Monday, September 17, 2007

Sugar high

Most of Boston Conservatory goes for it in Zanna, Don't!

Okay, I admit I am the wrong queen to be reviewing SpeakEasy Stage's Zanna, Don't!, the new "musical fairy tale" by Tim Acito. After all, I'm a withered old bitch and my soul (or what's left of it) is curdled with envy. We already know that. Plus I will soon be directing a bitterly funny take on gay emotional dysfunction, Blowing Whistles, by Matthew Todd, for Zeitgeist Stage this winter. So add conflict-of-interest issues to my rap sheet.

Still, fore-warned is fore-armed, as the Wicked Witch of the East might have said before that fateful ride through Oz, and I feel duty-bound to advise anyone harboring any spleen in their dark little hearts: if you're thinking of seeing Zanna - don't! Diabetics likewise would be well-advised to bring their insulin packs. Those prone to tooth decay: proceed with caution.

Of course those unlike me - i.e. young at heart, gentle and kind (as well as any and all Saved by the Bell fans) - should buy tickets immediately, because this is just the nicest darn-tootin' musical since I don't know when! It's all about this magical high school that seems to have slipped, Alice-like, through the musical-theatre looking-glass: everyone's homosexual, and chess champions rule, and if there's any heartache in this gay-nerd heaven, lovable, lonely Zanna (Jordan Fife Hunt) is there to zap it with his magic wand. Of course, sooner or later (it seemed like a lot later, though), trouble does bubble up amid all the bubblegum: Zanna's wand goes schwing (and straight up, too; ah, youth!) for the wrong guy (Andrew Durand), who - gasp - turns out to be straight! This is where things get totally ironic and like witty and clever and all, because the gay kids start to discriminate against him and his girlfriend. Yes! Can you believe it?

Well, Mr. Tim Acito has a lot to say about that, as in what's good for the gay goose is good for the straight gander, and everyone, even heteros, should be free to be you & me. Who could disagree? Nobody, of course. But don't think Zanna is anything less than aware of its corny message; indeed, it's all too self-aware, not to mention littered with references to such disparate gay luminaries as the Village People and Stephen Sondheim (for, you know, those so-called theatre "sophisticates"). And to those who might suspect that "love" in Zanna is really a mask for the vanity of sexual attraction: shut up already, there's even a number about that too ("Fast")! So everyone can see this is just an awesomely airtight entertainment ma-chine.

Unless, as I said, you're a bitter old troll like me - and it seems just as tedious as its straight twin, Disney's High School Musical, and the gleaming gears of Paul Daigneault's polished production only give you eyestrain (while Acito's relentless pop score conjures ear-strain). And just btw, if we have to fight prejudice, can't we do it by watching hot naked guys in the shower, like in Take Me Out?

Sigh. Needless to say, the talented, attractive cast - drawn almost entirely from the ranks of Boston Conservatory - can't be faulted for the material, of course, and they stay perky, even though Daigneault has mercilessly cut the intermission (yes, once on this island, you're stuck there for two hours). It's hard to point to a star turn, because everyone in the cast shines at some point or other, but my favorite glimmers included Jordan Fife Hunt's bodacious hot-panted solo (above left) in "Be A Man," Anich D'Jae's sassy belt in "I Ain't Got Time," and Gillian Goldberg, Bud Weber, and DJ Petrosino's quicker-than-quick-step in "Fast." I hope to see all these performers (as well as their co-stars Jaime Cepero III, Stephanie Umoh, and Andrew Durand) back on stage soon - just as soon as I sleep off this headache . . .

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