“The Singing Dead”?

Dan Haughey is putting his own spin on the popular zombie genre with a new 10-minute musical, “Zombie Auteur,” a three-person show which will premiere in a staged reading Friday, Nov. 10, at (fittingly) Dead Poet’s Espresso in downtown Moline.

The short show about romance and zombie surprises takes the stage in the form of a fun reading-recital at Dead Poet’s coffee shop (1525 3rd Ave. A, Moline), near John Deere Commons, on Nov. 10th, in free back-to-back presentations at 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. The musical was completed in February 2022, by Dan Haughey, teaching-artist and retired Black Hawk College professor, to be co-performed by Jordyn Mitchell and Caleb Swinney in lead roles.

The 10-minute musical reading Nov. 10 features Jordyn Mitchell, left, and Caleb Swinney, who will open Music Guild’s new “Sweeney Todd” that night at Prospect Park, Moline.

Mitchell and Swinney also open in Music Guild’s “Sweeney Todd” Friday night (in a 7:30 p.m.), as the young in-love leads, Johanna and Anthony.

Haughey describes the new story this way:

A high school girl and her boyfriend — brainiacs in their class — are excited about making a zombie documentary movie for their school science fiction project.  The girl’s dad — a local choir director and teacher played by Haughey — declares that there is nothing scientifically true about zombies.

Caleb Swinney, 18, and Jordyn Mitchell, 19, rehearsing for “Zombie Auteur.”

He obsessively complains that the values of youth are deteriorating when they waste so much time on dark topics like the phenomena of zombies; a debate ensues about entertainment, beliefs, and the evidence of zombies. Dad pokes fun at kids, and vice-versa, and the kids win, convincing Dad to be the star of the film. 

Haughey, well-known in the area for performing one-man shows (especially on Ulysses S. Grant) has co-written a couple musicals (including “Aaron Power” with Michael Callahan), and planned to offer a March 2022 workshop at BHC on how to pen a 10-minute show.

“I started out just to write something as a teaching tool, that I could use to walk through people in this workshop and my group could relate to it,” he said Monday. “If I’m talking about these principles and these guideposts for writing a good musical, even though it’s 10 minutes, it still needs to be a good musical.”

Inspired by daughter

Haughey was inspired by the zombie theme partly because his daughter (a choreographer and dance teacher in Santa Fe) loves the genre.

Dan Haughey as former U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant (Bishop Hill Heritage Association)

For “Zombie Auteur,” he wrote the book, music and lyrics (there are basically just two songs), and said the biggest challenge was keeping it to 10 minutes. He will play the father in Friday’s staged readings. All three will also provide the musical accompaniment.

In the story, Haughey’s father is the antagonist, who clashes both with his daughter and her boyfriend.

One corner of Dead Poet’s Espresso, off 15th Street and River Drive, Moline.

He chose Dead Poet’s as the venue since Haughey has performed there a number of times, including last month in a reading of Edgar Allan Poe works. Co-owner Charles Lahl encouraged him to do it as part of the “Holiday Hop” weekend in downtown Moline.

Lahl originally asked him to consider expanding the Poe program, but Haughey thought it would be too long, so he asked him for something shorter, with another scary theme.

Haughey performing at Dead Poet’s Espresso.

“I said, ‘What about zombies? I thought we could do a staged reading if you want. He said, ‘That’s great’,” Haughey recalled. They couldn’t get it ready closer to Halloween, so it worked out better for Nov. 10, and the young actors were able to rehearse in late afternoons before their “Sweeney Todd” rehearsals began at 6:30 p.m. weeknights at Music Guild.

The stars’ impressions

Swinney, an 18-year-old Pleasant Valley graduate, said he was in an original play his sophomore year, written by a student.

Mitchell and Swinney in rehearsal for Music Guild’s “Sweeney Todd,” where they play Johanna and Anthony.

“Besides that, this is the first original musical I’ve taken part in,” he said, noting doing the four rehearsals for “Zombie Auteur” were not hard to juggle while doing “Sweeney.” It didn’t have to be memorized and the songs are simple, Swinney said.

“We duet, everything is unison, no harmony,” he said. “I think he was going for a more gothic theme with the whole thing. It’s very hymnal-esque in terms of music.”

“I thought it looked silly and fun,” Swinney said, adding he’s been in about five shows now with Jordyn, including opposite each other in the beloved musical “Spring Awakening” in October 2022 at Center for Living Arts, Rock Island.

Mitchell, a 19-year-old Bettendorf High alum, closely identifies with her “Zombie Auteur” character.

Jordyn Mitchell as Johanna at “Sweeney Todd,” which will run Nov. 10-12 and 17-19 at Prospect Park, Moline.

“She’s definitely like a lot teenage girls I know,” she said Monday night. “There’s one line where I say, ‘Dad, you just have a personal zombie bias.’ It’s very Gen Z take on zombies, so it’s a little ironic. She loves zombies, she wants to make a documentary about it.”

Mitchell’s favorite zombie film is 2004’s “Shaun of the Dead.”

“I love a good zombie comedy, something that’s satirical,” she said. “It doesn’t take itself seriously. And there’s a lot of that in ‘Zombie Auteur’ too. My character is very over-the-top and satirical in how she feels about zombies, for sure.”

This is her first original show. “It’s been fun to say lines that no one’s ever said before,” Mitchell said. She said it’s no extra pressure to premiere it the same day the massive “Sweeney” opens.

Mitchell and Swinney (left) co-starred in the Center for Living Arts production of “Spring Awakening” in October 2022.

“It’s actually been a pretty laid-back experience, and it’s also just a read-through, so we have our scripts and everything,” she said. “It’s not a full production. Caleb and I saw they were looking for parts that matched our age. We said, ‘Why not?’ And we both just like to stay busy, something creative that we can both do together.”

Being a reading, the actors will perform having the scripts on music stands at Dead Poet’s. From 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Dead Poet’s Espresso also will host Create! QC’s make and take mini-session on making ornaments, with free apple cider.

Swinney and Mitchell rehearsing the new 10-minute musical, “Zombie Auteur.”

The annual two-day Holiday Hop (Friday and Saturday) marks the start of the holiday season in Moline Centre with shopping, holiday treats, live music, activities for all ages, and more. You can ride a trolley, visit with Santa, and see live ice sculpting, too. 

For a complete list of participating businesses and activities, visit the Holiday Hop website HERE.