Zombie Prom at UH: Funny and Perfect for Halloween
Relationships are tested when a rejected teenage swain turns to nuclear suicide, but returns as a radioactive toxic avenger to reclaim his true love.
Romance blossoms between Jonny (Philip Orazio) and Toffee (Jenna Simmons), and their acting and vocal skills let us believe in and savor their love, purer than the usual locker-room camaraderie at Enrico Fermi High. But Toffee's parents disapprove of Jonny and his rebel ways, and, naturally (remember, these are teenagers), since Toffee is his entire life, Jonny hurls himself into the embrace of a nuclear doom.
High-tech flats are raised and lowered seamlessly from the rafters of Cullen Hall for various scene changes, and the introductory exposition is enhanced enormously by the powerful presence of the school principal Mrs. Delilah Strict, played by Melanie Burke, who provides a commanding stage presence and an authentic martinet spirit - and the ruler she totes is not just for measuring. Burke sidesteps the pitfall of caricature, and becomes a living presence, the physical and spiritual center of Enrico Fermi High.
But her absolute dominance is threatened when Jonny returns to resume his quest to take Toffee to the senior prom.
He emerges dramatically from a metal school locker, and is dynamic, for not only is his skin now a vivid green, he seems to have grown an extra set of cojones as well (why not, he is a mutant?), as he now has the style, energy and moves of a rock star. So an epic battle for the soul of Enrico Fermi High begins, and, perhaps surprisingly, it is interesting indeed. But wait - there's more!
Newscaster Eddie Flagrante enters, and Andrew Garrett captures wonderfully his persona - smooth, good-looking, self-centered and as glib as a presidential candidate. This is no minor character, as he and Mrs. Strict have a (gasp!) history. There's much more plot here than in many a send-up, and I won't spoil the surprises, but there is a duet between this pair that is masterfully choreographed and delivers humor, sensuality and characterization in a brilliant trifecta.
The three girl pals of Toffee and the three buddies of Jonny do well - they and the ensemble create with exuberant energy a nostalgic reminder of the conflict between authority and teenage hormones.
While the songs are not especially memorable, they are enjoyable and propel the action. The music has pep and vigor, and the five-piece band is excellent, though its volume does overpower the amplified voices at times. The fast-paced and smoothly-oiled direction is by Paul Hope, and the entire effort is presented with loving care and a light-hearted touch.
Young talent and experienced direction shape an entertaining script into a delightful comedic event, perfectly timed to add sharp pleasure to the Halloween season.
The show runs through November 6 at the University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance, Cullen Performance Hall, 4800 Calhoun. For tickets, call 713-743-2929.