Artistic director Andy Rogow and Island City Stage, the region’s LGBT-centric theater company, aren’t afraid to tackle tough material.
Recent thought-provoking plays have addressed HIV/AIDS, politics, aging and transgender issues. But, presenting a musical creates artistic and technical challenges that go far beyond selecting a compelling story, casting actors and designing a set.
Fortunately, Rogow chose the perfect musical, Tim Acito’s feel good fairy tale “Zanna, Don’t” and the resulting production can only be described as a hit.
The story takes place in an alternate universe where homosexuality is the norm and straights are ridiculed and ostracized. Zanna (a bedazzled from-head-to-toe Conor Walton) is Heartsville High’s matchmaker, armed with an enchanted magic wand with some urges of its own. It’s a world where the chess team star Mike (Eric Daniel O’Keefe) and the women’s intramural mechanical bull riding team captain Kate (Mallory Newbrough) are idolized, even by the new football team quarterback Steve (Arrow ZurSchmiede).
When the drama club decides to mount an “enlightened” play about the unfortunate plight of straights in the military, Kate and Steve discover an attraction that quickly puts them at odds with their friends and their perfect little gay world. Indeed, what will their dads and moms say when they find out? The power to make all happy again lies with Zanna, but his spell book warns of dire consequences.
The idyllic world Acito creates will appeal to Island City’s predominantly gay and gay-friendly audiences, turning both the minor slights and blatant discrimination we have faced upside down. “Why must those straights flaunt their sexuality in front of me?” asks one of the townspeople.
His songs are cute and catchy, especially “I Ain’t Got Time,” sung by Roberta (Darcy Hernandez-Gil), a part-time barista whose girlfriends always cheat on her, and “Ride ‘Em,” sung by the entire intramural bull riding team. The show’s 11-o’clock number, “Straight to Heaven,” brought tears to many eyes on opening night.
Rogow, musical director Michael Ursua and choreographer Andy Fiacco make the most of the comedic moments in the show and the entire cast perform with unmatched joy and verve from start to finish (two acts in two hours with a 15-min. intermission).
Not to be are those aforementioned technical challenges, namely the small performing space, virtually non-existent wings and the requirement the actors sing accompanied.
The problem of where to place musicians is solved by masterful tracks created by Carbonell-winner Manny Schvartzman, but the cast sang without microphones, resulting in some inaudible or incomprehensible phrases from time to time. Hernandez-Gil was a notable exception, delivering a polished and powerful musical performance throughout.
Set designer Natalie Tavares created a series of clever rolling lockers, bleachers and more that, with lighting and projections by Ardean Landhuis, transformed the tiny stage into dozens of different locations during the story. The inventive technical team also managed a few unexpected special effects that delighted the audience along the way.
There are still a few transitions to be worked out, but the sheer energy of the young company in such an intimate space makes the show a compelling and entertaining experience. “Do” get your ticket to “Zanna, Don’t” soon because they’ll be selling fast.
Island City Stage, 2304 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors, presents Tim Acito’s “Zanna, Don’t” through Feb. 11. Tickets are $45 at IslandCityStage.org.