Broadway-bound 'Zorro' a sizzling sensation at Hale West Valley

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Feb. 17 2012 3:51 p.m. MST

Derek Smith as Zorro, Jacquelyne Jones as Luisa and Paul Cartwright as Ramon in the U.S. premiere of "Zorro the Musical," at the Hale Centre Theatre, through April 11.

Hale Centre Theatre

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“ZORRO THE MUSICAL,” Hale Centre Theatre, through April 11, 801-984-9000 or halecentretheatre.org

WEST VALLEY CITY — ¡Viva el Zorro! In its U.S. premiere at the Hale Centre Theatre, “Zorro” is a spicy, infectiously enjoyable musical extravaganza.

The creative determination that brought the Broadway-bound musical first to Utah continues, with the Hale pulling out all the stops to make “Zorro” a blazing, richly rewarding show. The talent assembled on stage for the opening-night gala on Thursday electrifies, led by a dashing Derek Smith as Diego-Zorro, the beautiful Jacquelyne Jones as his love interest Luisa and a saucy Victoria Greco as Gypsy Queen Inez. Equally impressive is the visual splendor — rich, vibrantly hued costumes, sword fight prowess and sudden bursts of pyrotechnics aplenty.

The strength of “Zorro” is the winning score from the AndalucÍan-pop group the Gipsy Kings. Written in the rumba flamenca style, with rapid Spanish guitar strumming and pulsating trumpets, the songs include stand-up-and-cheer anthems and tender ballads. They infuse the show with strong emotions of heartfelt love and impassioned cries for freedom — and are a refreshing alternative to traditional theater-song-writing. The script is influenced by a variety of sources, some more obvious than others, but is entertaining and full of character-derived humor.

Childhood friends in the London production, the two men at the center of the story are Diego and Ramon, who are here brothers — “one of the moon, the other of the sun.” Diego is dispatched to Spain from the colonial-era Pueblo of Los Angeles and taught fiery passion by a caravan of gypsies. With their father presumed dead, Ramon somewhat instantly becomes a tyrannical governor of the peasants. After Luisa travels to Spain, Diego returns as the sword-wielding, masked avenger Zorro while pretending to be a fey servant to now-Captain Ramon. Stretching believability, Ramon first tries to execute Luisa but then decides to force her into marrying him. Ramon is the show’s thinly written character: What is it that has made him so evil? It’s as if the script dictates, "insert evil villain-brother here."

Director-choreographer Dave Tinney skillfully balances the derring-dos with the romance and swiftly moves the action along to a satisfying conclusion of triumph. The difficult flamenco dancing is left to a core group of quick-stepping dancers with a bit of flamboyance, and the hard-working ensemble is more capable of performing standard theater choreography. Tinney’s intention is to set dances according to the ability of his players, though some ensemble dancers struggle for the razor-sharp precision he aims for. Fight choreographer Brad Schroeder has worked closely with many of the players, with the furious final battle between the brothers as a high point.

Three rollicking ensemble numbers standout: “Baila Me,” which immediately sets the evening’s joyous tone; the Venezuelan folk song “Bamboleo,” to end Act 1; and the buoyant “Djobi Djoba.” But the solos — “The Man Behind the Mask,” strongly sung with great emotion by leading lady Jones; and a new song after the show’s London engagement, “Remember,” a poignant duet by Jones and Smith — are also stirring and provide a nice contrast. As the hero, Smith, showing tremendous energy, takes on a range of guises and negotiates each with great aplomb. Jones is a vibrant actress with a lovely singing voice. The couple leaves a lasting impression and gives the enthused audience much to cheer about at the finale, an engaging fiesta of song reprises.

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