In staging the U.S. premiere of Zorro: The Musical, Hale Centre Theatre has accomplished the closest thing to putting a Hollywood summer blockbuster onto a theater stage. That’s largely a compliment—but not entirely.
Loosely based on the pulp adventure hero created by Johnston McCulley, the story follows Don Diego de la Vega (double-cast in the tradition of Hale Centre shows, with Casey Elliott performing on the night reviewed), son of the alcalde of a California town in the early 1800s. Diego flees his role as his father’s chosen heir, but returns when he learns that his brother, Ramon (Preston Yates), has instituted an iron-fisted rule. Bringing justice may require striking fear—such as donning a black mask and cape.
As stage spectacle, director David Tinney’s production is thrilling, the theater-in-the-round set bringing swordplay and other derring-do right into the audience. Tinney also provides the energetic flamenco choreography, effectively complementing the Gipsy Kings tunes that have been adapted for the show’s songs. Throw in geysers of flame and bold costumes, and you’ve got something that’s often tremendous fun to watch.
Yet to the extent that it sticks to tropes of heroic romance, it’s not exactly a compelling central story; there’s more humanity (and humor) to Ramon’s sergeant, Garcia (Bruce Bredeson), trying to find the courage to stand up to his boss. And while the Gypsy supporting characters provide an excuse for much of the music, there’s often an awkwardness to the way the songs are integrated into the plot. Like a big-budget movie, Zorro throws a lot at you, but throws it fast enough that some of its flaws are easy to forgive.
ZORRO THE MUSICAL
Hale Centre Theatre
3333 S. Decker Lake Drive
Through April 11