By Tara DeLorenzo
Students can join Rider University Musical Theater in its preparation for the zombie apocalypse as its workshop production of the new musical ZM takes the Yvonne Theater stage Nov. 19-23.
Written by Greg Kotis, with music by Mark Hollmann, the Tony Award-winning creators of Urinetown, this production is directed by Sean Daniels. Musical director Steven Gross and choreographer Wendy Seyb accompany Daniels. ZM is unique compared to other shows, as this is a workshop production of the musical.
“If ZM, which I believe stands for Zombie Musical, is anything like Urinetown, it’s going to hilarious,” said Patrick Chmel, the retired chair of the Fine Arts Department and former associate dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts, who directed a rendition of Urinetown at Rider.
Unlike traditional shows, the cast and crew started with a script, but as rehearsals progressed, the script was altered and the show was changed.
“It’s a workshop production,” said Daniels. “We’ll be making changes right up to opening (we just added five songs last week), so the audience will see a suggestion of what the eventual production will be. [There will be] simple costumes and design elements, so that the focus is really on the students and the new material. In fact, Greg and Mark will probably respond to each audience, and the actors are ready to rehearse before each show, so you may see actors holding scripts and scores for certain scenes, as they’ve only had the new material for a few hours.”
The actors were also put to the test in creating these never-before-seen characters. Freshman Ruby Westfall, who plays Mercy Rider, a high school student working at a fast-food restaurant, was excited to take on the challenge.
“Unlike shows that have been done before that have original cast recordings and videos of performances on YouTube, I get to create my character from scratch,” she said.
Daniels was very impressed with the cast and how well they all worked to make this piece a success.
“The kids have been truly fantastic, growing from students to collaborators over the course of the process, learning how to add their own voice to this growing show,” he said. “I think it’s a real gift as an artist to work on something new, as you get to put your stamp and spin on a role that people will be playing for potentially years.”
The musical itself takes place in an American small town fast-food restaurant called The Chicken Hutt. There, franchise executives come to have a new menu item tested and accidentally let loose the apocalypse.
“Zombies are having their moment in pop culture and I think that ZM will tap into that same zombie fervor,” said Westfall.
This workshop of ZM also presents a very significant opportunity for Rider.
“I think it’s a really exciting moment for Rider, as their audience gets the first peek at a new musical, one that could be playing around the world for years (Urinetown just had its West End debut last month),” said Daniels. “The audiences at Rider will play a huge role in developing the piece – what they laugh at, what they are excited by. So they not only get to see the work before anyone else, they fortuitously help to shape the piece itself. Also, for the students, to spend two months with the top professionals in the business, I don’t know where else you get that. It’s really a process that should put Rider on the map for students looking to get a hands-on experience of working in the American theater.”
Printed in the 11/19/14 edition.