No doubt about it: Music Theater Works consistently puts on big and challenging shows, assembles a first-rate orchestra, and assembles great casts and skilled design teams. His production of “Zorro: The Musical,” a show that had its world premiere in London in 2008 and is now receiving its Chicago debut at Music Theater Works’ home base at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, is a case to the point
That said, despite its many virtues and ambitious large-scale staging, its strong vocals, bold swordplay, flamenco gypsy dances, lavish costumes, a tale of bitter sibling rivalry, political oppression and romance, plus the stirring music of the Gipsy Kings (including the irresistible “Bamboleo”) this interpretation of the “Zorro” story needs work.
The screenplay, written by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson (based on a novel by beloved writer Isabel Allende), could benefit from some serious tightening. To put it simply, the show, energetically directed by Adrian Abel Azevedo, with musical direction by Justin Kono, is too long.
The story of the legendary “masked man” is mainly set in the early 1800s Spanish settlement known as the Pueblo de Los Angeles. It begins when Don Alejandro (Luis A. Galvez), the aging father of Diego (Cisco López), decides to send his son to Barcelona, Spain, for the higher education that will prepare him to become the future leader of the Pueblo. Meanwhile, the resentful Ramon (Emmanuel Ramírez), a contemporary of Diego, seizes power, imprisons Don Alejandro and becomes a cruel and tyrannical dictator of the colony.
Diego, who soon captured the heart of Luisa (Laura Quinones), the young woman from the Pueblo who loves him and has to leave behind, is fascinated by the Spanish gypsy community he finds in Barcelona, and by Inez (Alix Rhodes). ), the hot-blooded flamenco dancer who pursues him, and is very different from Luisa.
But when Diego returns to Los Angeles (along with Inez and her friends), he learns of his father’s imprisonment and is determined to free both him and the townspeople. Disguised in what will become his iconic black cape and mask, and the magnificent swordsmanship he acquired in Spain, Diego assumes the guise of Zorro (Spanish for “Fox”), and at all times tries to defeat Ramon and the his soldiers Luisa doesn’t realize who he really is, but is drawn to the man who comes out of nowhere, dares to fight Ramon, and can never be caught as he tries to rid the Pueblo of its ruthless dictator.
As Diego/Zorro, Lopez is tireless as he fights injustice, wields his sword against multiple enemies, and tries to deal with the two women in his life. Quinones and Rhode have powerful voices and capture the very different personalities of Luisa and Inez. A trio of flamenco dancers (Lina Bulovaite, Jocelyn Leving and Karla Tennies Koziura) is magnificent, choreographed by Luis Beltran Urena. Nick Sandys’ fight choreography is full of derring-do. And Diego Salcedo’s guitar work on stage sets the mood for many scenes.
As Ramon, Ramírez captures the spirit of a cold-blooded dictator, Gálvez suggests the wisdom and tolerance of a man who has seen it all, and J. Christian Hill deftly suggests the ambivalent feelings of Garcia, who Ramon’s subordinate.
Adriana Diaz’s character-defining costumes and Jacqueline and Richard Penrod’s set design capture the story’s two worlds: an old Los Angeles and the extravagant spirit of Barcelona and its gypsy culture.
There’s clearly a lot to admire about this production, but it would certainly benefit from a good reworking and tightening up of its script.
“Zorro: The Musical,” runs through Aug. 21 at the North Shore Center for The Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie.
For tickets visit: musictheaterworks.com or call (847) 673-6300.
Music Theater Works has announced an ambitious lineup for the 2023 season that includes:
• “Avenue Q” (March 9 to April 2, 2023)
• “Pippin” (from June 1 to 25)
• “The producers” (August 11 – August 21)
• “Brigadoon” (October 19 – November 12)
• “Shrek: The Musical” (December 2 to 23)
Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic