Dr. ‘S’ Battles the Sex-Crazed Reefer Zombies: The Movie: The Musical demonstrates the notion that zombies are funny. Writer-director Bryan Ortiz’s band of weed-fuelled horndog undead teens is energetic and jocular, with a James Dean-hipster vibe, sexy and silly and in-on-the-joke.
OK, wait, let me try to do a largely spoiler-free plot summary. It’s Cold War-era in an anywhere, U.S.A. town called Crystal Oaks, where a team of scientists has developed a strain of super-potent marijuana that, if disseminated in the USSR, will somehow destroy Communism.
It first turns some local teens into sex-crazed reefer zombies who wanna sex it up, eat boy scouts, and threaten the very fabric of civilization (offstage, though — we learn of it from an ever-more-grave newscaster, played by Robert Jerdee). The non-zombie population has only one hope of survival, and it’s the titular “Dr. S,” played by Arthur Gonzalez. He’s a scientist. In addition to saving the world, Dr. S has a special romantic interest in protecting a cheerleader named Mary Jane (of course). She’s in addlepated mourning after her boyfriend, Billy Somebody, smokes reefer and joins the teen zombie gang, after which he and said gang tirelessly seek to sex up and/or eat Mary Jane, specifically, for the rest of the play.
However, the plot’s completely secondary to the musical numbers, which makes me wonder about the short film from which this musical sprang. Still and all, I was gobsmacked by the show’s mightily talented chorus: zombies have mussed 50’s-teen costumes; scientists have labcoats, you get the deal. Both camps achieve chillingly good harmonies and perform sly vaudevillean choreography by Jennifer Baldwin to great effect.
All the zombie-gang scenes are terrific; the early “Gonna Funk You Up” totally sells the whole sexy-zombie idea. It’s always a treat to root for the villain, but who knew zombies had it in them? The undead teen gang is led memorably by Dru Barcus, who plays Billy Everybody as a hot/bad boy archetype with bravado and a wink, the hallmark of good musical theater performance. He’s backed by Cary Farrow, Alexander Berkowitz, and Lilly Canaria, each of them fully and simultaneously inhabiting recognizable zombieness, horny teenagerhood, and a weed-addled doofus quality, no small task.
The scientists are likewise adorable; Jules Vaquera hits a rapidfire expository solo with pinpoint accuracy, and Ramona Villareal portrays both a scientist and a Boy Scout, exemplifying the cheeky genderfuckery at which Overtime productions excel.
Scenes featuring the two leads aren’t as energetic or as well-paced. Morgan Scharff’s a pleasure as cheerleader Mary Jane, a character who, in less capable hands, coulda been a clunky, sexist cliché. Scharff’s able to hit tricky beats of humor with the deft precision of a good percussionist, though, and her singing voice rings sweet but not sugary, with a heart-pinging, Chenoweth-like shimmer. The opening-night audience ate her up. But Dr. S’s Dr. S isn’t exactly on the same page. Gonzalez is handsome, appealing, with a nice tenor voice, and it’s not that Gonzalez is bad — he rolls out some wonderful moments, unexpectedly graceful in the hilarious “Suicide Tango.” He’s suitably tender in the “Lost Love” duet. He just seems very young, both as a person and as a performer. He makes no missteps, but amid a cast this competent and quick, he seems literal and earnest, as though engaged in cosplay: has labcoat, has glasses, has shotgun, has voice, can move, but hasn’t worked out his contract with the audience yet. He’s got chops, though. I hope the young Mr. Gonzalez comes out of his superhero shell and enjoys himself. •
Dr. ‘S’ Battles the Sex-Crazed Reefer Zombies: The Movie: The Musical
Through Nov 6
The Overtime Theater
1414 S. Alamo (in the Blue Star Complex), Suite 103