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Zanna, Don't!

a Musical Comedy
CATEGORY : COMEDY MUSICAL
by Tim Acito and Alexander Dinerlaris

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 3374

SHOWING : May 14, 2009 - June 20, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

In this hilarious musical romp, Heartsville High is a place where gay is the norm and straight is, well, not! The school is turned on its ear when a boy and girl fall in love. It’s up to Zanna, the school’s resident magical matchmaker, to help the outcast teens fight for their love and battle heterophobia. You’ll leave the theatre smiling and humming the memorable tunes of this hysterically funny and heartwarming springtime treat.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Freddie Ashley
Music Director Linda Uzelac
Choreographer Ricardo Aponte
Costume Designer English Benning
Lighting Designer Joseph P. Monaghan III
Scenic Designer Jon Nooner
Sound Designer Rob Turner
Bass Dan Bauman
Drums Chip Coursey
Guitar Jaz Dixon
Keyboard/Banjo Mark W. Schroeder
Zanna Ricardo Aponte
Candi Erin Burnett
Arvin Bernard Jones
Mike Jimi Kocina
Roberta Erin Lorette
Steve Nicholas Morrett
Kate Caitlin Accord- Smith
Tank Chase Todd
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Fortune Cookie Play
by Dedalus
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
3.0
Tim Acito’s “Zanna, Don’t,” currently humming along at Actor’s Express, is a sweet, fortune-cookie of a musical that provides a diverting evening of song and “alternate universe” giggles, delivers a Hallmark-Greeting sort of schmaltzy “message,” but left me hungry for more.

In the world of Heartsville High, gay love is the norm (and it is love and not sex we’re talking about here), and straight is the love that “dare not speak its name.” New student Steve (Nick Morrett) wonders if he’ll fit in with the popular kids from the chess club (he plays football, a sign of societal suicide in this high school caste system), Roberta (Erin Lorette) wonders why she always attracts the kind of girl who wants to “move on” as soon as possible, Chess champ Mike (Jimi Kocina) is lonely and awkward, and spunky Kate (Caitlin Smith) prefers remaining unattached until she knows what she wants to do with her life. Flitting through it all is Zanna (Ricardo Aponte, who also choreographed the piece), a self-appointed cupid who spreads magic and joy everywhere he goes (whether it’s wanted or not). Rounding out the cast are Erin Burnett, Bernard D. Jones, and Chase Todd, all playing multiple roles with distinctive characterization and charming voice. True to musical comedy form, Steve and Mike quickly hook up, as do Roberta and Kate. Not so true to form, a mid-show production of a play about being open to “heterosexuals in the armed services” leads Steve and Kate to discover a shockingly scandalous attraction to each other.

There is a lot to like about this show, starting with the songs. Tim Acito (who also did “Women of Brewster Place” staged by the Alliance a couple seasons ago) has put together a lot of pleasant, hummable melodies that propel the story. (I will be looking up the original CD of this show – yes, it was made.) I especially liked “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the “song in the show within the show” that not only makes its reverse-political point, but also reveals the growing attraction between Steve and Kate. I also liked “Fast,” an amusing patter song that celebrates the joys of falling in love as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, the show remains as shallow as a fortune-cookie sentiment, making its “love is the same no matter how it falls” point early and often. It also carries a late-in-the show plot development that the spoiler police won’t let me reveal here, but it pretty much trivializes the entire conceit of the show and undercuts its “our love is the same” basis. While it was amusing and silly, it left me with a slightly stale taste in my mouth. I also can’t put my finger on the exact reason that the concept of having “Extra Love” strikes me as wrong (almost as if it’s a bad thing that needs “siphoning off” to prevent bad consequences), but it does, and it starts the play off on the wrong foot for me.

The show is also hurt by a few less than perfect performance moments. Mr. Aponte is energetic and funny and dances like it’s in his blood. But, he has a tendency to mush-mouth some of his faster lyrics. Mr. Morrett and Ms. Smith have strong singing voices, and they nail every musical moment. But, their acting can be a bit stiff and monotone, making the dialog scenes plod a bit, and missing some opportunities for emotional connection and nuance. On the other hand, Mr. Kocina and Ms. Lorette both create vivid and memorable characters, and make their musical moments literally sing. It makes the leads have to work even harder to “keep up,” and the strain shows.

So, this is an entertaining trifle with an almost unpleasant aftertaste. It has a lot of laughs, but also a lot of unfunny cringe-worthy moments (the phallic jokes surrounding Zane’s wand, for example). It has a boatload of great songs, some of which could have been performed a bit better, but none performed terribly. It starts the play with a minor character talking to us, then drops him completely until the very end, giving a “from-the-blue” happy ending to Zanna’s own story. And it has an amusing premise, that, unfortunately, is left to stand is its only claim to emotional depth or thought.

