems to have encouraged his cast to be broad and loud at every opportunity. In the case of Jillian Melko, who plays the school principal, her performance verges on the manic and grotesque. Everyone else seems to be attempting to reach her level of intensity, with various levels of success.
The one true highlight of the show is the singing voice of Avani Lesane, who plays the female lead. Others are better actors, with Chase Ainsworth doing a nice job as a sleazy reporter, but no one’s voice equals Ms. Lesane’s. But one good voice does not a production make.
"Zombie Prom" has likeably bouncy musical numbers, only some of which truly advance the action. Others act like pop tunes with repeating lyrics. It’s all on the same level of nearly mindless entertainment that the production strives for. It’s a cute idea perfunctorily written and not particularly well performed by Marietta Theatre Company.