Review: ‘Zombie Prom’ Lights Up YSU Stage

By J.E. Ballantyne Jr.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With the strains of vintage 1950s music, the audience at Youngstown State University was welcomed to “Zombie Prom” Saturday evening. This high spirited musical is set in the atomic 1950s with a teenage girl (Toffee) falling in love with a rebel named Jonny – without the “h.” What follows, as described by director, Adam Day Howard, is a sort of “Grease” meets “Night of the Living Dead.”

With Toffee’s parents forbidding their daughter from seeing Jonny, the spurned lover jumps on his motorcycle and crashes into a nuclear waste site thus prompting the zombie angle. With music by Dana P. Rowe and book and lyrics by John Dempsey, the show is high on comedy, great music, lively dance numbers, and a statement or two about conformity and acceptance.

Toffee is a high-energy role with demanding vocals and Brooke May brings everything she has for a professional level performance with the character. She is new to YSU and will most certainly be seen many more times. There are few scenes in which she does not appear but her energy level started high and kept on going up. She delivers in every area of the role including dance numbers.

She stands out vocally in “Jonny Don’t Go” and “Easy to Say” but turns in impressive vocals in many other numbers.

May plays off of Ryan Bedi (Jonny) excellently, and the two make a very believable couple, at least at the beginning. Once he becomes a zombie, that stretches that aspect a bit but that is the show, not the actors.

Bedi turns in a great performance as Jonny, His vocal quality is perfect for the boy “from the wrong side of the tracks.” He has a good stage presence and sells the character well. He handles the character change very well from regular Jonny to zombie Jonny. Although the character itself doesn’t change much, there are little things he does to signal his switch to the absurd. His physical control and carriage help greatly to communicate his sorry state.

Mallory Ehrhart portrays a perfect stereotyped high school principal as Delilah Strict. As the name certainly implies, Strict rules Enrico Fermi High School with an iron fist and a huge bee-hive hairdo. And don’t bother that hairdo or you’ll get stung. With reckless abandon, Strict roams the halls of Enrico exacting terror.

The counterpart to Strict is news reporter Eddie Flagrante, played by K.J. Hudson. Hudson has an overwhelming stage presence and is super comfortable in the role of Flagrante. Smoothness and flash best describe Hudson’s portrayal. With each appearance as the character, Hudson got better and better. With ease in acting and a very strong voice, Hudson was a high point.

The ensemble of this show carries a lot of the show. And this ensemble was up to the task. Comprised of Elise Vargo (Candy), Laynee Sanger (Coco), Chloe Downey (Ginger), Sam Nabring (Jake), Nicholas Atwood (Joey), Sam Law (Josh), and Emalee Chappa (Ramona), they play everything from students to Gasoline Guys to backup singers to dancers. Their energy is electrifying and their total involvement in the show is fun to watch. High points included “Ain’t No Goin Back,” and “Rules, Regulations, and Respect.”

Director Adam Day Howard has pulled together a great pool of actors to infuse this show with the talent and energy it needs to succeed. Having seen other productions of this show, without those two elements, the show falls flat. Music Director, Kent Engelhardt has done a miraculous job with the score and vocals. It is obvious he put in time with each person in the show. It paid off.

Lighting by Ellen Licitra gives vibrancy to the production along with some very creative gobo elements at the beginning and through the show.

Choreography by Katelyn Cassidy is fast and energetic and matches the musical style as well as the 1950s movement style. Todd Dicken’s scenic design is simple with a set piece up center that turns and pivots with fold out wings to establish different locales. It keeps the stage open and provides for quick scene changes.

Katherine Garlick turns in another winner with her costume design. Her costumes harken back to the 50s and are colorful and accurate.

Although most makeup in the show is pretty much straight makeuup, Crystal Fischer did a great job with Ryan Bedi’s zombie makeup, complete with half-mask that proved to be very effective.

Perhaps the only downside to the production was that the orchestra was too loud for many of the vocals and drowned out some lyrics. Most notably, Toffee’s parents (done via recording or backstage) were totally inaudible due to underscoring that was way too loud.

“Zombie Prom” is a fun evening with something for everybody of any age. It’s fun, it’s energetic and it does carry a message but doesn’t club you over the head with it. It is perfect Halloween entertainment as we enter that time of fall when pumpkins and skeletons (and zombies) start popping up all over neighborhood lawns.

“Zombie Prom” will continue Oct. 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 8 and 15 at 2 p.m.

Pictured at top: Brooke May and Ryan Bedi in YSU University Theatre’s production of “Zombie Prom.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.