‘Zombies from the Beyond’ sends up 1950s B movies

When Brett Bernardini talks about the musical "Zombies from the Beyond," he tends to use the word "ridiculous."

As in: "It's ridiculous - I don't know what else to tell you."

And as in: "This is so ridiculous, I had to produce it."

Yes, this spoof of 1950s B-grade films is sublime in its ridiculousness.

"Zombies" - which Bernardini directs in a run starting Wednesday at the Spirit of Broadway Theater in Norwich - was created by James Valcq. Valcq happens to also have written the musical "Spitfire Grill," which was so popular during its first run at the Spirit of Broadway that the theater staged it a second time.

"Zombies from the Beyond" is a completely different animal from that more serious show. The storyline mayhem happens during a 1950s space program - in Milwaukee. So there are rocket scientists but, despite the title, no zombies.

A lovelorn delivery boy is desperate for the attention of a certain secretary - so he tap dances atop a desk to get her attention, to a number called "Atomic Feet."

The opening song is "The Sky Is the Limit," which sets up the expectations for the show - not only in referencing the space program but in reflecting the satiric scope of the show.

"How far is the spoof going to go? Well, the sky's the limit," Bernardini says.

A UFO lands over a beauty parlor, and out strides Zombina, a buxom aviatrix bent on finding men. She's an outer-space creature who needs those males to repopulate her home planet, naturally. Her siren call comes in the form of her singing as a "stratospheric" soprano, which has her hitting notes as if she were singing The Queen of the Night aria. The men fall under her spell - and the women fight to figure out how to shut down Zombina. Woven into all this is the romance between a rocket scientist and the daughter of the Space Center commander.

If the plot of "Zombies" is very much a comic 1950s throwback, so is the music. The songs have an iconic 1950s sound- doo-wop, for instance - but done with a wink.

Bernardini says "Zombies" "is probably the perfect show for this time of year, because we're kind of in between winter and spring. ... Everybody is a little cranky at this point."

When "Zombies from the Beyond" played Off-Broadway in 1995, a New York Times critic described it as a "dead aim, deadpan, dead-on new musical" "with keen-eyed skill to spare."'

Bernardini says, "What makes it work is that it is truly a spoof. It never says, 'I want you to take this moment seriously. ... It's all tongue-in-cheek."

"Zombies from the Beyond," Spirit of Broadway Theater, 24 Chestnut St., Norwich; opens Wed. and runs through April 6; 7 p.m. Wed. and Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.; $32; (860) 889-2787.




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