Zombies: the Musical (interview and preview)

Zombies: the Musical is running at The Other Palace in showcase form until 19 October.

It is “an irreverent, comedic tale about an experiment gone wrong and an undying search for love. Featuring catchy tunes and cheeky lyrics, the songs will infect your brain and plague your head long after the show is over.” With hints of Frankenstein, Little Shop of Horrors, and even Romeo and Juliet, this promises to be an entertaining evening!

It is written by Daryl Griffith, who has agreed to answer some questions for this feature.

Daryl Griffith, writer of Zombies: the Musical

First of all, congratulations on getting Zombies ready to showcase at The Other Palace: I can’t wait to see it!

DG: Scary though it is, we’re all really looking forward to performing it. It’s been such a long time getting to this point, that it will be fantastic to experience the show in a theatre, and feel that, for this milestone, we have actually arrived. 

There’s been a lot of interesting horror musicals recently. Why this one now, and what makes it stand out from the crowd?

DG: Whilst strictly speaking I suppose this is a horror musical, at its heart it is a comedy, but more importantly, a love story.  I’ve always found zombies very funny, and was a huge fan of Shaun of the Dead, so when I decided to write a comedic musical, something involving zombies was the obvious choice. In terms of standing out, I feel that I have a talent for writing melody, and have been told that I have produced many catchy tunes for this musical. I also have a rather “naughty” sense of humour (I loved The Book of Mormon) and I’m afraid that I have given in to that somewhat, in both the script and the song lyrics.

Tell me a bit about how Zombies has evolved from idea to musical showcase. How long has it taken, and have there been any major highs and lows along the way?

DG: I had the initial idea of a zombie love story a couple of years ago, wrote a few songs, and pitched it to Bradley Farmer (the Executive Producer, and Publisher), who liked what he heard, and encouraged me to finish writing the rest of the songs. From there I then put together a script, did a few really small-scale workshops and followed that up with a table read featuring friends active in a couple local am-dram troupes. That was really useful, as it helped me hone the script and make a few tweaks regarding pacing and dramatic balance.

Next, we managed to get some talented young singers to put a video together of five of the songs. We were also very fortunate in getting Jodie Jacobs and Alex Spinney to perform the songs on this video, which we then used to persuade The Other Palace to allow us to put on the showcase. There have been many highs, the most exciting of which was hearing my songs performed for the very first time. There haven’t been any lows as such, but this whole period leading up to the showcase has been very stressful.

When you are doing something on a limited budget, you can only afford to hire people for the jobs you really can’t do yourself, which means a very steep learning curve…! And, given I wanted to pay the actors a decent fee for this project, you can’t have an extended rehearsal period either. We cast the parts in mid/late September and rehearsed for just over a week before opening night, though most of the cast had their scripts and songs a bit before that.

What should audiences expect who come along to see the current version of Zombies?

DG: Being a showcase, there is only limited staging and costumes. The cast play up to four different characters and are mostly differentiated with appropriate props. However, we will be performing all of the songs and all of the script. We are also using a cue card system, on a big screen, in order to help the audience better understand the various scenes and things we can’t show properly. However, as the show doesn’t rely on flashing scenery or spectacular effects, but only on good music, and (hopefully) a funny script, I think it will still be a good night out for anyone who attends. 

What have been your major influences in developing the show?

DG: As previously mentioned, I am a fan of The Book of Mormon, but I also love The Producers. I am drawn to the irreverent sense of humour in both of those shows. As a child, and then growing up, I loved all the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, as well as many others, like My Fair Lady, Grease and Little Shop of Horrors. Musically, I think the eclectic group of styles in Zombies uses elements from all of those wonderful musicals.

Zombies poster

I love the publicity campaign that has been plaguing us across social media to get Zombies out there: how did that evolve?

DG: With the work I do with my publisher (2nd Foundation Music) we produce many videos, often with a humorous twist, so doing the same for Zombies was a natural progression. I know that I always love “behind the scenes” videos and blogs, so we thought that others would probably like them as well, and hopefully attract enough interest to eventually be able to take Zombies to the next level.

You’re been involved with the English National Ballet as well as several TV projects. Has a stage musical been a natural progression or quite a segue?

DG: It’s seems a bit of a side swerve, but it combines all the things I love about theatre: music, singing, drama and (eventually) dance. Having worked on many projects with many people and companies, I have always been part of someone else’s vision, so this is a chance, for a change, to work with people who are helping me to create my own vision. I’m sure that lots of other people will understand when I say that writing a musical is something I’ve wanted to do for a long while, but finding the time has been difficult. However, with the support and encouragement from Bradley, and many other members of my team, I finally managed to set aside enough time to start, write and complete this musical.

What about your cast and fellow creatives – how have all the pieces fitted together to make this project work?

DG: We have a great cast, but rehearsals didn’t commence until 7th October, but they quickly gelled and have developed into a formidable team. However, in my own team I have a fantastic Technical Director, Stage Manager, and people dealing with props and marketing, so have been able to offload some of the work, and stress, onto others..! We have been preparing music and demos for the cast for many weeks, in order to help them learn the show quickly. We have also sorted out click tracks, printed the music and recorded the backing tracks for the band, done lighting design charts, and organised some rudimentary blocking for the cast (so that they know when to get on and off the stage). Hopefully all the pieces should fit together like a well-designed jigsaw.

Any advice to budding musical creators out there?

DG: From my experiences so far there are three things that stand out:

Make sure that you know what you’re trying to say in your piece. If an idea is angst ridden, and depressing, don’t try to squash it into something that it obviously isn’t.

Be efficient. If you want people to support you, make their lives as easy as possible.

Do take constructive criticism, but believe in yourself. You will soon learn whose opinion to trust, and who is just trying to score points off you.

Finally, Zombies looks to have the makings of a fan/cult favourite. What should its fans be called?

DG: How about Zombonis?

My thanks to Daryl for his time and very interesting answers! I will be visiting Zombies on 18 October. You can book your tickets at https://lwtheatres.co.uk/whats-on/daryl-griffiths-zombies-the-musical/.