Audiences at Island City Stage are accustomed to seeing thought-provoking LGBTQ-themed comedies and dramas. On Jan. 11, the Wilton Manors-based theater company will present its first musical, Tim Acito’s “Zanna Don’t.”
The show is set in a parallel universe somewhere in middle America where homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality is taboo. When the new quarterback of the football team and the captain of the girls’ intramural mechanical bull-riding team discover feelings for each other, the school matchmaker, Zanna, must spring into action.
Acito got the idea for the show while listening to a country song on the radio nearly two decades ago.
“I thought it would be great to hear a song sung by one man for another without any condescension,” recalled Acito in a phone interview from his New York City apartment. “That idea sort of stuck. Beyond the bubble gum-flavored songs with an LGBTQ context, it’s important not only to address the big injustices we face, but also the small ones.”
If “Zanna Don’t” sounds like a play off the title of the ‘80s disco movie (and later Broadway hit) “Xanadu,” it may be, although Acito no longer remembers the exact source of the “fuzzy etymology.”
“I wanted to fill the show with as many direct or indirect pop culture references as I could. ‘Xanadu,’ itself, when you get past all of the camp and the questionable choices the (filmmakers) made, they were ultimately trying to create this artistic sanctuary, where you could be anything you dreamt,” explained Acito. “It may be an ironic appropriation of terms, but ‘Zanna Don’t’ was also my own little attempt to create a teeny tiny version of a place where LGBTQ people would not have to explain who they were.”
Since its premiere, “Zanna Don’t” has been produced by regional theaters across the country and international festivals, including the famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Acito reworked his script in recent years to address contemporary political developments, but Island City Stage artistic director Andy Rogow will be mounting the original version for its inaugural musical.
“Zanna Don’t” was the perfect fit, according to Rogow.
“It is a lot of fun, a feel-good show and, when the cast sings together, it sounds terrific,” he said. “We tend to tackle a lot of serious material, so it will be different. I’ve always loved the score.”
That doesn’t mean the show won’t be challenging. Rogow noted the show requires several changing sets, the cast is relatively large and then there is the issue of performing music. Due to a lack of space, Rogow tapped Carbonell-winner Manny Schvartzman to create and record accompaniment tracks and veteran musical director Michael Ursua is directing the musical performances.
Rogow pointed out that actors at the intimate Dixie Hwy. theater are also not used to performing with microphones, an added complication for the company’s design team.
“We won’t even know until tech week how that works out,” Rogow said of the busy final week of rehearsals when lighting and sound effects are added and refined.
“It’s a peppy, cheerful show, it’s perfect,” he promised.
Island City Stage presents Tim Acito’s musical “Zanna Don’t,” Jan. 11 – Feb. 11 at the Abyss Theatre, 2304 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors. Tickets are $42 at IslandCityStage.org.