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Zombies Invade North Broadway (Onstage, That Is)

(From left) Travis Jackson, Jill Abusch, Steven Abusch, Ryan Jackson.

By Christine Chagaris
White Plains Patch
Aug. 11, 2011

It was applause all around as The Play Group Theatre’s MainStage presented the premiere of the musical comedy, “Zombie Prom” on Wednesday night.

Opening night attracted a large audience, among who were members of White Plains civic organizations, The Thomas H. Slater Center and El Centro Hispano. Both reach out with helpful resources to members of the community who may be underserved. Slater Center Executive Director Heather Miller of Mount Vernon was among those singing the show’s praises.

“I was amazed at how well done the production was,” she said.

Haqqiqah Ford, 15 and a Slater Center attendee, seconded Miller’s sentiments.

“It was very entertaining, I enjoyed it a lot,” she said.

The Play Group Theatre offers free scholarships for students to participate in their programs; as well as free tickets to their productions for students and families with El Centro Hispano and the Slater Center — so that those who may not normally get to experience the theatre would have the chance.

Millie Castro of White Plains — El Centro Hispano’s Girl Scout Leader of 30 years, said before the show — that attending the play would not only be an entertaining experience for her group, but a meaningful one as well.

“We came two months ago when the theatre presented ‘Batboy,’” she said. “It’s great that not only the kids get to come, but the parents as well because they don’t often get the chance to be exposed to theater, due to limited resources.”

The Play Group Theatre is a not-for-profit educational theater group that offers children of all ages the opportunity to study the craft of acting and engage in performances of plays and musicals.

Executive Director Steven Abusch, 42, and his wife, Jill, 40, residents of the Highlands neighborhood of White Plains began the theatre 16 years ago.

It moved to its current and permanent home at 1 North Broadway a year ago after being in various locations.

The Play Group Theatre is year-round, and boasts various programs that range in scope: the MainStage Program is an intensive, audition-oriented curriculum that allows students to master their theatrical skills and perform in a variety of plays and musicals in the program’s MainStage theatre.

StudioStage is where students can learn aspects of the performing arts at a more relaxed pace and present the finished product onstage; Little Theatre, is geared toward allowing younger actors to explore their theatrical talents; and Summer Theatre and private lessons round out the programs.

“It’s really kind of a home away from home for the kids who participate,” said Play Group Theatre’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, Annette Rotter, a resident of the city’s Prospect Park neighborhood. “Everyone is so connected here, so it’s like family in a way.”

The spirit of the theatre’s programs is that they are all-inclusive. Everyone who auditions for a role, for example, gets a part.

“It’s really wonderful, because the kids really have each other’s backs and are completely open to the process here,” said Steven Abusch, after the show. “There are no ‘walls’ up, so nobody’s afraid of looking silly.”

Both Abuschs have a passion for the theater arts. Jill Abusch studied theater in college, while her husband concentrated on fine arts and set design.

“We put our loves together and started The Play Group Theatre,” said Jill Abusch, with a smile.

The selection process for plays and musicals is a detailed one.

“Zombie Prom,” which originally was performed off-Broadway, has been on our list a long time,” said Jill. “We choose plays that artistically, musically and character-wise are best suited to our performers.”

Two of “Zombie Prom’s” performers who waxed enthusiastic about the production were White Plains resident Travis Jackson, 17, and his brother Ryan, 12.

Travis — who was awarded a full scholarship to the MainStage program by The Play Group Theatre through the Slater Center — plays the role of Jake in the production, and Ryan is Barry the Announcer. Both attend the Slater Center.

“I love coming here, performing and learning,” said Travis. “The teachers and staff are phenomenal.”

His brother was reveling in the positive response to the musical.

“I really liked the laughs I got onstage, and I enjoyed the training and the choreography involved,” he said.

“Zombie Prom,” takes place in the 1950s, at the fictional Enrico Fermi High School amid gals decked out in poodle skirts, and guys in the cardigan sweaters and vests.

The plot revolves around the main characters: teen sweethearts Jonny Warner and Toffee. Jonny meets an unfortunate and untimely demise in the town’s nuclear reactor — he returns as a green-faced zombie, much to the surprise, but ultimate delight, of Toffee and her classmates. Everyone is looking forward to the upcoming prom.

One person who is not so thrilled is their straight-laced teacher, Miss Delilah Strict, who will have nothing to do with a zombie crashing a dance on her watch. Laughs and rollicking musical numbers abound.

“Zombie Prom” will have showings tonight; Monday, Aug. 15; and Thursday, August 18. All performances are at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $12 for all ages.

The Play Group Theatre is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization made possible in part by generous donors like you. Thank you for your support!