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Zombie! The Musical

  • Theatre, Musicals
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. Zombie! The Musical at Hayes Theatre
    Photograph: Hayes Theatre Co/John McRae
  2. Zombie! The Musical at Hayes Theatre
    Photograph: Hayes Theatre Co/John McRae
  3. Zombie! The Musical at Hayes Theatre
    Photograph: Hayes Theatre Co/John McRae
  4. Zombie! The Musical at Hayes Theatre
    Photograph: Hayes Theatre Co/John McRae
  5. Zombie! The Musical at Hayes Theatre
    Photograph: Hayes Theatre Co/John McRae

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

This hilarious new zombie horror-comedy from Aussie musical theatre darling Laura Murphy takes a rollicking stab at the Broadway leading lady trope

Zombies are everywhere in our collective bra(aaa)ins. There are the original mindless brain-eaters of Dawn of the Dead, dancing Michael Jackson zombies in ‘Thriller’, speedy zombies in 28 Days Later, silly zombies in Shaun of the Dead, rom-com zombies in Warm Bodies, family sitcom zombies in Santa Clarita Diet, and for the employment law nerds, there are even zombie agreements reaching from beyond their pre-2010 grave. 

Known for their pulpy gruesomeness and strange social satire, zombie films also have a reputation for being made on shoestring budgets and garnering devoted cult followings – just like a lot of live theatre. So it only makes sense that the next musical from writer/composer Laura Murphy (The Lovers, and “Australia’s HamiltonThe Dismissal) features singing, dancing, and manipulative zombies.

Zombie! isn’t all silliness. Murphy brings the leading ladies together in their pursuit of something more – meatier parts for women in musicals...

Much like its predecessors, this musical is veritably stuffed with meta-musical-theatre references, camp (gory) goodness, and genre-bending tunes that crawl right into your heart. Murphy’s triple-threat zombies also have something to say about “girl power” in musicals, and the never-ending fight to see three dimensional women on Broadway stages. While we would like to see these arguments for dealing with sexism more fully fleshed out, Zombie! The Musical is host to an exciting premise (healing viruses through the magic of musicals?!) and a rollicking good time.

Set on the eve of the Y2K bug scare – the era of discmans, Nokia 3310s and Vanessa Amorosi absolutely everywhere – Zombie! opens on a Sydney community theatre troupe rehearsing for the opening night of It’s a Musical! (The Musical), written and directed by the flamboyant and horrible George Mont-Mitchell (Drew Livingston of Mamma Mia! and The Deb). This eleventh-hour rehearsal provides us with a cutting, laugh-out-loud parody of classic musical theatre. It’s one of those New York-set musicals with a big opening and problematic love songs like ‘He Does It Because He Loves Me’. The pretty and wide-eyed Felicity (Stefanie Jones Muriel’s Wedding The Musical, Mary Poppins) plays leading lady Miss Chrysanthemum, all the while yearning for a more “meaty part”. Her number one fan Sam (Natalie AbbottMuriel’s Wedding The Musical, The Lovers) mouths Felicity’s every line from side stage, in her dreaded ensemble role “Sailor Number Three”. Carol (played in turn by the illustrious Tamsin Carroll) plays Miss Chrysanthemum’s aunt with hilarious Broadway flair, yearning for a time when she could play something other than a downgraded “difficult woman”.

Then, the unthinkable happens. Mediocre leading man Dave (Ryan Gonzalez Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Jersey Boys) is snatched up by a professional production of Rent and the show family has just three hours to find a replacement. Oh yeah, and outside the doors of the theatre, there’s a virus breaking out – one that starts with a cough, a headache, and cold sweats. No, it’s not Covid, it’s turning people into brain-eaters. (Whether they’re zombies or ghouls is debatable, depending on your level of pretentiousness when it comes to horror.)

Murphy’s broad comedic vision is lovingly realised by Darren Yap’s direction, making the tiny Hayes Theatre Co stage feel like it’s filled with a cast of thousands. Choreography by Chiara Assetta is also an absolute treat, with all styles of zombie movement channeled from hip hop to ballet. A nostalgic, wooden stage designed by Nick Fry is covered in musical posters and lit in neon by Verity Hampson’s lighting design, visually emphasising the marriage of ’90s pop and Broadway parody in Murphy’s music. Squishy sound design by David Grigg and garish costumes by Esther Zhong bring the violence on stage to musical theatre heights – cracking bones, headless zombies and all.

The first act of the show is filled with punny, clever quips and treats for those of us who spent our school holidays inside dusty theatres, swathed in mouldy costumes. Lines like “Oh my Gershwin!” had me in stitches, and only partially because this is something 15-year-old me definitely would have said. The zombie (or ghoul?) parts of Zombie! are approached with a similar level of camp silliness, with plenty of theatrical tricks that bring the delights of B-grade horror to the stage. Monique Sallé (The Lovers, The Dismissal) and Ryan Gonzalez play the majority of the zombies with all the limping, popping and locking you could ever want. Sallé also plays Doctor von Schreiber, a kooky parallel to The Rocky Horror Show’s narrator, who appears at educational intervals to explain just exactly how to handle the zombies (and exclaim the word “Science!”). As always, she shines in every role.

But Zombie! isn’t all silliness. Murphy brings the leading ladies Sam, Carol and Felicity together in their pursuit of something more – meatier parts for women in musicals, especially women who aren’t young or thin. At times it’s very earnest, and very funny, with a few jokes about musical theatre being the worldview of the “white American man”. Murphy isn’t afraid to take stabs at the sexism bubbling underneath many classic musicals, or society more broadly, and those stabs are usually precisely aimed in songs like ‘Not A Monster’ and ‘Meaty Part’.

The way these characters handle the zombies becomes a metaphor for how women handle mediocre men and everyday sexism, with the fed-up Felicity taking on a violent, Lara-Croft-Tomb-Raider approach while people-pleasing Sam takes the softer, kinder approach. The stabs (or criticisms) become a bit more haphazard as the musical continues, and the promise of well-rounded women doesn’t entirely eventuate. Sam’s softness is “right” where Felicity’s aggression is “wrong”, and it seems Murphy is a little hesitant to entirely rip the head off the leading lady trope, leaving her limp but mostly intact. The musical ends with ‘The Even Bigger Opening’, the tongue-in-cheek musical references littered throughout the show climaxing with the tale of a persecuted green-skinned woman and a fairy princess with a bubble-gun, and ties the zombie problem up neatly with a bow of kindness.

Despite this somewhat toothless ending, Zombie! The Musical is filled with talent, laughs, and plenty of blood and gore. It has all the right ingredients for an extravagant night out at the theatre, making every hour you ever spent sweating under broken theatre lights, covered in make-up (or every hour you spent thinking about whether or not you should keep a zombie agreement alive) seem like a glorious, collective experience. Follow it up with a zombie cocktail down the road at Piccolo Bar, and try not to stagger-dance your way home.

Zombie! The Musical is playing at Hayes Theatre Co, Potts Point, until April 6, 2024. Tickets range from $55-$84 and you can snap them up over here


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Charlotte Smee
Written by
Charlotte Smee


Opening hours:
Mon-Tue 6.30pm, Wed-Sat 7.30pm + Thu 1pm, Sat 1.30pm
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