The story of the masked vigilante Zorro has been seen in many forms since he first appeared over 100 years ago. This musical adaptation first debuted in the West End in 2008 where it enjoyed a 9 month run. This newly re-imagined version of Zorro The Musical has had a bit of a tough time in its journey. Closing after just two previews in March 2020 because of you-know-what. Now, after a short postponement, it is finally ready to be seen by the masses as it has officially opened.
Written by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson, this new production by Aria Entertainment and John Kertz is set in Spain and the little town of Los Angeles in 1805 telling the story of the origin of Zorro as Diego who dons the mask to stop his power-hungry brother Ramon from committing atrocities to the townsfolk. Throughout, we get themes of family, culture and of course the obligatory love story.
A truly wonderful cast bring this production to life, led by Benjamin Purkiss who dons the famous mask as Diego/Zorro. Fabulously charismatic with a gorgeous singing voice to boot, Diego has the cast and audience eating out the palm of his hands in a truly mesmerising performance. Paige Fenlon plays his love interest Luisa, getting some of the biggest musical moments in the show including epic number 'Falling' which she performs using a spine-tingling voice.
Phoebe Panaretos is another highlight as Inez in a performance which demands attention, with Peter Ashmore giving a commanding albeit underused turn as Don Alejandro. An undoubted standout is Mark Pickering who gives a masterclass into the art of a comedic performance as the hapless but adorable Sergeant Garcia, ensuring the audience fall in love with him by the end. Alex Gibson-Giorgio, while demonstrating some great talent, at times can feel like he is in a different show than the others as Ramon which veers dangerously close to panto villain at times, particularly in the climactic moments of the show. The whole ensemble lift scenes in what is an immensely talented group of people in a relatively small space.
One of the biggest strengths of this production of Zorro is the creative staging. Directed by Christian Durham, an intimate space feels all the more grander thanks to some bold choices that pay off. Like Broken Wings before it, this is staged in the round with the action taking place all around. Cast members run through the audience and parade around the space, giving an almost immersive feel. The set and costume design from Rosa Maggiora are exquisite with fantastic attention to detail, with a great use of special effects from Tim Haddon - the sight of fire appearing out of nowhere never gets old!
Another notable highlight is the fantastic and intricate choreography from Cressida Carré - among the best I have seen on stage this year, ensuring every inch of the Charing Cross theatre is bursting with life which explodes with such passion regularly throughout. You would expect a lot of sword fighting in Zorro and this thankfully has plenty to enjoy. I had a deep appreciation for how difficult it must be to get these details right and how precisely it was executed, thanks to fight director Renny Krupinski.
The music by The Gipsy Kings contains earworms you will have doubtlessly sung in your life such as 'Bamboléo'. Other songs you may not be as familiar with lend themselves beautifully to musical theatre with 'Hope' sung by Benjamin Purkiss and 'The Man Behind The Mask' by Paige Fenlon among the highlights. They are joined by salsa numbers sometimes sung in Spanish and others English, creating a bit of a party atmosphere. With orchestrations by Nick Barstow, the cast accompany themselves playing instruments. At times actor-muso shows can seem strange and occasionally jarring but in Zorro it works effortlesly well and adds to the piece.
If you are not familiar with the character of Zorro, it may take you a little while to settle in to this. However, you will be well and truly won over relatively quickly as the story, characters and atmosphere consume you. While the tone in the second act was slightly uneven, culminating in an all too sudden and far too hammy ending, overall I was blown away by this production. The staging, the dancing and that incredible cast ensured I was gripped the whole time. Full of thrills and passion, Zorro may be a fairly unique theatre experience but it's an utterly fabulous one.
Zorro The Musical plays at Charing Cross Theatre until May 28th. Tickets from www.zorrothemusical.co.uk
Photos by Pamela Raith