A show with a title like Zombies on Broadway brings with it certain expectations. There will be zombies. There will be Broadway. There will be campy music. Off the Wall Theatre delivers on all of these things with its season-ending musical comedy. The premiere of Dale Gutzman’s hand-crafted original show ambles humorously across the stage, successfully avoiding the potential genius of its premise. The show instead curls somewhat charismatically around a mid-twentieth century musical sitcom format that capably delivers light, inconsequential comedy to an intimate stage. Gutzman’s done far better work with his original shows in the past. The campy cheesiness of Zombies on Broadway doesn’t reanimate well enough to live-up to his best work.
Michelle Waide lifelessly generates laughter as Dottie Lotrine: a faded star of Broadway who has been turned into a zombie in order to ensure that her latest show opens on time as expected.
Dale Gutzman is admirably flawed as Carl Denham—the man who brought the disaster out giant ape Ling Kong to New York. He looks to make-up for it by reviving a dead actress and teaching her to sing and dance.
Among those pulled into the horror of the endeavor is broadway star Gilbert Goddard played with comic grace and poise by a dapper Mark Neufang in a pencil-thin mustache. Neufang has a very nuanced and sophisticated understanding of campy comedy that fosters some of the best comic moments in the production. Kristin Pagenkopf also exhibits a clever mastery of cheesy comedy delivery in the role of veteran chorus girl Sassy.
The story itself is a bit of a jumble. There’s problems with a sleazy producer (played by Larry Lukasavage) There’s a budding romance between a chorus girl named Susie (played by Jenny Kosek) and a charmingly wholesome dance captain (Teddi Jules Gardener) named Dick. (And would you believe that his name is used a number of times for wordplay humor? Part of Gutzman’s charm lies in going for easy jokes. They CAN get a bit repetitious.) Gutzman ties together so many elements that the central zombie conflict feels a bit like a gimmick. The script is tolerable as a well-balanced musical, but it misses a great opportunity for something more dynamic.
Horror is one of the more popular genres of fiction in ANY format. Horror fans love parody. People who might not normally think to go to a live stage play are GOING to want to go to a show like this. And they’re going to be disappointed. Gutzman’s script sells the zombie element short. The premise of maintaining a zombie leading lady in a Broadway show has lots of potential, particularly as it might not always be all that clear who she might have been in contact with. Cast and crew alike would have to watch each other very, very closely to make sure no one else might have gotten turned into a zombie or they themselves might unwittingly become the next victim. This and other horror elements are only given occasional time onstage. Gutzman trying to teach zombie-Waide to sing onstage is a bit fun...reminiscent of Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle as Frankenstein and The Monster singing “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in Young Frankenstein.
One of the best moments in the entire play has Gardener, Neufang and Waide onstage trying to make it through a rehearsal of a single scene. Waide’s zombie grunts. Gardener’s leading male can’t remember any lines and the recently-infected actor played by Neufang is struggling to keep it together. Neufang’s clever balance between poised stage actor and infected zombie about to go full Romero-zombie at any time is a great deal of fun. Too bad more of the rest of the script doesn’t play clever games with the zombie horror. The right talent is clearly assembled for a proper comedy horror show. Composer/Musical Director Chris Holoyda has done great work with musical horror including Lobotomy the Musical and Flesh Trade. This could have been another great locally-written musical/horror crossover for the small stage. Gutzman does a solid job of putting together a campy musical, but it could have been much more.
Boulevard Theatre’s Zombies on Broadway runs through June 30th on 127 E. Wells Street. For ticket reservations and more, visit Off the Wall online.