In the final analysis, “Zanna, Don’t” is a sweet, crunchy dessert with a paper-thin message. I think I was just in the mood for a full meal.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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missed opportunities in the script by Okely Dokely
I'm not going to post a review for obvious reasons, but I do want to comment on one thing about the script. I love all the musical theatre references, but I think the writers could have gone further with it. I found plenty of missed opportunities, such as:

In the scene where they're pitching ideas for the school musical, Zanna (Ricardo) says something like "Everybody stay calm," to which Mike (Jimi) replies "I am calm." Why couldn't he have said "I am calm. I'm perfectly calm. I'm utterly under control" and THEN continue with his line?

The "anyone can whistle" bit could have stuck in one more joke, I think. The dialogue could have gone "I could never whistle." "Well, anyone can whistle." "Maybe so, but everybody says don't whistle." The latter line is not in there, but easily could have been.

In the scene where Mike (Jimi) and Roberta (Erin L.) are talking about how their significant others don't appreciate them enough, there is an exchange like "And are we not charming? Thoughtful? Intelligent? Endearing?" With not much changing, it could have easily been "Are we not sensitive? Clever? Well-mannered? Considerate? Passionate? Charming? etc."

And those are just the ones I can think of right now. Like I said, many missed opportunities. Now, that being said, my favorite musical theatre reference is the "Hey, Zanna! Ho, Zanna. Zanna. Zanna? Ho!" I enjoy the audience's delayed reaction and then loud laughter to that on a nightly basis. A couple of times nobody gets it and we hear nothing but crickets. When Jennifer Jenkins (from Georgia Perimeter College) came to see the show, she laughed about that joke for 5 minutes after it happened.
Foolish, Foolish, Foolish ... by Dedalus
Why, oh why do I go to shows in the middle of the week when I'm suffering from "been up too long" fatigue? I don't remembering hearing the "Hey Zanna ..." line (so I must of been there on one of the "crickets chirping" nights), but reading it now (and on a prior review's heading) is making me giggle uncontrollably.

I am so embarrassed I didn't catch all the other musical references you're citing.

Next time, I'll mainline my caffeine before coming :-).

(BTW, you guys in the band were great!)

-- Brad
Bother
by uppermiddlebrow
Saturday, May 30, 2009
2.5
By turns excruciating and embarrassing, this show belongs on a high school stage, not at Actor's Express. After the strong work AE has presented this year, Mauritius and Suddenly Last Summer, the bathos of Zanna Don't comes as quite a shock. It's as if Bacchanalia ended your dinner with a plate of Twinkies (an ersatz dessert that appropriately features in this dismal entertainment).

I know, I know, there is not a public high school in this benighted state that would tolerate the play's premiss, let alone permit guys to kiss each other on stage, however chastely. But that's no excuse for this pedestrian dreck.

As my highly GLBT-tolerant son pointed out with amused exasperation at his old man's demanding taste, 'gay musical' is a verbal redundancy, so what did I really expect? But just as Monty Python (or one of that ilk) used to brag of making Ben Hur look like an epic, Zanna Don't makes Sondheim's work look like musicals.

The whole thing reminded me in all its awfulness of Peachtree Battle, right down to the fact that the catchy pun of the title is its wittiest feature.

Look, it takes real pluck or total cluelessness to go out and deliver lines and belt out tunes this hackneyed and mawkish. Zanna's cast is plucky and not without talent. Nick Morett and Chase Todd in particular have mellifluous singing voices, although Todd's speaking treble as the perky school announcer / DJ is an early sign of how cringe-inducing this show is going to be. Not the first sign, however: the tacky set flaunts the fact that Zanna will be wall-to-wall kitsch, and if any intended tongue-in-cheekiness is too well disguised.

Clearly there is a market for unalleviated schmaltz like this, although there were unfilled seats last night at AE, unlike the evenings when I saw their quality work this season. Perhaps good taste wins out? Surely it is confusing for AE to offer its audience the sublime and the gorblimey without signaling any distinction.

Take it from me, this show is not for the bravehearted, and if you admired the Tennessee Williams you're going to want to curl up and die at this one. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Hey, Zanna, Ho Zanna, Zanna Zanna Ho
by playgoer
Sunday, May 24, 2009
5.0
"Zanna, Don't" is a very cute show that is being given a knockout performance at Actor's Express. The songs are tuneful and pleasant, and the cast delivers them with energy and pizzazz.

Eight actors play all the roles in the show, which are mostly of high school students. I was a bit confused at first about Roberta (played by the talented Erin Lorette), since she is introduced as a waitress with a seemingly long romantic past, and the next thing we know she's joining a high school team. Was waitressing a part-time, after-school job for her? Ms. Lorette was too convincing with her portrayal of a jaded waitress if that was the case. But who cares? She made the most of the foibles and arc of her character.

