Monday, March 10, 2014

Zombie in Love—Oregon Children’s Theatre at the Winningstad—downtown Portland

A Grave New World

This musical is written by Michelle Elliot and Danny Larsen from a book by Kelly DiPucchio.  Direction is by Marcella Crowson, music direction by Darcy White and choreography by Sara Mishler Martins.  It is playing at the Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through March 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

Zombies and Vampires, are they our new super-heroes of today?  Both young and old seem to be devouring this new craze, as it is permeating graphic novels, films, TV series’ and, now, musicals plays.  There is even a sequel in the works.  But, in this story, the two Zombies are simply high school misfits, just trying to fit in.  And, I think, many of us can identify with that (okay, at least I can, as being a drama geek was not cool when I went to school).

The story follows the exploits of Mortimer (Blake Peebles), a maroon in cartoon-speak, as he attempts to find a date for the upcoming high school dance, Cupid’s Ball.  Actually he would be more closely related to ghoul, than maroon, because, you see, he’s also a Zombie!  And he does typical Zombie things like having toenails on his pizzas, eating brains for lunch, having his intestines for a belt, and hanging out with his best friends, graveyard worms.  Like I said, pretty typical teenage stuff, for a Zombie, that is.

But, finding a date for the Big Dance, is quite another matter.  He tries to get advice from the coolest jock in the school, Rodney (Javon Carter), who feels he owes him, since he’s copied his homework, swiped his allowance and generally bullied and harassed him at every turn.  And he does give him some good counseling like, how to talk to girls, how to dress, how to strut your stuff, etc.  But when Mortimer tries it, like offering a girl a ring…with the finger still attached, or a present of chocolate-covered…crawly things, or a heart…slightly warm, it just doesn’t have the same effect.

So he takes out an ad in the personal column of a newspaper, which is read by (surprise) a teen-girl Zombie, Mildred (Madison Wray), who is going through much of the same angst!  An arrangement is made to meet by the punch bowl at the dance at midnight.  Well, I think you can figure out the rest.  Suffice to say, their awkward movements actually start a new dance craze in school, which is definitely cool!

It’s all done in good fun and (dare I say it) good taste, too.  The plot is pretty typical teen stories but the message is clear, it is important to accept everybody in this world called Mankind, regardless of differences in culture, religion, color, sexual orientation or interests.  It not just a matter of being nice or cool, it’s a matter of being humane.

The songs, although serviceable to the story and characters, are not anything earth-shattering or would have Rogers and Hammerstein turning over in their graves (okay, last play on words, I promise).  What is terrific is the amazing renditions of these songs and dances by the cast.  They are super, thanks also to White and Martins.  Crowson has cast it well, as there is not a weak link in her show.  And her outstanding, movable sets (with Chris Rousseau), and quick changes, keep the show running at a smooth and brisk pace.

Peebles is simply astounding as the lead.  The way he contorts his body should be impossible.  And his gestures and expressions are always spot on for the character.  Wray is also good as his main squeeze, having a very pleasant singing voice and even, appropriately, guttural voice/laugh at times.  And Carter is understandably “cool” and oozes that persona in his performance.

But the bulk of the other characters, the students, worms (puppets), even a teacher (Madeleine Delaplane), and the set-changers are all dependant on the ensemble (Delaplane, Nate Golden, Thom Hilton, Lindsey Koehler, Katherine Pen, and Madison Thompson).  They are all super in their various incarnations, Delaplane standing out as a dancer with a promising future.  Those long legs and talent will carry her far, as it did with Juliet Prowse, Gwen Verdon and Ann Reinking.

I would recommend this show to all audiences.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.  For another perspective on this production, go to 

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