“If musical theatre won’t take on the important social and political questions of our day, then who will?” This question is indicative of the world created by Tim Acito to tell the story of Zanna and his friends. At Heartville High, and the world it inhabits, everyone is homosexual; from five-star generals to baristas. What may surprise some audience members who are not members of the GLBTQ community is how few things that actually changes. Because this story is told as a fairytale, Acito has introduced an element of magic into the storyline. Those elements aside the world goes on pretty much as you would expect. Regretfully prejudice and bigotry are alive and well: it is only the foci of fear and derision that change. The author underscores his point with a sophisticated twist ending, that may surprise you too.
Opening night performances are often long on adrenaline and short on preparation. While I saw plenty of the former the latter was not in evidence. Director Michael Drury and his cast have been rehearsing this show hard for weeks and their efforts are all on stage. Sure, some of the performances will be more fully realized when you see it; that is one of the many great things about live theatre. But, all the building blocks of a successful run were there on opening night.
One of the strengths of the play is Acito’s broad musical capabilities that run from standard Broadway recitative to a Country-flavored patter song, to a moving and insightful quartet in the second act that briefly allows the underlying pathos of the story to surface.
The producer’s choice to add a live band to the production broadened the experience. Led by music director John Spencer on keyboard, the four-piece ensemble was flawless in its performance. Congratulations also to choreographer Frank Goodloe and costume designer Donna Lawrence-Downs for their light touches in adding elements that contributed to the storytelling without overwhelming it.
As Zanna Robbie Lewis’s pantomime is exceptional and gives life to two props that become, in his hands, full characters. I may go back for the final performance to see how he has grown and refined the character.
If there is a standout performance within this tight ensemble, however, it has to be Jill Sullivan’s Roberta. Her commitment and fearlessness in delivering the sensuality of her character elevates the entire production. Keep an eye on Patrick Brophy too. His character Arvin has only a few moments in the spotlight but watch what he’s doing in the shadows.
|Cover from the Off-Broadway cast recording.
Pandora Productions show runs through May 29
Bingham Theatre @ ATL
For tickets and more info: 502.216.5502
Pandora Productions’s final show of the season is The New Century. Already in rehearsal the show runs June 16–26, 2011. The 2011/2012 season opens in September with Terrence McNally’s a Man of No Importance. You will find more information about these shows and the upcoming season at www.PandoraProds.org. To get behind the scenes interviews and a deeper look at the works check in at www.Arts-Louisville.com.