Tuesday, 15 July 2008

REVIEW: "Zorro"

There’s something unsettling about seeing a Spanish driven production of an American pulp fiction hero in a London theatre. And that feeling is independent of the show itself: the last Spanish musical in the Garrick received some of the worst West End reviews in recent history and while Hollywood has made the Zorro character more than he ever was in print, it’s still a troubling jump to bring such an action driven story to the stage.

In a way, the new Zorro reminds the RZ of the recent Robin Hood musical produced in Bremen, Germany. The two share a similar tone and, at heart, storyline: the displaced noble returns to his home (be it Nottingham or colonial California) to become a hero dispensing GREAT JUSTICE against the semi-legitimate ruler. The German Robin Hood had some decent songs and nice cast, but was an overly mediocre affair. Unfortunately, this Zorro isn’t much better.

Opening to a band of Gypsies, the community elder informs us that we are about to hear of legend, and the story begins. The ageing colonial governor Don Alejandro (Jonathan Newth) is beloved by the people, and in his age sends his three children (two surrogate) towards their future: not-quite son Ramon (Adam Levy, resembling Peter Capaldi in Neverwhere) is on the fast track for military leadership, dreamer Louisa (Emma Williams) is to live with an aunt, and Diego (Matt Rawle), the freewheeling heir is packed off back to Spain to study at the military academy before taking over as governor. Three years pass, Diego ran away from the academy, and Ramon has imprisoned the Don and taken over the settlement. Louisa flees to Spain to find Diego, now living with a band of Gypsy entertainers, and the rest is self-discovery I’ll-be-a-hero plotting that’s strictly by-the-book.

Stephen Clark’s book, however, is flawed. For about 95% of the show, Zorro is a larger than life romantic adventure. The other five percent, however, are campy dialogues which serve the plot but derail the tone, as if Clark lacks faith in the story’s ability to keep the audience entertained and needs to joke it up whenever things begin to get too serious. While the camp is amusing in its own right, removing it would be for the better. Also responsible for the lyrics, Clark turns in a set of functional but unamazing ballads leaving most of the choral and dance songs to the Gipsy Kings who write their lyrics in Spanish.

In Spanish. At the Garrick. Again. This is what the RZ refers to as Cabaret disease. When dealing with foreign territories and characters, it’s appropriate nee expected to include some form of localised flavour text, such as referring to people as Señor and Señorita. And while Cabaret gets away with having the occasional song verse or line in German, most shows that try significant foreign language integration fail miserably (see: The Light in the Piazza) and Zorro falls into the latter category. Any time the Spanish kicked in on a song the lyrics ceased to matter and that is not good writing for the musical theatre because it breaks your music-text integration.

But anyway. The music’s good, there’s lots of flamenco dancing by real flamenco dancers, and on an entertainment level, the songs do their duty by preventing boredom. And then there’s the effects. For those mourning Lord of the Rings, Zorro may not offer the sheer presence of money onstage, but there’s plenty of sword fighting (GOOD sword fighting, not the rubbish you see at the Globe or Barbican), fire effects, acrobatics, and magic. Despite the show’s action being scaled down to fit the Garrick’s relatively small stage, there’s been so much disappointing spectacle going around lately that seeing it done well gives the RZ much cause to celebrate: he likes his eye candy as much as anybody.

Last, there are also three acting standouts whom the RZ wishes to address before wrapping up: While Adam Levy’s acting choices aren’t overly original (see above), his ability to play the calm dictatorial bastard is a joy to watch, as the RZ is firmly in the “every story is only as good as its villain” camp. Nick Cavaliere is given a thankless role, as the Sancho Panza-esque Sergeant who attempts and fails repeatedly to woo Zorro’s true star: the fiery Lesli Margherita, making her West End debut as the take-no-prisoners Inez. Ms. Margherita may be given billing on the website under the company vs. the principles, but make no mistake: she is the woman to watch and wipes the floor with all who get in her way.

Despite its flaws, Zorro is shaping up to be a much-needed hit for the Garrick. Tour groups are already making their presence felt, as are a significant number of Spanish visitors if the RZ’s seating neighbours were anything to go by last night. It may not be an amazing show, but at the right price Zorro is a popcorn flick onstage fulfilling all stereotypes of fluffy summer tastes in the theatre.

Where: Garrick Theatre
When: M-Sa @ 19:30, Th/Sa @ 15:00
How Much: (Post-preview prices) £35-60, some variance between Fr/Sa and other perfs.
Concessions: A “Fair Access Rate” for M-Th is listed on the website as being £29.50, but didn’t include students when the RZ bought his ticket during previews. Your mileage may vary.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £20. Amusing but not amazing.
RZ Other Notes: The RZ went to Zorro on the cheap and paid £15 for the front row restricted view seats in the upper circle. They were fine as long as the action wasn’t on the front lip of the stage, which is more of a problem in the second act than the first. If you can, book here and move back a row or two or get discounted seats elsewhere. Zorro is also a vertically driven show, so heed all warnings about the rear stalls having overhang problems. Also, the Garrick is not air conditioned. Bring water or expect to buy ice cream at the interval if it’s warm outside.

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