Teens and the walking dead party on ‘Zombie Beach’

What if Vampira, the dead-eyed ghoul from Plan 9 From Outer Space, tangled with Annette Funicello, the perky teen heroine of Beach Blanket Bingo?

John Cecil might’ve had more pressing matters on his mind before that burning question took over, but he couldn’t rest, wouldn’t rest, until he had the answer.

Cecil, a Pinellas-born playwright, songwriter and musician, is the brains behind Zombie Beach: The Musical, opening Thursday in Tampa.

It’s a collaboration between LAB Theater Project, Ybor City’s professional theatrical company, and Hillsborough Community College’s theater program.

John Cecil. Photo provided.

After studying theater at the Pinellas County Center For the Arts, Cecil moved to New York City, where he wrote and acted off-off Broadway, wrote a sitcom pilot (“it got made but not bought”) and played in rock ‘n’ roll bands.

With Zombie Beach Party, the songs came first (Brooklyn rockabilly musician Laura Rebel-Angel helped write a couple of them).

“We were just doing the songs in a tiki bar in the East Village, Otto’s Shrunken Head,” Cecil explains. “We almost had a residency – like every Saturday night. We got written about in the Village Voice, and every week more people were showing up. It really felt like it was taking off.

“On Halloween of 2012, we were going to do our big showcase – we had invited all these producers and industry people. And Hurricane Sandy hit New York City. And as a Floridian, I was saying ‘Guys, we can work through this. It isn’t a big deal.’”

It WAS a big deal.

“It knocked the electricity out downtown. The bar is on East 14th Street in Manhattan, and that was the demarcation line of where the electricity went out. Across the street from where we were, they had power. And we didn’t.”

It wasn’t long before he didn’t have a show, either, as one band member after another drifted away in search of new gigs and new adventures. In the meantime, Cecil became a father. And years passed.

A friend of a friend put Cecil in touch with LAB founder and producer Owen Robertson, whose organization only does original works. Robertson was looking for an unproduced musical.

And then the plot began to … well, not thicken, exactly. To coagulate.

“I was watching something on AMC, and Beach Blanket Bingo came on,” Cecil recalls. The 1965 romp features former Mouseketeer Funicello, along with Frankie Avalon, Don Rickles and Paul Lynde.

“Everybody in that movie is overacting, and winking at the camera, and kind of goofing around. And then there’s Annette. And she cares about the story. She’s selling it – ‘you bought a ticket and I’m going to give you a show.’ When she talks to people, she’s trying to act. When she dances, she’s dancing for the viewer, not for her friends goofing around on a movie set.”

In his mind, he pitted super-earnest Annette against creepy, murderous Vampira. He gave them pals. He gave them a plot (“In a little-known Southern California beach town, a group of teenagers head straight for the beach as soon as school ends for summer vacation. Of course, the beach is named after a famous horror movie creator …”) He tweaked his existing songs, and Zombie Beach: The Musical was born:

“It became pretty obvious, says Cecil, “that they were going to fight over a guy.”

Zombie Beach: The Musical is performed March 30 through April 8 in the Mainstage Theater at the Hillsborough Community College Ybor City campus, 1411 E. 11th Ave, in Tampa. Details and tickets are here.








Bill DeYoung

Catalyst Senior Writer and Editor Bill DeYoung was a St. Petersburg Times correspondent at the age of 17. He went on to a 30-year career at newspapers in Florida and Georgia. He is the author of "Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay's Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down," "Phil Gernhard Record Man," "I Need to Know: The Lost Music Interviews," "Vintage St. Pete: The Golden Age of Tourism - and More" and "Vintage St. Pete Volume II: Legends, Locations, Lifestyles."

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