Zombie Prom

Boy meets girl.

Girl loves boy, but parents disapprove.

Boy commits suicide at a nuclear-power plant but returns as a zombie — just in time to take girl to the big dance.

Zombie Prom, opening tonight in the Drake Center’s Thurber Theatre, is a musical with an unlikely happy ending: Girl gets ghoul.

“It’s almost like watching a 1950s horror-sci-fi B movie, complete with a 1950s rock score,” Mandy Fox said.

Fox is directing the Ohio State University Theatre Department production of the career-boosting early off-Broadway musical by former central Ohioans John Dempsey (book and lyrics) and Dana P. Rowe (music).

“The story is funny,” Fox said. “The show is visually exciting, and the music is wonderful.”

The brisk two-act show — which runs less than two hours, including intermission — is billed as a family-friendly musical appropriate for older children with parental guidance.

“There’s some adult humor,” Fox said, “but it’s presented in a way that only the adults will get.”

OSU junior Trent Rowland plays Jonny, a troubled rebel and orphan attending Enrico Fermi High School.

“With elements of camp and the macabre, this show makes fun of itself — like Grease meets The Rocky Horror Show,” said Rowland, 21.

Although Rowland participates in a half-dozen musical numbers, he sings only two solos: Blast From the Past in the first act and How Can I Say Goodbye in the second.

“ Blast is a manic celebration when Jonny comes back from the dead triumphantly,” Rowland said.

“In Goodbye, Jonny tries to convince Toffee that we can get back together and make this work.”

Jonny stumbles through life until he meets Toffee (Kelly Hogan), a fellow student.

“One of the main themes is this idea of eternal love and what love can do — even bringing people back from the dead,” Rowland said.

When Toffee’s parents disapprove of her bad-boy boyfriend, a despondent Jonny races off on his motorcycle to the town’s nuclear-power plant and falls into the silo to his death.

Or so it seems.

“But when he comes back from the dead, he’s revitalized with an almost-manic energy and determination,” Rowland said, “not only to get Toffee back but to set his life straight and graduate.”

Another obstacle standing in the way of the two young lovers is Miss Delilah Strict, the high-school principal.

“She’s as strict as her name and wound incredibly tight,” said Liz Light, the 21-year-old senior who plays her.

The secretive principal is hiding something in her past — including an old boyfriend.

Light said she tries to evoke the aura of an undercover femme fatale — which ties into the character’s unspoken past.

“We’re taking some weird twists with the satire,” Light said.

First staged in 1993 in Key West, Fla., the musical opened off-Broadway in 1996 and helped to establish a reputation for emerging talents Dempsey and Rowe, who started out by creating children’s musicals in the early 1980s at Players Theatre Columbus.

Dempsey and Rowe went on to do several musicals, including The Fix and The Witches of Eastwick — which British producer Cameron Mackintosh backed for a run in London.

Rowe will return to Columbus to see the show and participate in a discussion after the Nov. 16 performance.

“It makes it all the more exciting to know that two Columbus talents created the musical,” Fox said.

“Zombie Prom is a confirmation of the vibrant theater tradition we have in Columbus, including the creation of new works.”