Here is an enjoyable horror show with suspense, scares, laughs, and pathos. And it’s a musical! With Zombies! Singing Zombies! What more could you ask for?
Losing Your Humanity (A Zombie Musical) is quite ambitious by the standards of Hollywood Fringe Festival productions. It has a relatively large cast, including a chorus of background singers. Instead of blank sets, it uses projected slides to indicate a variety of locations. There are numerous songs with memorable melodies, delivered by talented voices. The (recorded) musical accompaniment features strong arrangements and musical textures that give the show the feeling of a bigger production. And the makeup is not bad either!
The story begins with Riley (Rachel Yoffee) capturing smartphone video of a zombie in the park, though her online viewers seem skeptical. In fact, despite growing reports of attacks, few people seem to believe in zombies, dismissing them homeless people, maybe suffering from some kind of viral outbreak. Among the skeptics are Riley’s mother, Michelle (Samantha Barrios), and Riley’s Brother, Kyle (Sam Intrater), both of whom are too busy with their own concerns to worry about the living dead: Mom is worried about her missing husband, and Kyle is lamenting the girlfriend who ghosted him. Things change when Kyle gets a zombie love bite from his former girlfriend, forcing Riley and Michelle to face an awful dilemma: destroy Riley before he turns into a flesh-eating monster or try to bring him back to humanity?
The main strength of Losing Your Humanity (A Zombie Musical) is the way it uses its numerous songs to tell the story. The usual horror template of pausing the narrative to dwell on a terrifying set-piece is replaced by the musical convention of pausing the story to let the characters reveal their feelings through the lyrics. Not only can the main cast belt out a melody; they harmonize to perfection. Amusingly, the harmonies are enhanced by the decision to use the zombie horde as a background chorus, humming or moaning along. (More about zombie singing below…)
The story itself offers interesting spin on the zombie metaphor. Although the genre tends to focus on the struggle to survive in a situation where loved ones can potentially transform into walking corpses that must be destroyed, Losing Your Humanity is – as its title suggests – less about loss of life than loss of humanity, which can potentially be regained, offering the possibility of a happy ending that tends to be elusive in these stories.
As interesting as this is, it does not fully come off in the current production. Early scenes suggest the zombies stand for Covid denialism, fear of the homeless, and indifference to societal problems in the face of personal concerns that strike closer to home – all of which is interesting stuff. When the play gets around to suggesting that its zombies are neither dead nor infected but alienated, it turns into a simpler story about “how can we save this struggling family?”
The shift is presented in a confusing fashion. After being bitten by his girlfriend, Kyle meets up with her and other zombies in the park, where they converse and sing a song about never having to suffer heartache anymore. Even if we accept the dramatic device of having inarticulate zombies communicate among themselves, it is a little weird that Kyle, who has not fully turned yet, can understand them and yet never bothers to mention this to his sister and mother. Additionally, we are clearly supposed to see the zombies as a cult, who lured Kyle from his family with a promise of assuaging his pain: basically, if he gives up his humanity, and the emotions that go with it, he can stop feeling so bad. The problem here is that Kyle seems really happy to be reunited with his girlfriend, and the song, “Free of Heartbreak,” is so emotional that it does not sound like a dirge about abandoning emotion. Additionally, there is the issue that zombies are not just checking out of humanity but feeding on the living, and they do seem to really enjoy a good meal.
Things get muddier with the third-act revelation that Kyle blames himself for dad’s departure, because dad caught him kissing another guy in the gym. It is easy to understand how this could be weighing on his mind and pushing him into the zombie lifestyle (if that is the right word), but when we first meet Kyle he is obsessively counting the days, hours, and minutes since the last time he saw his girlfriend. Is that really what he would be obsessing about under the circumstances?
Story nitpicks aside, Losing Your Humanity (A Zombie Musical) does offer an interesting take on the genre that leads to an exciting conclusion, raising questions about exactly who is losing their humanity. The finale features a confrontation with neighbors who have abandoned their capacity for compassion after losing family members to the zombie plague. This tragedy has molded them into brutal executioners who refuse to believe that the zombies can be saved, leading to an exciting confrontation with Riley and her mother over Kyle’s fate. The message seems to be that even if redemption is possible, human nature might find a a way to miss the opportunity.
Losing Your Humanity: A Zombie Musical
1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
Great song, wonderful cast, interesting take on the zombie metaphor. Only problem is the story gets a little overcomplicated in its attempt to do something new with zombies, adding more complications than absolutely necessary.
Credits: A SLJ Productions Presentation. Book by Spencer Johnson and Ariella Fiore. Lyrics by Spencer Johnson. Original Music by Jeff Thomson. Arrangements and Additional Original Music by Esin Aydingoz. Directed by Ariella Salinas Fiore. Musical Direction and Additional Vocal Arrangements by Rachel Ohnsman. Choreography by Luke Smith. Fight Choreography by Mikael Mattsson. 90 mins. Recommended for ages 13+
- Rachel Yoffe as Riley
- Samantha Barrios as Michelle
- Sam Intrater as Kyle
- Michael German as Donovan
- Jake Noren as Hank
- Magan Yantko as Tiffany
- Steven Flowers as Reece
- Amanda Webb as Pam
- Kyle Sanderson as Tom
- Katelyn Coon as Ellie / Zom-semble
- Adam Fried as Esteban / Zom-semble
- Brandi Morales as Ana / Zom-semble
- Vincent Macias as Craig / Zom-semble
- Stephanie Pressman as Cassie Zomboni / Zom-semble
- Luke Smith Zom-semble Swing
Losing Your Humanity: A Zombie Musical closes its run at Hollywood Fringe Festival with a final performance on Saturday, June 24 at 8:30pm on the Second Stage of The Broadwater. The address is 6320 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. Get more information here.