Tuesday, September 08, 2009
By LIZ BURLINGAME
Whidbey News Times Reporter
Today, 3:15 PM • UPDATED
The town invasion has begun at the Whidbey Playhouse, which carries a collection of buxom aliens, I-like-Ike Americans and a spy from across the Iron Curtain.
They’re part of the production “Zombies from the Beyond,” the low-budget musical, comedy that opens this Friday.
‘Zombies’ satirizes the sci-fi films of the fifties and pop culture in general, in a time when America’s greatest enemies were imaginary aliens.
Playwright James Valcq created the music and dialogue and used his hometown of Milwaukee for the play’s backdrop.
“(Valcq) thought people could relate to a small town being attacked by aliens,” director Mary Lou Chandler said.
‘Zombies’ is set in the Eisenhower era and the Cold War and space race were the big headlines of the day. The staff at the Milwaukee Space Center is anxious about the arrival of rocket scientist Trenton Corbett. Nathan McCartney plays the stiff, no-nonsence military man named Major Malone, who heads the fictitious center. His overly serious assistant, Rick Jones, is actually a red agent (played by Meiko Parton) and his daughter Mary soon becomes Corbett’s love interest. However, their budding romance is jeopardized when a flying saucer lands in Milwaukee. The craft is piloted by Zombina (Amanda McCartney), a buxom alien bent on gaining he-specimens to repopulate her planet.
Her secret weapon is her high-powered singing, which “zombifies” the unknowing males.
Chandler’s cast is relatively young compared to recent playhouse productions, with most actors in their mid-to-late 20s. The actors’ silly, cartoonish demeanor tenderly mocks the bad acting of space paranoia flicks.
The film nostalgia includes sharp 50s clothing, indoor smoking (it’s fake) and scientific jargon: The reflexive lens must be responding recalcitrantly to post-lunar pressurization, says Corbett (Wes Ralston).
“I just remember those old, horrible sci-fi shows on television back when it was free. I love sci-fi. I’ve been a Trekkie from the get-go,” said Mary K. Hallen, who plays a man-hungry secretary.
The cast used a lot of movie comparisons to describe the play, and ‘Zombies’ truly has the look of a grade-B film. There are scenes where the actors mug at the audience, as if they were staring into a camera lens. It has the feel of “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” “Mars Attacks” and “Flash Gordon,” to name a few.
The trick was to make it look imperfect, Chandler said.
“Everything is tacky and corny. The cues are off in some spots but it’s intentional.”
The play’s score is an homage to ‘50s pop, such as Perry Como and Doris Day. Each of the actor’s vocals are ear-pleasing and McCartney gives a standout performance as the operatic Zombina. It’s paired with over-the-top jazz, swing and Russian dance moves. A lanky Parton manages a one-handed side flip in the dance number “Big Wig” and a Michael Jordon-sized leap across the stage. Young also brings a charming tap number in “Atomic Feet,” as his character flirts with Charlene.
Finally, the set design team did an incredible job of staying true to the cheesy sci-fi style. The Space Center looks like an airport control tower, with geometrical flashing control boards and a giant projector screen. Later, there’s a styrofoam skyline of Milwaukee and a space ship moves across the stage on a visible wire.
This play doesn’t need to be analyzed too deeply; it’s simply fun, clever and hilarious.
“In short, it’s a beautiful disaster. You gotta see it to believe it,” Parton said.
Tickets for “Zombies from the Beyond” are now available. The show runs Sept. 11 to Oct. 3, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. All seats are $16. Contact the Whidbey Playhouse at 679-2237 for more information. The Whidbey Playhouse is located at 730 SE Midway Blvd. in Oak Harbor.