PSC musical production “Zombie Prom” is anything but dead

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PSC musical production “Zombie Prom” is anything but dead

By Kimberly Bogers

Pensacola State College’s theater department has been known to put on many fabulous productions over the years, the latest being the zany musical “Zombie Prom.”

This musical tells the story of good-girl Toffee, rebellious Jonny Warner and the relationship that forms between the two teens. The love-struck pair are students at Enrico Fermi High School, where the overbearing principle Ms. Delilah Strict runs a very tight ship. Toffee’s parents and Ms. Strict tell Toffee that Jonny is a bad influence and convince her to break up with him. Jonny is devastated over the break-up, and throws himself into the town’s nuclear power plant. Later on, Jonny comes back to Enrico Fermi High as a teenage zombie, and the events that occur because of it result in a hilarious and rather touching story.

The director of the production is Rodney Whatley, who also directed the school’s last production “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Whatley has had a lot of experience working on PSC productions.

“Since my start at PSC, I have both acted in and directed many shows,” Whatley said. “As an adjunct, I acted in five shows, and once I became Director of Theatre I have acted in three shows. I have directed 41 shows here, as I direct four shows a year. I also served as an Assistant Director to Mr. Stan Dean on his production of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ when he was Director of Theatre before me.”

For Jamilah Muhammad, who plays the harsh Ms. Strict, this was not her first PSC production either.

“My very first PSC production was the S.H.O.W. in 2013, which was “The Wedding Singer.” It was my second musical ever, and I was in the ensemble.”

Muhammad decided to audition for the musical because she wanted to gain theater experience in something other than high school productions.

“I wanted to experience something outside of high school theater. Even though I’ve done two summer shows at PSC, I’d still count those as high school shows. ‘Zombie Prom’ was a completely different experience.”

Whatley decided to go with the wacky musical “Zombie Prom” rather than a better-known musical because he enjoys putting on musical comedies.

“I like to do a musical comedy every year, and this year our fall musical, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ [was] a serious musical, a rock opera to be exact,” Whatley said, “So I wanted to end with a musical, and my theme for shows this year played a part. I don’t just pick shows at random, I pick a theme, and this year’s theme was belief and faith. ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ obviously dealt with a belief system, or religion, which involves faith; “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was about establishing and believing in your own identity as well as faith in yourself;  “Zombie Prom” is about believing in love, and faith that love brings life after death. Finally, I chose this play because I saw it ten years ago at Pensacola Little Theater and it was such fun. It really has my zany sense of humor throughout, the kind of show where almost anything goes, and that is me all over.”

Muhammad shared that her favorite part of being in “Zombie Prom” was having the opportunity to do something she had never done before.

“My favorite part about being in this production was experiencing an opportunity that I’ve never had before. I was blessed with the opportunity to play my first lead role and I am delighted that it was in this show.”

When it came to her least favorite part of the production, Muhammad said that she did not enjoy playing such a mean character.
“I’d say the hardest part was having to be so mean,” said Muhammad. “I got to play the part alongside some of my good friends so it was somewhat difficult in a way to look them in the eye and say these mean things to them without breaking character and such.”

However, despite not enjoying Ms. Strict’s mean streak, Muhammad did feel that she could relate to the character.

“All Miss Strict wanted was for people to respect and  obey her authority and as a person who has assumed and is currently in place of many leadership positions, it’s easy to relate to that.”

Whatley’s least favorite part of “Zombie Prom” did not having anything to do with the cast or crew, but with the audience-or the lack thereof.

“[My] least favorite part, that would be having houses not completely filled up on show nights. These artists put everything on the line and they deserved sold out shows every night.”

On a lighter note, Whatley’s favorite aspect of working on this production was teaching and helping the cast.

“My favorite part is always the educational aspect. I don’t just cast people who already have the requisite skills to put on  a great show. I cast people whom I believe have the potential for greatness, then do my best to teach, coach and guide them to where they need to be by opening night. I also like a varied ensemble and enjoy giving everyone in the show a moment when they shine. Taking a group of individuals and molding them into a solid team is one of the best things in life.”

Even though Whatley enjoyed directing “Zombie Prom,” he shared that the cast and crew did have some difficulties to overcome during rehearsals due to the small amount of rehearsal time.

“We usually take about seven weeks to rehearse a musical production, and with this one we had only five weeks. I decided to split the duties of blocking and choreographing to more than just myself and the choreographer, Lavonne French. I gave a couple of students the opportunity to stage scenes and choreograph dances. Olivia Odom served as my Associate Director and staged three vital scenes, and Garrett Summitt choreographed six numbers in addition to playing the lead zombie. It was a great learning experience and something I plan to do again in the future.”

Muhammad is definitely planning on acting in future PSC shows, and had a great experience working with the musical’s production crew.

“I love working with Dr. Whatley and Ben Drennan and Ms. French and the rest of the production team on these shows. They’ve taught me so much and I will be forever grateful for the knowledge they’ve all bestowed upon me. I’d love to experience another show with them.”

As for Whatley, he plans on working on future PSC productions as well.

“As Director of Theatre I author the season each year, or pick the theme and plays. In addition, I direct the three college productions and in the summer our Summer High school Onstage Workshop, or S.H.O.W. So I plan to keep on doing a minimum of four shows a year, and since I’m only 51 years old, I plan to do it until they get tired of me here. Pensacola State College is home for me and I never want to leave.”

PSC’s next production will be the musical “Mame.” Auditions are open to all students entering grades 9-12 in the upcoming school year, as well as new graduates. Auditions will be held at the Ashmore Fine Arts Auditorium at the Pensacola campus on June 8-9 at 8 a.m.

Students should have at least 16 bars of a song of their choice prepared, and it is preferred that they bring along the sheet music, and be dressed accordingly for choreography auditions (i.e. no sandals or flip flops). Everyone who auditions will be in the production, auditions are solely being used for the assignment of roles. The show will run from July 24-26 and July 31-August 2.

For more information on the upcoming production, call (850) 484-1800.