Author: Tim Acito, with additional book and lyrics by Alexander Dinelaris
Director: Drew Baker
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Set in a bizarro world of opposites where everybody is gay and the mere mention of heterosexuality is met with sharp intakes of breath, the allegory withinZanna, Don’t! is hardly subtle in its staging. But then, any musical which includes the line “There is no such thing as too many sequins!” is hardly going for understatement.
In the American high school Heartsville High, many things are inverted: not only do boys love boys and girls love girls, but the members of the chess club are treated like rock stars, and the football captain is expected to also be the star of the school musical. And when the kids decide to write and produce an edgy, issue-led (and hilariously awful) musical about the plights of straight people in the military, it precipitates a love that dare not speak its name between the leading man and leading lady.
Love in all its shapes and forms becomes the theme of the show’s multiplicity of songs. If you like musical numbers about love, whether unrequited or fulfilled, delivered with a knowingly thick layer of cheese, thenZanna, Don’t! delivers in bucketloads. Flitting around all the loved-up couples is magical matchmakerZanna(David Ribi), a sequinned fairy who claims to be happy at home playing with his magic wand while everybody else is coupling up – but who makes the ultimate sacrifice to help his straight friends. Ribi is every bit as charming and sweet as the caricature demands, although in some of the ensemble numbers even his lavish outfits can’t help him from being overshadowed by other members of the ensemble.
And it’s in the ensemble numbers that the staging of this musical is at its weakest. Director Drew Baker has chosen to rearrange the Landor’s already small performance space into a traverse layout. While it’s always nice to see attempts to use small venues differently, this arrangement has the unfortunate effect of not only making the space available for big dance numbers seem even smaller, but also ensures that at any one time up to half the audience are seeing the back of a singer’s head. Some of the show’s most energetic song and dance numbers thus find themselves restrained in both song and dance. And restraint is something thatZanna, Don’t! doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, do.
Thankfully, such limitations don’t stop the cast from going all out to keep up the fun and the occasional bout of pathos right until the end. Its high concept sexuality-switching setting may be a single joke stretched to the length of a musical, but the gusto with which it’s laid on so thickly prevents it from wearing thin.
Runs until 29th June