“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.
Paul Cartwright is valiant to make the most of the one-note Ramon. His only song, a second addition since the West End, is “A Lifetime” that should more fully explain his now-bewildering motive. Another important element to this Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday cast is the versatile Jeffrey Whitlock as Garcia, a lieutenant in the governor’s militia. Whitlock and Greco’s gypsy-leading Inez provide much of the evening’s levity and resist temptation to make the jokes too broad. The comedy flows easily from their characters and makes strong contributions to the show’s success. “One More Beer,” in which Inez sees Garcia’s affection for her, is a splendid divertissement song and well-played by Whitlock and Greco.
A final striking element to include in this review is the beautifully lush, authentic-sounding recorded orchestration commissioned for this “Zorro.” Live musicians will perform the score when the national, pre-Broadway tour begins next year, and the Hale made a major investment when it took on the challenge to record the tracks that it can surely recoup when “Zorro” is licensed for other productions.
To the creative team of “Zorro,” an ebullient shout of bravo, better said as ¡OlÉ!
"Zorro the Musical": Book and lyrics by Stephen Clark, music by the Gipsy Kings, original story by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson and music co-composed and adapted by John Cameron.