I don’t recommend making a drinking game out of every time the word “love” is said in Zanna, Don’t! as you’d probably need to be hospitalized shortly after the first song had been sung; that would be a shame, as then you’d miss out on seeing one of the sweetest gay-themed musical comedies in existence. As the closing show of Evolution Theatre Company’s 2015 season, Zanna, Don’t! is awash in energy, bold colors, and catchy music, just the right kind of joyful diversion to brighten up a dreary fall.
I first saw Zanna, Don’t! during its 2003 summer run off-Broadway, and several of its songs (by Tim Acito and Alexander Dinelaris) have been on my mix CDs and playlists ever since. Though the title is a play on the campy 1980 film musical Xanadu, the similarity ends there. Zanna, Don’t! is set in a high school in Heartsville, U.S.A., where everyone is gay and “those heteros” are often ridiculed and feared. This is a campus where everyone is love-obsessed, but not sex-obsessed, which keeps the material cutely innocent and tame. The students band together to put on a play about straights being in the military (remember, this was first performed in 2002) and how they should have the right to love each other, marry, and be accepted; their world is rocked when two of their own are found to be straight and in love.
Director Brent Ries keeps Zanna, Don’t! moving quickly, zipping along in such a way that its two hour running time feels like one. The set by Shane Cinal is deceptively simple with bold graphics and a stage that extends out when needed. Costume designer Jason Guthrie is to be congratulated for pairing so many solid separates together while also creating some wild fashions for Zanna, including a camouflage muumuu and some glitterific shoes and t-shirts. Danielle Mann’s choreography makes excellent use of the Van Fleet Theatre’s space, with the mechanical bull riding dance a particular highlight. Aside from the song “Fast” (which is almost entirely unintelligible due to its pace and the volume of the band), the sound is strong with a good balance between the music and voices, so important to a musical.
The cast includes some of the best young talent in the area, and any casual Columbus theatre fan has surely seen many of its members before in other shows (I know I have). Ricky Locci is terrific as Mike, the boy who is heartbroken when he finds out his boyfriend, Steve (the small but mighty Sean Felder) is in love with Kate (the comically and musically gifted Jordan Shafer). Mr. Locci has the best songs in the score (“I Could Write Books” and “I Think We Got Love”) and performs them beautifully, playing the kind of jilted character to which we can all relate.
Tahrea Maynard plays flannel-clad Roberta, Kate’s rejected girlfriend, with humor to spare and putting a capital B in butch. T. Johnpaul Adams also makes an impression as Tank, perhaps the second most vigorous part in the show as he seemed to appear and disappear all over the place.
The centerpiece of the show is William Macke as Zanna, the sprightly matchmaker whose flame burns loud and proud. Though miscast in a part more appropriate for a pocket-sized gay (Zanna is like Peter Pan in that respect), no one can accuse Mr. Macke of not giving the part his all – and then some! Though his turbocharged effeminate gestures and voice can become a bit grating and come off as more of a caricature than a character, Mr. Macke flies free of any restrictions in a bold, committed performance; still, he is at his best in the more restrained, quiet moments when he isn’t trying quite so hard.
Zanna, Don’t! has a spirit that is in the right place, even if some of its songs rhyme “love” with “love” a bit too much for me. It’s impossible not to find oneself smiling and laughing during this show, and every member of the cast is delivering their A game, appearing to be having as good a time as the audience. With all the glitter and colors and dancing, it’s like concentrated gayness – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
*** out of ****
Zanna, Don’t! continues through to November 21st in the Van Fleet Theatre within the Columbus Performing Arts Center at 549 Franklin Avenue, and more information can be found at http://evolutiontheatre.org