Zombie Prom, a goofy blend of teen romance, 1950s nuclear hysteria, and the supernatural, is the very definition of camp. The cast and creative team at Runway Theatre not only understand this important fact, they embrace it. By not taking themselves too seriously while simultaneously delivering everything they’ve got, Runway’s group presents a light-hearted musical comedy that’s scary good in its silliness.
With air raid drills punctuating their class schedules and the nuclear power plant looming in the distance, the students of Enrico Fermi High live in the shadow of potential disaster. But when there’s pep squad, baseball practice, and the senior prom to think about, why worry? Dreamy transfer student Jonny (Dustin Simington) meets and instantly falls in love with good girl Toffee (Dani Holway), and they spend a blissful senior year mooning over each other (exhibited through an adorable montage). But when Toffee’s parents forbid their daughter to date a rebel orphan from the wrong side of the tracks anymore, Toffee is forced to dump her beau. Utterly heartbroken, Jonny throws himself into the nuclear power plant and is buried at sea in a lead-lined coffin.
This being a fanciful musical, Jonny of course returns, thanks to Toffee’s everlasting love. All he wants to do is graduate and take his girl to the senior prom, but Principal Delilah Strict (Stephanie Felton) won’t bend the rules and allow a neon-green—and slightly gooey—zombie into her school. With the help of muckraking reporter Eddie Flagrante (Mikey Abrams), who sees front-page potential in the undead boy, Jonny starts a crusade for zombie rights.
Equal parts Grease and Aaah! Zombies!!, the musical relies on its core ensemble to provide commentary and humor. Faith Ann Jones, Emily Kate Hardy, and Lexi Salinas are a trio of giggly girls who are at first confused by Toffee’s faithfulness to Jonny but eventually get swept up in the romance. All three carve out distinct characters for themselves, and it’s almost as much fun to watch them as it is the main action.
Jason Villarreal, Ben Junot, and Rob Pounds round out the male contingent, with Villarreal providing some especially funny bits as the nerdy Josh. Rae Harvill and Jared Johnson straddle the adult and teen worlds, appearing first as Toffee’s parents and later as another quirky student couple. Johnson also picks up another role, but it would spoil the fun to reveal it here. Let’s just say that he kills it.
Director Clay White, aside from keeping this fifties fairytale zipping along, is also the man behind the costumes and set. There are poodle skirts and rolled jeans aplenty, and the neon checkerboard hallways of EFHS project a fun vibe (at one point, zombie Jonny presses himself against the wall and nearly disappears into the acid-green squares). A two-person band led by musical director Amy Wyatt perches upstage, somehow managing to sound like more than it is while knocking out Dana P. Rowe and John Dempsey’s flimsy yet fun score.
Yet all this is for naught if we aren’t rooting for those crazy kids to live—and that’s a relative term—happily ever after. Luckily Holway and Simington are charismatic enough to breathe some life into John Dempsey’s admittedly ridiculous script. Holway, resembling a young Alicia Silverstone, is apple-cheeked and earnest whether she’s reveling in the joys of first love or recoiling from her newly deceased boyfriend. Watching her struggle with whether or not to accept her love’s unusual situation adds dimension to what could otherwise be a cardboard character, and Holway succeeds beautifully in drumming up sympathy. Simington, channeling Elvis and Danny Zuko, also allows his character to exhibit a vulnerable side, which makes the reanimated bad boy much more appealing.
Even though bigger is typically better with this show, Felton and Abrams sometimes push too hard as Principal Strict and Eddie Flagrante. The outlandish caricatures are overblown at times to the point of distraction, but it’s a minor quibble in a collection of otherwise strong performances.
If you enjoy Zombie Prom for what it is—a ludicrous musical romp that’s hell-bent on having fun—the rewards are plentiful. Take it too seriously, and—wait, why would you even be there in the first place? It is called Zombie Prom after all.
Image: Poster from the movie adaptation of Zombie Prom.