Zanna, Don't! Writer Tim Acito Has Two Other Musicals On His Plate

News   Zanna, Don't! Writer Tim Acito Has Two Other Musicals On His Plate Tim Acito, the composer-lyricist-librettist who wrote the musical, Zanna, Don't!, is focusing on his producer's hope to move the show to Broadway following its short Off-Broadway run earlier this year at the John Houseman Theatre.
Tim Acito
Tim Acito (Photo by Joan Marcus)

But the 35-year-old Acito, an alumnus of Yale's graduate playwriting program, isn't necessarily a one-show man. As he and producer Jack M. Dalgleish explore a larger commercial future for Zanna — a gay-and-straight-themed musical comedy that will spawn a cast album come fall — Acito said he has a handful of shows he's nursing.

"My immediate plans are to keep working on Zanna, Don't!," Acito said. "Anytime you transfer a show from Off-Broadway to Broadway you have to consider how the show is going to expand to fill the space literally and artistically. For example we might be able to expand the ensemble or the band. There are aspects to the story we might be able to deepen and clarify. This is the focus of my life until further notice."

Dalgleish previously told Playbill On-Line he was encouraged by critics and audiences, but found it too hard to make money in the small John Houseman Theatre Off Broadway. He thinks the show would benefit from the greater exposure — and additional seats — available on Broadway.

What's on Acito's back burner?

A family-friendly project called Melvin and the Sock Monster is a story created by Acito, and he's exploring three versions of the tale — an animated movie musical, a musical stage show and an illustrated book. Another project is The Sungatherers, a chamber musical inspired by the work of Anton Chekhov.

"They reflect both sides of my artistic personality: One is more reflective and lyrical and 'adult' and the other one is more the goofy pop cultural explosion, in the Zanna, Don't! vein."

The "goofy pop cultural explosion" is Melvin and the Sock Monster, the story of a sixth grade boy who falls in love with a heavy-metal, head-banging sixth grade girl. To woo her, he learns how to play an instrument, and they form a band.

The story has themes of being an outsider, what we do for love and the relationship between creativity and the marketplace, Acito said, who likens the style to a mix of "The Little Mermaid" and an episode of "The Simpsons."

Two of the four main characters are "sort of magical" and would necessitate a special design and directing team, if the show were to play live on stage: There is "an eight-foot monster made out socks" that can change into a variety of shapes "as an odd kind of metaphor for creation."

The show he imagines (and has written a dozen songs for) has an MTV sensibility and would bridge a gap between MTV and musical theatre.

Acito said The Sungatherers is his "love letter to Chekhov, but in a very playful, whimsical, musical form."

It was first written as a play with "some surreal elements," then it evolved into a play with music. "Now," the writer said, "it's somewhere in between."

"It sort of has the feeling of A Little Night Music," he said. "It has well-spoken thirtysomethings trying to figure out their lives and loves on a country estate one summer evening. It's on the eve of World War I. It's whimsical, wistful — almost Brechtian, the songs always comment on a person's intellectual, philosophical and emotional state of being but don't necessarily drive the plot forward. Sometimes I like to follow the rules and sometimes I don't."

The accompaniment for The Sungatherers, ideally, would be Russian guitars. The score uses standard Russian folk chords and tonalities, but mixes that sound with a postmodern folk sensibility — Russian folk meets Bjork.

The Sungatherers was seen at Yale University in May 2002 in its musical form, and in its play form in fall 2001 at New Dramatists.

Acito was raised in central New Jersey and toured internationally as a modern dancer and still teaches dance part-time, and occasionally performs. He earned an MFA in playwriting from Yale.

His attitude about the marketplace following the short Off Broadway life of Zanna, Don't! seemed uniquely grounded. "If you create something from a place of passion, there is going to be some kind of audience out there," Acito said.