Sunday, 15 June 2014

Theatre review: Zanna, Don't!

Can you get much camper than a pun on the infamous Olivia Newton-John flop Xanadu? If Tim Acito and Alexander Dinelaris' musical Zanna, Don't! is anything to go by, probably not. It's a gentle satire not just on homophobia, but on the American High School pecking order in general. At Heartsville High boys date boys, girls date girls, heteros stay firmly in the closet and the Bible insists on a bit of sleeping around. Steve (Liam Christopher Lloyd,) the lowly captain of the football team, is punching above his weight when he dates the school sex symbol, chess champion Mike (Jonathan Dudley,) and last year the girls scored a big hit performing Swan Lake on mechanical bulls. The school even boasts its own magical matchmaker Zanna (David Ribi,) whose big purple wand finds people who'd be perfect together, but can't seem to find someone for Zanna himself.

The story kicks into gear when the school stages a controversial musical about allowing straights into the military, and Steve and his co-star Kate (Ceris Hine) end up falling in love for real. The tolerant students find this one perversion too far, and Zanna gambles his magic powers on the chance to make life easier for straight people.


For what could easily have been a one-joke show that clearly got its title before the rest of it was written, Zanna, Don't! is surprisingly strong, and actually has some really good tunes in a classic, cheesy Broadway style - "I Think We Got Love" is catchy, "Ride 'Em" is exactly what you'd expect a song about lesbians on mechanical bulls to be like, and the musical-within-a-musical provides some very silly numbers, the camp "Be a Man" spoofing the Village People's "In The Navy," then Lloyd and Hine providing probably the funniest sequence of the show in the first half of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" - whose second half then morphs into quite a genuinely sweet love song.


Also good are Dudley and Jennifer Saayeng as the ditched partners of the controversial couple, and as well as a lot of camp value the show also provides its fair share of eye-candy to keep the target audience happy, including Jonathan Wooldridge as an implausibly hot geek. Ribi himself is ridiculously good-looking and spends the show in a series of see-through, spangly tops; as the story goes on Zanna also becomes less commentator on the sidelines, more central figure and Ribi has a strong voice.


Although the piece takes a more serious turn towards the end Acito never overdoes this, keeping the "musical fairytale" tone that the show is subtitled as; it makes its point, but is never less than fun along the way, and Drew Baker's production, with enthusiastic choreography from Tom Scanlon, really hits the mark. It's at heart a silly, enjoyable little show that feels as if everyone involved really believes in it; it's even silly enough for Evil Alex, who was in stitches at the spoof of Disney characters chatting to birds. If you're still not sure whether to see this, all I can say is that Zanna, Don't! is exactly what it sounds like.

Zanna, Don't! by Tim Acito and Alexander Dinelaris is booking until the 29th of June at the Landor Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes straight through.

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