Zanna, Donít! Book, Music and Lyrics by Tim Acito with additional book and lyrics by Alexander Dinelaris. Directed by Bert Bernardi.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
(l-r) Nicole DeMattei, Steven Cardona, Nisa Ari, Matt Densky, Geoff Lutz, Kyle Metzger, Megan Rozak, Jeffrey James Dinan; photo provided
"What kind of a world would this be if the captain of the football team wasnít in the school musical?"
Itís that kind of a show. Itís a fairy tale...self-proclaimed and not my label. In Heartsville, USA, once upon a time, all the boys have boyfriends and all the girls have girlfriends and high school is a place for mating for life with someone of your own gender. The kids all seem to have two Dads or two Moms. Itís rumored that in San Francisco you can find some straight people. Itís also true that the school has its very own Tracy Turnblad, except that instead of a chunky girl with little taste in clothing we have a fairy named Zanna whose face glows with sprinkles that glimmer and glow. He awakens to a new day in his town as he and the cast answer the musical question "Whoís Got Extra Love?" This sequence is one of several that more than incidentally remind you of other successful musicals about high school students.
There are parody/quotes - lines and situations - from Grease, Hairspray, and other shows too, although those are the two most blatantly identifiable ones. There is enthusiasm and after an initial groan by someone in the audience you seldom even sense any displeasure at this topsy-turvy, contemporary Gilbert and Sullivan world you find yourself in at the Theatre Barn in New Lebanon where this transformational world exists just now.
This may be the gayest musical since Boy Meets Boy, a 1975 musical by Bill Solly and Donald Ward. The utter acceptance of gayness as normalcy is refreshing in this new show (dating from 2003, actually) and the freakiness of heterosexuality is delightfully presented. If the score was less repetitious and the plot had a more sincerely stated ending, it would be a better show, but as things stand, with a very talented company of young players, it makes a fun evening that even inspired a standing ovation on opening night from about half the audience (house left actually and not a political or gender-biased group).
In its initial off-Broadway run Jai Rodriguez played Zanna; he was fresh from his appearances on the television series "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and was thought to be hot. The showís modest run was supposed to lead to a Broadway transfer but that never happened even though a move to a London production did take place. Nominated for quite a few awards, the show made a name for itself and now it is our turn, in this region, to decide if it is good enough to survive.
If it was the responsibility of the cast to make that happen, this group of young, fervent, attractive, and energetic players would see to it that "Zanna, Donít!" was the hit it was cracked up to be. Not all the voices are great and not all the faces are cute, but thereís enough talent and good looks to satisfy just about any taste. Matt Densky, for example, seems to never stop moving as Zanna. He plays a magical matchmaker, quite a career choice for a high school student. With his magic wand he makes flowers and gifts appear when needed. He knows just what music to play to inspire dancing and love. Densky seems to be a marathon dancer. His feet and his shoulders and head are constantly in motion. Not the best singer in the cast, he gets eight musical numbers to vocalize on and thatís just about forty-five percent of the songs.
Mike and Steve, young lovers - a chess champion and a football star - fall in love early in the play. As portrayed by Jeffery James Dinan and Kyle Metzger, respectively, they are a handsome pair. Both men sing well, dance nicely and act accordingly. Their romance, from its edgy beginning to its unanticipated conclusion, is handled very sweetly. Both men are appealing and seem destined to continue in musicals in the future. Their style brings a reality to this fairy tale that was very illuminating, necessary and welcome.
Kate and Roberta, the Lesbian counterparts of Mike and Steve, are played by Nisa Ari and Megan Rozak. Rozak is back for her fourth season at the Barn and, as always here, plays an aggressive and wonderful character with emotive style and an attractive personality. Ari is a gentler soul and just a charmer clutching things to her chest whenever possible. Both women sing well and add a gusto to the show that it needs.
A third couple feature in the tale, Candi and her minion Buck. Played by Nicole DeMattei and Geoff Lutz they offer a comic counterpart to the other two couples. Steven Cardona plays the DJ named Tank whose secret love for Zanna may save the day by the ending of the play.
Itís a weak ending, however, and that is a principal problem with the play. The other weakness is the music which tends toward difficult to hear lyrics and a rhythmic beat that pushes defiantly onward whether you need it or not. I did like "I Ain't Got Time," sung by Roberta (Rozak) and "Don't Ask" sung by Kate and Steve (Ari and Metzger) a great deal. Zanna's eleven o'clock number "Someday You Might Love Me" was also a song to appreciate. Most of the cast double and even triple roles and the play, in a single hour and three quarters act, moves slowly. Bert Bernardiís direction keeps everyone moving almost all of the time, so no blame accrues to him here. His work is exemplary as is the lighting design by Allen E. Phelps which seems to almost illuminate these performers from within rather than from without; light seems to move with them and it is never intrusive, just highly theatrical reality. Bernardi is responsible for the constant movement that, frankly, exhausted me. It is necessary to the show, however, and he has done a remarkable job instilling life into the characters, but this, like beauty, is really only skin-deep here.
Abe Phelps' set is more practical than anything else, but Kate R. Mincerís costumes are perfection for the characters. Over all the show was entertaining and pretty to look at, but there wasnít much to carry away from it. I came out literally humming the lighting in this one. A curiosity rather than a fulfilling experience, it is still worthwhile seeing just to learn what not to do when youíre writing a musical.
Zanna, Donít! plays at the Theatre Barn, located at 654 Route 20 in New Lebanon, NY through August 9. For information or tickets call the box office at 518-794-8989.