Prom of the Dead

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY JUL 28, 2017

When Jonny went to meet his girlfriend Toffee, he didn’t expect to have his heart broken. And when his motorcycle careened off the road that night, he didn’t expect to be reanimated as a radioactive zombie. But these things happen at a place like Enrico Fermi High, and now Jonny has his work cut out for him if he wants to get his diploma on time and take Toffee to the prom. Opening tonight at Venice Theatre, the musical comedy Zombie Prom brings all the throwback campy charm of its 1950s comic book origins, with a dose of timely wisdom and a whole lot of fun, taking jabs at familiar tropes and characters. “It’s Danny and Sandy from Grease,” says Zombie Prom Director/Choreographer Brad Wages. “One of them just happens to be dead.”

In keeping with the over-the-top subject matter, the Venice Theatre stage gets a minor overhaul and the actors received a crash course in camp. A production of Venice Theatre’s Summer Stock program, an intensive musical theater boot camp for high school and college students pursuing the performing arts, every cast member takes part in set design, lighting and costume design and repair, but performance remains the focus. In the case of Zombie Prom, it’s a matter of indulging the tongue-in-cheek nature of the spoof, while still allowing the sincere moments to bubble through and resonate, i.e. exaggeration doesn’t drown emotion. “There are some incredible morals here,” says Wages, “and it’s just sort of frosted in this silly, fun love story. We found a nice balance.”

Playing off the actors’ performances, monitors installed on both sides of the stage further the campy comic book aesthetic with visual punctuation to the action, a la the “WHAM” and “POW” bubbles from Adam West-era Batman.

And working with young performers on such an over-the-top production has been a blessing. “They’re fearless,” says Wages. “And they’re willing to try anything.” Some theater camps can feel like babysitting, but the students of Summer Stock come to work and they come to learn. “They want to be here,” he says, before adding with a laugh. “It’s invigorating and it’s exciting and it’s exhausting.” In between rehearsal and other production duties, Wages and other instructors also led educational workshops on how the young performers could further their studies and their careers.

Zombie Prom opens tonight at Venice Theatre and runs through Aug. 12. Attendees are encouraged to dress up (for prom, for zombies or just for the 1950s) and stop by the photo booths set up in the main lobby to take their own zombie prom photos.

Pictured: Natalie Taylor and Becket Pfanmiller in "Zombie Prom." Photo by Renee McVety.

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