Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Musical Zanna, Don't! Sings of Love, Starting March 4

News   Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Musical Zanna, Don't! Sings of Love, Starting March 4 In the world of Zanna, Don't!, the new musical beginning performances Off-Broadway March 4, gay folks are the norm and straight folks are marginalized — the latter seeking asylum in San Francisco.
The cast of Zanna, Don't!
The cast of Zanna, Don't! (Photo by Joan Marcus)

In fall 2002, the musical comedy that created its own unique universe, complete with quirky specialty songs about the nature of love, became a talked-about sell-out in its brief Off-Off-Broadway tryout run. Now, after a little script tinkering, an open-ended commercial run at the John Houseman Theatre introduces a wider audience to the music, book and lyrics of Tim Acito. Opening is set for March 20.

Dubbed a musical fairy tale, Zanna, Don't! focuses on two same-sex couples and what happens when one partner from each pair realizes he and she are straight. A pal of the couples is Zanna, a fashionably hip matchmaking teen with super powers and a secret crush of his own.

Jai Rodriguez plays the title character, and the cast includes Anika Larsen (as Roberta), Darius Nichols (as Buck), Amanda Ryan Paige (as Candy/Karla), Enrico Rodriguez (as Mike), Robb Sapp (as Tank), Shelley Thomas (as Kate) and Jared Zeus (as Steve). Most of the players double and triple in roles.

The commercial Off-Broadway run follows a hot-selling Off-Off-Broadway run in October 2002 where producers Jack M. Dalgleish, in association with Stephanie A. Joel, and librettist-composer-lyricist Tim Acito got a fuller look at the show and were able to address rough spots prior to the 2003 leap. Amas Musical Theatre presented the tryout. Rewrites happened over the past few months, but there are not wholesale song cuts or additions, a spokesman said.

All but the two Rodriguezes (who are not related) originated their roles in 2002. Actor Michael Kaokept (who played Mike in 2002) is currently in The Public Theater's musical, Radiant Baby. Zanna, Don't! earned positive reviews and played to packed houses at Theatre Row's Rodney Kirk Theatre. Devanand Janki directs and choreographs. The show has additional book and lyrics by Alexander Dinelaris.

Jai Rodriguez starred in the Canadian production of Rent, Lincoln Center's Spinning Into Butter and the White Barn Theatre's mounting of Sad Hotel.

The work's varied pop sound and bright, middle-of-the road, matter-of-fact attitude about love make it a property to varied audiences.

"The gay audience is a core market," producer Dalgleish told Playbill On-Line, agreeing that audiences who come to the show are surprised to learn the work is not the raunchy, bitchy or fleshy sort of show that some people expect from some gay-oriented stage shows.

He said his challenge as a producer is to let people know the show is a social satire with heart and sincerity, boasting a score that flirts with funk, rock, pop, classic musical theatre, country and more.

Trouble brews in the show's gay universe when high school pals Kate and Steve find they are attracted to each other after sharing a passionate moment in the school musical (about straights in the military). They are shunned as outsiders and even consider running off to San Francisco, which has a reputation as a heterosexual enclave.

While it does spoof gay cliches and gender attitudes, the show ultimately "lets you see individuals and not stereotypes," said Dalgleish.

Musical supervision is by Edward G. Robinson. Production designers are Wade Laboissonniere and Tobin Ost. Lighting design is by Jeffrey Lowney and sound design is by Robert Killenberger. David Geist is musical director and dance arranger.

The John Houseman is at 450 W. 42nd Street. Tickets are $65. Performances play 8 PM Tuesday, 2 PM Saturday, 3 & 7 PM Sunday. For information, call Tele-charge at (212) 239-6200.

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Producer Dalgleish told Playbill On-Line Zanna, Don't! is so popular because it's universal and timeless.

"To me, the show's about love and relationships and about people who have felt different in their lives — and that's everybody in the world," Dalgleish told Playbill On Line in fall 2002.

Dalgleish, a producer of Off-Broadway's Shakespeare's R&J, discovered the then-largely bookless Zanna, Don't! at the Yale Cabaret in New Haven in March 2001, and told composer-lyricist-librettist Tim Acito he wanted to develop the show further, if Acito was willing to continue refining the piece.

"I called the author and told him how I felt," Dalgleish said."The basis was there: He had set up this inventive, ingenious reverted world, but Zanna was a drag queen. I said, 'I see a great piece of musical theatre, but I'm not interested in producing a drag show, and if you're interested in going on the journey, let's go.'"

Reviews for the first fully-produced run at the Kirk were constructive and encouraging, the producer said. Audiences and critics are comparing the high school-set show to Babes in Arms, Bye Bye Birdie, Rent and Grease, and even the jaded chatterati on internet message boards have been cooing about the work.

Shepherding the show, Dalgleish shared the score with several producers in New York in 2001, but only Donna Trinkoff, producing director of Amas Musical Theatre signed on, giving the nascent show two readings prior to the Oct. 8-Nov. 3, 2002, full staging. The show also fit nicely with Amas' mission of "multi-ethnic musical theatre."

Capitalization for Off-Broadway is less than $1 million, Dalgleish said.

Writer-creator Acito is a graduate of University of California at Berkeley. He received an MFA at Yale in spring 2002. His musical, The Sungatherers, premiered at Yale in May 2002.