Theatre students at Pitt and Pitt director C.T. Steele romp through a delightful, charming, imaginative take on a goofy musical called Zanna Don’t! This 2002/3 off-Broadway debuter with book, music and lyrics by Tim Acito plus Alexander Dinelaris’ additions, has gone on to fame and fortune regionally and in London’s West End.
Yes, the title is a spin on Xanadu, the musical, whose roller-skating choreography inspired Acito to want to emulate. He eventually abandoned the footwork but stuck to some similar plot elements and came up with a light-hearted version of an alternative society at the center of which is heterophobic Heartsville High. A fairy, a guy named Zanna, is himself at the heart of this “Musical Fairy Tale” rather than extraterrestrials from Olympus. Zanna’s magic helps everyone be happy by conjuring up love, boys with boys and girls with girls. Eventually Zanna yearns to be mortal, willing to give up his powers.
Acito has written a gaggle of funny lines and permutations without going overboard into send-up territory, including cross-dressing legendary fairy tales. Meanwhile, given the subject, Steele has admirably made sure that these kids don’t camp, vamp, swish, or growl like butch bulldogs. The young’uns look and talk just like you’d expect in an average, innocent, expletive-free, mid-West America community circa 1950. Yet, on this far-out side of life, Steele has created a wonderful array of colorful, unique, eye-catching costumes. Whoops! Protect those orbs from the glare and possible fall-out; sequins shimmer and cascade all over the place. Scenic designer Amanda Leslie has even gussied up the nachos. Credit her, as well, with other clever prop inventions.
The ten member cast gives good vibes to Mami Tomotani’s choreography, all solidly in step with one another team-wise. A few of them even sing capably, especially as an ensemble, even though Acito didn’t give them much of musical merit. His lyrics sound a little more special and sometimes come across clearly despite hectic, high-volume delivery.
The school’s new football quarterback Steve becomes a heart-throb for local chess champion star Mike while Zanna equally pairs off academic wonder Kate with part-time waitress Roberta. But the best-laid plans start moving topsy-turvy when the students decide to explore the perils of producing a musical involving heterosexual romance. Despite the absence of closets, someone may come out.
Rocky Paterra's playing of Zanna keeps him full of appealing vitality and personality while Aric Berning’s Steve stays sturdily sincere. And Laci Mosley has it all together, voice-wise, singing Roberta’ songs.
Some of the student cast still needs training in how to avoid yelling and racing lines, as if pushing were the best way to play comedy. But as a part of something constantly engaging, their developing skills and their ages fit like a glossy glove.
Zanna Don’t! continues through March 3rd at Henry Heymann Theatre, Stephen Foster Memorial, 4200 Fifth Ave. Oakland. 412/624-PLAY (412/624 7529) or www.play.pitt.edu