Envisioned as the world’s first flamenco musical, “Zorro” has taken its own deliberate path to U.S. soil. Director Christopher Renshaw’s “Americanized” take on his 2008 West End production could use more polish, but this new version at the Alliance Theatre, running through May 5, is enjoyable and full of spectacle.
The hero Zorro was introduced in 1919 and has gone through all sorts of pop culture incarnations. Writers Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson don’t tread too far in their stage adaptation, based on Isabel Allende’s novel. In 1805, young Don Diego de la Vega (Royce Mann) is sent to Spain by his father (Mark Kincaid) to attend a military academy. Over time Diego becomes involved with a Gypsy group, led by Inez (Natascia Diaz). Ten years after he left America, Diego (played as an adult by Adam Jacobs) gets a visit from his childhood friend Luisa (Andrea Goss), who summons him back to Spanish colonial California.
Their common friend Ramon (Nicholas Carrière), who has been made captain of the army, has become tyrannical, and Diego’s father is feared dead. Returning home with his Gypsy troupe in tow, Diego sees Ramon in action as three men are sentenced to die for stealing. Realizing that someone needs to stand up to Ramon, Diego flings on a black cape and — voila — becomes the avenging, masked Zorro. Only Inez knows his real identity.
If this were a world premiere, it would be easier to overlook its miscues. Renshaw — who directed the Boy George musical “Taboo” and a Broadway revival of “The King and I” with Lou Diamond Phillips — has been working on the project since 2001 and has tinkered with it considerably since its West End run. After runs throughout the world afterward, “Zorro” made its American debut in Salt Lake City in early 2012, sans Renshaw as director, but the full creative team has been reunited for the Alliance gig.
After all this time, “Zorro” should, quite frankly, be further along in its development. At times it feels bloated, a two-and-a-half-hour production that is overlong by at least 20 minutes. It doesn’t help that Clark and Edmundson aren’t able to give the characters much dimension. The director has redone much of the musical score. In particular, Act I has been stuffed with original songs. Some, such as Zorro’s solo “Senor,” are welcome additions, but most get lost in the shuffle of the older, more established ones and do nothing to advance the musical or shed light on the characters.
What the production has going for it, however, is flair. It’s highly theatrical, with fire, swordfighting, magic tricks and a collapsing stockade, as well as the sight of Zorro zipping into the skies and later flying to the rescue across the audience. It’s campy at times, goofy when it needs to be and occasionally funny, especially a confession scene where Ramon reveals a secret.
Luckily, Renshaw enlisted the Gipsy Kings to write the music, with John Cameron co-composing and Clark handling lyrics. The flamenco-rumba beat works especially well in the context of the story and is balanced by wonderful choreography by Rafael Amargo, with plenty of foot-smashing, skirt-cascading moments. “Zorro” has a hard-working cast — more than 50 actors, dancers and musicians are involved — and at times it is irresistible. Almost all the Gypsy ensemble numbers are rousing, but the undeniable show-stopper is the Act I finale, “Bamboleo,” followed closely by “Djobi Djoba,” where Inez gives Luisa a Gypsy makeover.
Zorro is a physically and vocally challenging role, and Jacobs brings the requisite charisma to it. He literally flings himself into the spirit of the character. Goss, too, makes a lovely Lucia, but there isn’t much depth to either of these characters.
Memorable comic relief comes from Carrière’s Ramon and Eliseo N. Roman as Sergeant Garcia, the man who longs for Inez. But the performer whom everyone will be talking about is Diaz. Her Inez is salty, funny, knowing and full of passion. As a performer she is peerless; every number she anchors delivers the goods.
From a technical standpoint, “Zorro” is top-drawer. Tom Piper’s versatile set cleverly morphs from everything to a pueblo to a church to an underground prison cell. He also does stellar work with his Gypsy costuming.
Over the last decade, the Alliance has incubated a slew of new musicals that have worked their way to Broadway. Where “Zorro” goes from here is anyone’s guess. It has enormous potential, especially if Renshaw and company can ever make the story and characters as compelling as its flamenco sensibility and Gipsy Kings music. As it is now, “Zorro’s” sword doesn’t cut as deep as it could, but it leaves a mark nonetheless.
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