Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Zanna Don’t! Feb 4, 2009 ***

 Zanna Don’t!  
Book, music, & lyrics by Tim Acito; additional book & lyrics by Alexander Dinelaris, by Quirky Productions
Chapel off Chapel  Feb 4 to 14, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 4, 2009

The 2003 Off-Broadway production of Tim Acito’s, Zanna Don’t! launched the career of Jai Rodriguez of Queer Eye fame. It won the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Anti-Defamation) award which tells you something about the content.

Zanna Don’t! is a funny and warm musical about young love. Although the show is not overtly political, Heartsville High exists in an alternative universe in which homosexuality is the norm and chess-players, not football stars, are sex symbols. Zanna (Samuel Kitchen) has magical matchmaker powers; he waves his sparkly wand and students fall in love.

He matches lonely quarterback, Steve (Nic Riley), with Mike (Chris Buchanan), the Chess Club star. Then he weaves his spell over tough Roberta (Jessica Carbone) and mechanical bull rider, Kate (Kate Williams). But Zanna’s plans go awry when Mike writes a controversial school revue about heterosexuals in the military and Steve and Kate kiss on stage then fall in love.

This Melbourne ensemble is cute, charming and energetic as the spunky teens. Luke Gallagher’s direction is slick and choreography by Tamara Finch and James Rooney is sassy. The five-piece band, lead by Julia Buchanan, does justice to Tim Acito’s music and its mix of popular styles including rockabilly, disco and lyrical love ballads. Andrew Bellchambers backdrop is sensational.

Apart from the title’s allusion to Xanadu, there are satirical references to musicals including Grease and Godspell. All the songs are about aspects of love (another musical title?). It opens with the vivacious Who’s Got Extra Love? by Zanna and cast, its lyrics cleverly establishing the story and characters in the first five minutes.

 Buchanan and Riley’s voices blend well in the duet, I Think We’ve Got Love. The narrative changes when, later, Buchanan and Williams sing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a more poignant duet about heterosexual love. The pain of illicit love is even more potent in the quartet, Don’t You Wish We Could be in Love?

There are several rollicking tunes. Carbone belts out with zest her song about wasting time on unfaithful lovers, I Ain’t Got Time. When she falls in love with Kate at the mechanical bull practice, the ensemble sings, Ride ‘Em, a country-style hootenanny.  Luke Taylor and Drew Downing are a riot singing Fast, a rapid-fire, rockabilly patter duet.

Zanna Don’t! takes the standard musical “boy meets girl” narrative by the scruff of the neck and gives it a good shake. This production is worth a look.

By Kate Herbert

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