Something doesn’t have to be good to be thought of with fondness, as fans of slipshod sci-fi films of the 1950s can attest. Sure, many of them are quite laughable and have ended up as fodder on “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoyable and don’t have their own fan base. It’s with an endearing affection for the past that James Valcq’s Zombies from the Beyond has been written, an intentionally campy and silly musical comedy that opens the Curtain Players season.
Zombies from the Beyond takes place in 1955 at the Milwaukee Space Center where a group of people discover a flying saucer is headed towards earth. Little do they know that aboard that spaceship is an alien named Zombina set to recruit studs to take back to her all-female planet. The plot is slight but serviceable, and the music engaging and catchy. The play even has a projected title sequence reminiscent of sci-fi films of the period, though the font sometimes makes things difficult to read (perhaps that was the intent though – purposefully inept). The cast is uniformly capable, though there were four standouts that deserve individual recognition.
Laura Dachenbach as Zombina has to be seen – and heard – to be believed. Ms. Dachenbach plays the villain with fiendish glee, her voice an instrument of pleasure and torture. The part requires her to sing some harsh sustained notes, and she’s more than up to the challenge. Her costume by Tasha Naneth is a real stunner with laced-up sparkly gloves and a vest with netting and a high collar, her overall characterization vaguely reminiscent of Disney villains Maleficent and Cruella de Vil.
Dan Hildebrand plays Rick Jones with goofy glee, using his abbreviated stature next to Sean Brinker as Trenton Corbett for full comic effect. Mr. Hildebrand has a delightfully expressive face and is quite likable, all of which is turned on its head when it is revealed that he is not exactly a good guy. It’s fun to look over at him even when he doesn’t have any lines as his expression is constantly changing in response to everyone around him.
Julie Russell plays the man hungry secretary Charlie Osmanski with a twinkle in her eye and a skip in her step. There are times when her smile brings to mind a younger Melissa McCarthy, and she brings a bubbly joyfulness to the stage that is infectious. Ms. Russell has a tendency to steal attention away from other people on the stage, but I don’t think it’s on purpose; the girl can’t help it.
It’s also difficult to take one’s eyes off of Cody Schmid as Billy Krutzik as he tap dances around (literally and figuratively) Ms. Russell to win her affections. Mr. Schmid has energy to spare and cuts a striking frame, though at times his eyes appear open so wide that I worry they might just pop out. He certainly has a handle on the heightened reality of the piece, that’s for sure.
The set by Neil Aring at first appears deceptively plain only to open up to reveal a control center of sorts with lights and levers. Additional panels open up for other locations, and corridors are built into the set to aid characters and stagehands to come and go with ease. Highly functional but also creative, the set works marvelously well in maintaining the light mood. The various practical effects are done in an openly slipshod manner with wires and poles, all so funny and engaging.
Zombies from the Beyond is engagingly light entertainment, and I’m glad that it’s my first Curtain Players show. The theatre has a cozy intimacy rare in and around Columbus, and the lighting and sound were all well managed. It’s difficult to pull off cute without also being cloying, but director Heather Schultz has done just that with a game cast and crew.
*** out of ****
Zombies from the Beyond continues through to September 27th at the Curtain Players Theatre located at 5691 Harlem Road in Galena (a little over half an hour outside Columbus), and more information can be found at http://www.curtainplayers.org/season/2015-2016/