Garrick Theatre, London WC2
Opened 15 July, 2008

Zorro has all the ingredients of a top-notch musical, but the soufflé doesn’t quite rise. It has a strong story, well-known in its broad form: foppish, ineffectual Don Diego has a secret identity as Zorro, “the Fox”, the masked champion of the people of Spanish colonial Los Angeles against a tyrannical military governor. It is told with some thought, although Helen Edmundson’s story and Stephen Clark’s book are aware of, rather than based on, the 2005 novel by co-producer Isabel Allende.
In this version, Diego falls in during his time in Spain with a band of gypsies from whom he learns many of his fighting and acrobatic skills, and who accompany him back to California, thus cueing a lot of flamenco and a score by the Gipsy Kings. The latter sounds fine (and what a treat it is to have a West End band with only one keyboardist and four guitarists!), but how much if any of it is original, I don’t know: certainly the big numbers, “Baila Me”, “DJobi DJoba” and the inevitable “Bamboleo” all predate the show by some years. Clark’s English lyrics, though, sound clunkily translated from the Spanish even if they are not, and conversely some of the cast sing in Spanish with noticeably English accents, including Matt Rawle who is otherwise tolerably dashing as Diego/Zorro. As his love interest Luisa, Emma Williams is agreeably perky but about as Hispanic as Luton airport. The company includes a number of skilled flamenquistas, but when Williams hitches her skirts up for a flamenco flourish she looks as if she might be preparing to get dirty (and I don’t mean muddy).
The chief delights in the cast are Nick Cavaliere as the fat, cowardly sergeant Garcia and Lesli Margherita as the gypsies’ female leader Inez; each on their own is a skilled comedian, but their scenes together bubble gloriously. However, I’m not sure the show as a whole is intended to bubble quite so much. At some moments it is obviously making deliberate self-deprecating use of cliches, but at others...? And, accomplished as it is, some of the flamenco singing sounds a wee bit absurd to phlegmatic Anglo-Saxon ears. But as Spanish musicals at the Garrick go, it blows this spring’s oddity Peter Pan – El Musical out of the water. You could even call it the last word in musicals, alphabetically at least.
 Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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