There’s no doubt about it: Music Theater Works consistently takes on big, challenging shows, assembles a first-rate orchestra, and assembles great casts and skilled design teams. His production of Zorro: The Musical, a play that had its world premiere in London in 2008, and is now making its Chicago-area debut at Music Theater Works’ home base at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, is a case. to the point.
That said, despite its many virtues and ambitious large-scale staging, strong voices, bold swordplay, flamenco gypsy dances, sumptuous costumes, a tale of bitter sibling rivalry, political oppression and romance , plus the stirring music of the Gipsy Kings (including the irresistible “Bamboleo”) this take on the “Zorro” story needs work.
The screenplay, written by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson (based on a novel by esteemed writer Isabel Allende), could benefit from some serious tightening. Simply put, the show — energetically directed by Adrian Abel Azevedo, with musical direction by Justin Kono — is too long.
The story of the fabled “masked man” is set primarily in the early 1800s Spanish settlement known as Pueblo de Los Angeles. It begins when Don Alejandro (Luis A. Galvez), the elderly father of Diego (Cisco Lopez), decides to send his son to Barcelona, Spain for the higher education that will prepare him to become the next leader of the Pueblo. Meanwhile, the angry Ramon (Emmanuel Ramirez), a contemporary of Diego, seizes power, imprisons Don Alejandro and turns into a cruel dictator, tyrant in the colony.
Diego, who early on captured the heart of Luisa (Laura Quinones), the young woman in Pueblo who adores him and whom he must leave behind, becomes fascinated by the Spanish gypsy community he encounters in Barcelona and by Inez (Alix Rhode), the hot-blooded flamenco dancer who follows him and is very different from Luisa.
But when Diego returns to Los Angeles (along with Inez and her friends), he learns of his father’s imprisonment and is determined to free him and the citizens of Pueblo. Disguised by what would become his emblematic black cape and mask, and by the excellent swordsmanship he acquired in Spain, Diego takes on the guise of Zorro (Spanish for “Fox”) and at every turn possible tries to defeat Ramon and his soldiers. Luisa doesn’t realize who he really is, but is drawn to the man who comes out of nowhere, dares to fight Ramon, and can never be caught as he tries to free the Pueblo from its ruthless dictator.
As Diego/Zorro, Lopez is tireless as he fights injustice, wields his sword against multiple enemies, and tries to deal with the two women in his life. Quinones and Rhode both have powerful voices and capture the very different personalities of Luisa and Inez. A trio of Flamenco dancers (Lina Bulovaite, Jocelyn Leving and Karla Tennies Koziura) is excellent, choreographed by Luis Beltran Urena. Nick Sandys’ fight choreography is full of annoyances. And Diego Salcedo’s guitar work sets the mood for many scenes.
As Ramon, Ramirez captures the spirit of a cold-blooded dictator, Galvez suggests the wisdom and patience of a man who has seen it all, and J. Christian Hill deftly suggests the ambivalent feelings of Garcia, who plays Ramon’s mother.
Adriana Diaz’s character-defining costumes and set design by Jacqueline & Richard Penrod capture the story’s two worlds: a bygone Los Angeles and the vibrant spirit of Barcelona and its gypsy culture.
There is clearly much to admire in this production, but it would definitely benefit from a good reworking and tightening of its script.
“Zorro: The Musical,” continues through Aug. 21 at North Shore Center for The Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie.
For tickets visit: musictheaterworks.com or call (847) 673-6300.
Music Theater Works has announced an ambitious 2023 season lineup, including:
• “Avenue Q” (March 9 – April 2, 2023)
• “Pippin” (June 1 – June 25)
• “The Producers” (August 11 – August 21)
• “Brigadoon” (October 19 – November 12)
• “Shrek: The Musical” (December 2 – December 23)
Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic