Zanna, Don't!, the unlikely musical comedy about an androgynous teen with magical power who plays matchmaker in a world where gay relationships are the norm, is aiming at a commercial production Off-Broadway in 2003, according to producer Jack M. Dalgleish.
The current Off-Off-Broadway staging presented by Amas Musical Theatre has been nearly sold out in its four-week run at Theatre Row's Rodney Kirk Theatre on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Seats are scarce for the final weekend of performances, through Nov. 3.
Dalgleish, the commercial producer partnering with Stephanie A. Joel to take the show beyond this initial run, said 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.
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 this fully-produced run, which has production design by Wade Laboissonniere and Tobin Ost, have been constructive and encouraging. 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.
Dalgleish shared the score with several producers in New York, but only Donna Trinkoff, producing director of Amas Musical Theatre signed on, offering the nascent show two readings prior to the Oct. 8-Nov. 3 full staging. The show also fit nicely with Amas' mission of "multi-ethnic musical theatre."
Now, Dalgleish and Joel are seeking producing partners (capitalization is less than $1 million, he said) and already have a handful of theatre owners interested in the show. The work's varied pop sound and bright, middle-of-the road, matter-of-fact attitude about love make it a candidate for midtown Off-Broadway theatres, but you can also imagine gay-friendly Zanna, Don't! playing forever in a tiny Greenwich Village venue.
"The gay audience is a core market," Dalgleish said, 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.
Dalgleish said he's interested in retaining the starless company for the future, if they're available. The troupe of eight (doubling and tripling) includes Adam Michael Kaokept (as Mike), Anika Larsen (as Kate), Darius Nichols (as Buck), Amanda Ryan Paige (Candy/Karla), Robb Sapp (as Tank), Shelley Thomas (as Kate), Gregory Treco (as Zanna) and Jared Zeus (as Steve).
Trouble brews in the show's gay world 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 straight enclave.
While it does spoof gay and gender attitudes, the show ultimately "lets you see individuals and not stereotypes," said Dalgleish.
Devanand Janki directed and choreographed, Alexander Dinelaris penned additional book and lyrics, David Geist is musical director on piano.
What did the team learn from the four-week run?
"We learned we have a little bit of rewriting to do, and we're gonna do it this winter," Dalgleish said. "My hope is to do the work in winter and transfer Off-Broadway by spring ."
Edward G. Robinson is musical supervisor; he and Seyi wrote the show's arrangements and orchestrations. Vocal arrangements are by Acito. Robert Killenberger is sound designer, Jeffrey Lowney is lighting designer.
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.
For ticket information for the final weekend, call (212) 279-4200.