Blank Canvas Theatre’s ‘Zombie Prom’ is fun with a purpose
“Zombie Prom”...just the title is enough to elicit “Huh?” from the members of the general theater going public, but this is Blank Canvas Theatre and they know how to get away with stuff like this. Far from being scary or creepy, this is a basic 50’s love story. Guy meets Girl, Guy and Girl fall in love, Parents say NO, Guy loses Girl, Guy takes a header into a nuclear power complex, Guy turns into a Zombie, Guy is buried in the ocean in a lead coffin, Guy comes back to life wanting to continue his relationship with Girl and get his diploma.
We are at Enrico Fermi High School (named after the father of “the bomb”) during the “Nuclear 1950’s” and life goes on as always. The school is situated a stone’s throw from a rather shaky nuclear power plant. There are “duck and cover” drills, sports, school work, pep squads, cheer practice, chess club and all manner of normal activities to keep the overly hormonal student body busy and out of trouble.
Enter new kid Jo-nny (Benson Anderson) who removed the “h” to make himself unique. He is a leather jacketed rebel who is trying to fit in. Jo-nny is up against Principle Delilah Strict (Kate Leigh Michalski) who runs a tight ship of the three “R’s”...Rules, Regulations and Respect. It is senior year for this group of students with the Senior Prom just months away. Jo-nny meets Toffee (Mikaela Ray) under a table during a “D&C” drill. They fall for each other and start to date. Several months later finds Toffee’s parents forbidding her to see him as Jo-nny commits suicide by hurling himself into the Francis Gary Powers Nuclear Power Plant causing a class 3 nuclear disaster. Jo-nny is buried deep at sea in international waters with the rest of the nuclear waste.
Toffee is heartbroken even after three weeks. Her friends suggest she go to the prom and stop wearing black but she refuses. She even uses the “C” word (crap) and is turned in by a friend to Miss Strict. Toffee continues to hear Jo-nny’s voice, especially from her locker. He emerges from the locker scaring the other students with his ghastly appearance. Local reporter Eddie Flagrante (Douglas F. Bailey II) hears of the reappearance of the dead boy and decides to do an exposé.
Jo-nny simply wants to graduate but Miss Strict is dead set against it. She bans the corpse from the school and refuses to allow him to re-enroll. Toffee is struggling as to what to do. In part, she still loves Jo-nny but there are problems dating the un-dead. Meanwhile, Eddie is able to meet with Jo-nny and start a civil rights campaign against Miss Strick and the school complete with a TV appearance. At a meeting between Miss Strict and Eddie it is revealed that they have a “history”
Yes, I know. It is a really silly story, so what makes this show worth seeing. The fact is it is really good. The songs, while not memorable are cute in their way with a Be-Bop rhythm that is infectious. The cast is in fine voice with some really great ensemble songs and solo numbers (23 in all) that are penned by Dana P. Rowe. Book and lyrics are by John Dempsey. The 50s style choreography by Kate Gibson is superb with the 13 odd performers managing not to run into each other on the postage stamp size stage. Most of all the make-up and costume for post nuclear Jo-nny is spot on. There was a bit of a problem with the sound as some of the solo numbers were hard to understand. Patrick Ciamacco handles the projection design with brilliance.
This is the perfect Halloween treat for the entire family. The underlying theme of inclusion is well presented with a sprightly musical score that smooths away the grim premise. The Friday show I went to was sold out and may be the case as word of mouth gains momentum. Don’t delay, buy your tickets right now.
The Blank Canvas production of “Zombie Prom” will be on stage in the 78th Street Studios Complex located at 1305 W. 78th Street (Suite 211) in Cleveland, Ohio through November 4, 2023. For more information go to http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/ or call (440) 941-0458.