Their Love Was Forbidden… and it Changed The World

Last night, we went to see a musical fairy tale, a gay little romp that is my daughter’s favorite musical about high school life. Grease? Nah. Bye Bye Birdie? Nah. We saw Zanna Don’t at the West Coast Ensemble in Silverlake.

Zanna Don’t” (MySpace) is a musical about love, in all its variations. Set in Heartsville USA, it (like Hello Dolly before it), is the story of a matchmaker changing the world. In this case, our matchmater is Zanna, who lives only to help people fall in love with the right guy or girl. The show opens on a busy day, where Zanna (Danny Calvert), dressed in pink, is creating some new matches between the super-popular Chess team champion, Mike (Dan Pacheco), and the new Football player, Steve (Brent Schindele). He also is matching up Roberta (Natalie Monahan) with the head of the precision mechancial bull riding team, Kate (Rebecca Johnson). He does this all with the aid of his canary, Cindy, his wand, and love music selected by Tank, the DJ (Brian Weir). If you noticed something odd here, perhaps I should explain.

Zanna Don’t is set in a topsy-turvy world, where being gay is normal. Guys go with guys, girls go with girls. Boys have two dads, Girls have two moms. The world stops for the Chess Team champions and the precision dancing team, and football is this off sport that no one understands. The local bar (the “I’m OK, You’re OK Corral”) serves milk, or if you’re having man trouble, Ovaltine.

Back to the story. Life at high school is highlighted by the drama club musical, directed by Candi (Justine Valdez) and her assistant, Brad (Matthew Rocheleau). This year they have chosen to do something daring, something that upsets the locals and the school board. They are doing a musical about heterosexuals in the military. The musical stars Steve (the football player) and Kate (the bull rider). Although they each have their own partners (Steve has Mike, Kate has Roberta), the reluctantly agree to kiss (but who would want to kiss someone of the opposite sex?). As you might guess, they fall in love. But this is a forbidden love, which has its consequences… and it is discovered at the end of Act I.

Act II deals with the consequences of this love. Their partners are left in the dark, not understanding how someone could fall that way. Candi is disgusted, and is protesting to the school board, which promptly bans straight couples from the prom. The couple turns to Zanna, who unleashes a love spell that changes the world, a spell that makes the world safe for heteros. After the spell is cast, the scene changes to the prom… where in their black tuxes, Mike and Roberta and Candi and Brad all gather together to crown their new King and Queen: Mike and Kate. Into this sashays Zanna, in a grey and pink tux… and is immediately the outcast, for he is (gasp) gay. But the attitudes change, and soon everyone is singing about how all love must be accepted (and Zanna finds a guy for himself, Tank).

This is a high-energy, high-spirited musical, with peppy songs by Tim Acito (additional book and lyrics by Alexander Dinelaris), strong direction by Nick DeGruccio, delightful choreography by Christine Lakin (MySpace) and Paul Nygro.

The high energy and high spirits are infectuous, and have clearly infected the cast, who seem to be having the time of their lives in this Los Angeles premier. All are excellent singers and dancers, but a few need to be singled out in various ways. On the singing front, I just adored the powerhouse singing of of Rebecca Johnson (Kate), Brent Schindele (Steve), and Justine Valdez (Candi). All of the cast were strong singers, but these three just blew the house away (in particular Ms. Valdez… I haven’t heard pipes like that since I fell in love with Klea Blackhurst). On the acting and emoting side, all the cast was excellent and having fun with the show (something I love to see), but particular standouts included Danny Calvert (Zanna), Natalie Monahan (Roberta), and Rebecca Johnson (Kate). I particularly enjoyed watching Ms. Monahan, who was having a blast with her role.

The theatre itself is a very small venue, under 50 seats. This strong singing and dancing production fits in only through the clever scenic design of Tom Buderwitz, the direction of Nick Degruccio (assisted by Flip Laffoon), and the previously-mentioned choreographers. The theatre seats, however, are nothing to write home about… but you came for the show anyway! Lighting was by Lisa D. Katz. Sound design was by Cricket S. Myers assisted by Patricia Cardona. Musical direction was by Bill Brown, whose single keyboard made the orchestra come alive. Stage management was by Lara Nall, with production by Richard Israel and Dana Moore, assisted by Suzanne Doss.

Zanna Don’t” continues at the West Coast Ensemble through most of August. Tickets are available through the box office; they are also on Goldstar. I strongly recommend this show.

I should note that the staff of the theatre was also remarkable. My daughter was able to get a poster for her Bat Mitzvah (we would rather promote local theatres in her theatre theme than venues 3000 miles away). We also had the opportunity to meet Steven Glaudini, artistic director of MTW Long Beach, who told us about their 2007-08 season (which sounds excellent). He’s the husband of Bets Malone, whose website is done by our friend shutterbug93. With Steven at the show was Misty Cotton (another friend of shutterbug93, who we recognized from our previous meetings… and thus we took the opportunity to briefly say hello). All in all, a delightful evening. I’ll also note that WCE has an intern program we might explore for nsshere.

Dining Notes: The mood for this delightful evening was set when we had dinner at the Flying Leap Cafe a few blocks up Hyperion from the theatre. The meal was excellent (I had the chicken fried steak, my wife had a steak salad, and my daughter had the cobb salad). But what set the mood was the clientele, for the restaurant and its bar and a very happy crowd, one might even say gay. Didn’t bother us at all, but it did set the mood.

So, what’s coming up on our theatre calendar? Next Saturday night is our playhouse night; we’re seeing “Can-Can” at The Pasadena Playhouse on 7/28 at 8:00pm. This is followed by “Beauty and the Beast” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 8/4 @ 2:00pm; the DCI 2007 World Championship Finals in Pasadena on 8/11 @ 5:00pm; and “Avenue Q” at the Ahmanson on 9/15 @ 2:00pm. We’re also debating the Hollywood Bowl… in particular, possibly Bernstein/Copland/Gershwin on 8/2, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy on 8/24-25, or American Originals on 9/11. We may also go see “Zanna Don’tagain… it is just that good.