Posts Tagged ‘the pirates of penzance’

The Zombies of Penzance
Book and Lyrics by W.S. Gilbert and Scott Miller, Music by Arthur Sullivan and John Gerdes
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor
New Line Theatre
September 28, 2018

Sean Michael, Dominc Dowdy-Windsor
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

It’s Gilbert and Sullivan with Zombies! That’s the easy way to describe New Line’s latest production, opening the company’s new season at the Marcelle Theatre. The Zombies of Penzance is essentially that, but it’s also another example of the excellent casting and top-notch singing that’s come to be expected from New Line. It’s also a whole lot of fun to watch, but especially so if you you like zombie stories, Gilbert and Sullivan, or both.

Now, I have to start this out by saying that zombie stories are not something that generally appeal to me. I know they are immensely popular at present, but they (along with another popular genre, vampire stories) are not “my thing”, for the most part. Still, this is a fun concept, and although I’m not a Gilbert and Sullivan expert either, I am familiar with their music to a certain degree, although (now including this one) the only live versions I’ve seen based on this show’s source, The Pirates of Penzance, have been parodies or comic “re-imaginings”. As a re-imagining, The Zombies of Penzance is an especially clever one. Presented with the “backstory” of having been a long-lost “original” manuscript from Gilbert and Sullivan that predates Pirates, the show ends up being a prime example of what New Line does best. The story essentially takes the Pirates template and changes it around somewhat. Presented on an old-fashioned Victorian proscenium-style stage surmounted by framed photos of Queen Victoria and zombie movie icon George S. Romero, the story follows the idealistic, newly zombified Frederic (Sean Michael) who becomes torn in his loyalties between his fellow zombies led by the enthusiastic Zombie King (Dominic Dowdy-Windsor) and his old loyalties to society, along with a new attraction to Mabel (Melissa Felps) the eagerly enthusiastic young daughter of famous and somewhat reclusive zombie killer Major-General Stanley (Zachary Allen Farmer). Stanley, for his part, boasts of his illustrious career in the hilariously re-written “Modern Era Zombie KIller’, and expreses his desire to protect established society and the lives and repuations of Mabel and his other daughters.  (Christina Rios as Edith, Kimi Short as Isabel, and Lindsey Jones as Kate, along with Mara Bollini, Melanie Kozak, and Sarah Porter). The zombies continue to be zombies, and as the daughters’ fascination with them grows, so does Frederic’s conflict.

Various issues are dealt with here, especially in terms of challenging religiously defined social norms, essentially in a metaphorical sense that the script itself calls out several times, in a conceit that at times can come across as self-congratulatory. Still, the concept is interesting and the script is hilarious, with lots of witty references to the zombie genre and Romero’s works in particuar, and the lyrical re-writes to the well-known songs are excellently done, sung remarkably well by the New Line cast. Songs like “Poor Walking Dead” “Hail, Zombies!” and more generate a lot of well-earned laughs. The cast is truly wonderful, as well, led by a sincere, gloriously sung performance by Michael as the conflicted Frederic. Dowdy-Windsor displays strong stage presence and an equally strong voice as the Zombie King, also, and Felps displays impressive vocal ability and an energetic characterization as Mabel. There’s also a memorable, delightfully hammy performance by Farmer as Major-General Stanley, and much energy, enthusiasm, and excellent singing from the entire ensemble of Daughters and Zombies.

In terms of production values, this show is a stunner, with that inventively detailed period-styled set designed by Rob Lippert. Much credit goes as well to the team of set contructors, artists and painters including Richard Brown, Paul Troyke, Patrick Donnigan, Melanie Kozak, Kate Wilkerson, Nick Brunstein, Judy Brunstein, Grace Brunstein, Kathleen Dwyer, Tamar Crump, Karla Suazo, and Gary Karasek.  The whimsical, detailed costumes by Sarah Porter also add to the overall mood and atmosphere. There’s also excellent lighting work from Kenneth Zinkl and sound by Ryan Day, and a first-rate New Line Band led by musical director Nicolas Valdez.

It’s a a seriously fun show, no matter what you may think of Zombie stories, but if you love them, I think you’ll especially love The Zombies of Penzance. In terms of humor and sheer musicality, it’s remarkable. Ultimately, though, this show is a witty, hilarious show that has a lot of fun with its concept and features first-rate, enthusiastic cast. It’s not “traditional” Gilbert and Sullivan, but that’s really the point. It’s another excellent, thought-provoking show from New Line.

Zachary Alan Farmer (Center) and Daughters
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre is presenting The Zombies of Penzance at the Marcelle Theatre until October 20, 2018.


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