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Zorro the Musical at Charing Cross Theatre | Review

The problem with this production of Zorro the Musical isn’t that it’s largely very silly and won’t appeal to everyone’s sense of humour. The problem is that some of the performances aren’t as hammy as they ought to be to maximise the extravagant flair with which certain scenes are almost crying out to be performed. Some of the lyrics weren’t wholly decipherable either, which didn’t help.

Cast of Zorro the Musical. Photo by Pamela Raith Photography.
Cast of Zorro the Musical. Photo by Pamela Raith Photography.

Set as it is in Spain and Los Angeles in 1805, the cast adopt Spanish accents, some of which are more convincing than others. It is better, however, than not bothering at all – I saw a concert version a couple of years ago in which natural accents were used, and it sounded even weirder. Anyway, the programme asserts this is an “original story” by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson: a quick schoolboy online search reveals that the character Zorro was created in 1919 by Johnston McCulley (1883-1958), and there have been other stage productions based on the story before this one premiered in 2008.

The storyline, therefore, feels familiar, because it is familiar – though thankfully the production doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s slightly bonkers, and it knows it is. Alas, there’s not much to shout about from a feminist perspective, with Diego (Benjamin Purkiss) in the superhero guise of Zorro, complete with cape, swooping in at the last possible moment, saving apparent damsels in distress from the tyranny of Ramón (Alex Gibson-Giorgio). It is assumed, for narrative purposes, that a part of California has become independent from the United States. Unless I missed it, it’s not made clear how this came about, but the salient point is that Don Alejandro (Pete Ashmore) was a noble leader, albeit one with absolute authority. Let’s just say his successor let the power get to his head: if Jean Valjean in Les Misérables received a disproportionate punishment for theft, the one handed down by Ramón to a disloyal subject is even worse.

Some actor-musicianship adds to the atmosphere created by a gypsy community, where fun and friendship stand in direct contrast to the puritanical preferences of Ramón, who won’t even allow the sale of alcohol (the gypsies get around the rules by giving alcohol away, thus not selling it). Marc Pickering as Sergeant García was the stand-out performance for me, displaying some over-assertiveness when trying to impress Inez (Phoebe Panaretos) and, later, vulnerability when push comes to shove.

I doubt it was intentional on the production’s part, but the carving of a ‘Z’ (for Zorro) into Ramón’s chest brought to mind the recent use of ‘Z’ as the symbol of support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: perhaps this is what is meant by a note in the programme saying the show “contains some material some audience members may find sensitive”. Otherwise, it is sufficiently good at being other-worldly that thoughts that the story is a work of fiction are never far away.

The fight scenes are impressive enough to be momentarily concerned for the actors’ safety. It is, at least, different – there are very few shows out there with a consistently distinct Spanish sound from start to finish. Thankfully, the second half is better than the first, and the cast evidently work hard. But this production is just a tad too subtle for the script it brings to life.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Set in the sizzling heat of 1805’s California, a pueblo is under attack from its autocratic leader. When the danger is at its greatest, a masked crusader appears from nowhere and saves lives. Who is he? Will he be their champion?
The famous red-hot tale of the masked hero, El Zorro, fighting for justice and freedom is told in an immersive, thrilling and headily sensual new production. With zealous, ‘get-on-your-feet’ music, featuring international hits by Gipsy Kings including Bamboleo, Baila Me and Djobi Djoba, alongside original music to express a fresh new tale of love, hope and courage.

Zorro The Musical by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson, featuring music by the Gipsy Kings and John Cameron, with lyrics by Stephen Clark. Christian Durham directs Ajjaz Awad, Pete Ashmore, Amy Bastani, Isobel Bates, Ben Boskovic, Matthew Bugg, Paige Fenlon, Alex Gibson-Giorgio, Maxwell Griffin, Matthew Heywood, Jessica Lim, Phoebe Panaretos, Jessica Pardoe, Marc Pickering, Benjamin Purkiss, Stylianos Thomadakis and Hannah Woodward.

Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment and John Gertz in association with Zorro USA, LLC
with Bonnie Comley & Stewart F. Lane and Linda Bernardi present
ZORRO THE MUSICAL
Music by the Gipsy Kings and John Cameron
Lyrics by Stephen Clark
Book by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson
Director: Christian Durham
Choreographer: Cressida Carré
Set and Costume Designer: Rosa Maggiora
Musical Director and Orchestrations: Nick Barstow
Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson
Lighting Designer: Matthew Haskins
Fight Director: Renny Krupinski
Casting Director: Jane Deitch
General Manager: Chris Matanlé

LISTINGS
Charing Cross Theatre
The Arches, Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NL
Zorro The Musical
2 April – 28 May 2022

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