Everyone in the cast approached their roles with dedication and spirit. Bernard D. Jones, Erin Burnett, and Chase Todd scored in multiple roles. Mr. Todd blew the house away in his final number. Jimi Kocina and Caitlin Smith gave beautifully pure renditions of their songs, and invested their characters with more than the requisite depth.

Ricardo Aponte, while possessing a smaller voice than the rest of the cast, gave a winning performance throughout as Zanna. Nick Morrett, as Steve the hunk, also didn't quite match the rest of the cast in vocals, but sounded wonderful in many spots.

The music direction by Linda Uzelac balanced vocals well, and the band kept things moving along. I was happy not to be overwhelmed by the volume of the amplification, as I too often am at many theatres in town. The show sounded great! I particularly enjoyed Mark Schroeder's uncredited turn on the banjo during "Fast."

All the design elements worked well, making the most of the limited stage space. The men behind me marveled at the intricate painting of the set (including the floor). The scrim with a heart motif summed up the show, for Zanna hides behind a heart as big as all outdoors.

This show is fun! [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Zanna, Don't? No, no, no Zanna, DO!!!
by Dagbath Yallington
Sunday, May 17, 2009
4.5
Hello Theater Review friends, your old pal Dagbath Yallington here asking you, nay, demanding you go see Actor's Express' production of Zanna, Don't! I saw the preview last night and I'm still looking for my socks because they were knocked off last night!

Heartsville is a town that defies convention as we know it. Everybody is gay. Heterosexuals are practically unheard of. Everyone is young, excitable and looking for love. Cupid in the town of Heartsville exists as Zanna, the best matchmaker in a musical since Yente in Fiddler on the Roof. Zanna is bent on finding matches for the various characters around Heartsville High. There's Mike, the state champion Chess player and school hero, Steve the new stud Quarterback for the football team, the sassy Roberta and the ultra overachiever Kate.

The show was fantastically cast. Often in shows you might find yourself underwhelmed with somebody in a cast, but the cast of Zanna is superb from top to bottom. Ricardo Aponte is charming as Zanna. He's got such a personality you will find yourself undeniably engaged with him. I thought his lower vocal register wasn't tremendously strong, but his higher register was phenomenal. I've heard a lot about his reputation as a choreographer so I was a little disappointed we didn't get to see him showcase his skills more. Nevertheless, you will be charmed by Ricardo who oozes charm out of his pores.

Jimi Kocina plays Mike, the Chess hero who finds himself enamored with the new quarterback, Steve. Kocina has an uncanny ability to connect with his co-stars and the rapport he has with Steve and Roberta, his best friend, comes off as if he's known them for years. Kocina has some strong emotional scenes and it's always tough for younger actors to get the emotional gravitas of characters sometimes and Kocina hit it out of the park.

Nicholas Morrett is the new quarterback Steve and he has a tremendous singing voice. He also does a good job of capturing the awkwardness of the kid in a new school where he is outcast and is trying to make friends. Morrett also does a good job with emotionally difficult scenes involving the twist of the show that I don't want to give away.

The two female leads, Erin Lorette as Roberta and Caitlin Accord-Smith as Kate, are PHENOMENAL. It's a good thing I brought a seat belt to the show and strapped myself in tight or these ladies would have blown me away right out of the theater. Lorette is sassy to the max as the lovelorn Roberta and she just takes control of a scene and makes you laugh and clap. Accord-Smith does a great job as the ultra overachiever Kate, really capturing the nuances of that personality type. Folks, let me tell you, these two women have AMAZING voices.

One of the most difficult things to do as an actor is play a bevy of roles and still be memorable even in a show with such a small cast. Erin Burnett, Bernard Jones and Chase Todd are the utility players and all add so much to the show playing a couple of different characters each. Burnett's main role is the incredibly vain and bitchy Candi, the girl who is President of all the clubs and super self involved. Every school has someone like that and Burnett captures that persona very well. You won't like her, not because she's bad in the role, but because she's so good at it.

Bernard Jones brings a ton of comedy to the show as Candi's right hand man, Arvin. Chase Todd is spectacular as Tank, the narrator of life at Heartsville High. Both Jones and Todd get opportunities to showcase their vocal skills and awesome dancing abilities as well. Burnett, Jones and Todd also have another moment to shine as different characters in a song about love that takes place at a country-western bar called the I'm OK, You're OK Corral.

I only had a couple of minor complaints. There seemed to be some mic issues with Mr. Aponte. His microphone sounded muffled to me, which took away from his performance, but I can't criticize him for that. Also, from where I was sitting, I had a hard time hearing the band. For me, it would have made the show even better to hear the rocking score even better.

All in all, this was a fantastic theater going experience. The songs are fun, the performances are great. My favorite scene involves a mechanical bull, how much more fun can you have in a show, seriously? I promise you that if you go to see Zanna, Don't! You'll laugh, you may cry, and you'll definitely pee yourself...in a good way!

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