ZORBA at 42nd Street Moon a venturesome undertaking

(Left) "I'm Free" sung by Michael Stevenson as Zorba

(Right) “Life Is” sung by Alexandra Kaprielian with Ray Renati as Mavrodoni, Ian Leonard as Niko and Michael Stevenson as Zorba

(Photos by DavidAllenStudio.com)

ZORBA: Musical. Book by Joseph Stein, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. 42nd Street Moon, Eureka Theater, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco, CA 94111415/255-8207 or www.42ndstmoon.org. MAY 2 – 20, 2012

ZORBA at 42nd Street Moon a venturesome undertaking

Musical adaptations of movies/books are often wildly successful but Zorba does not fit into that category. Unfortunately Anthony Quinn’s name and personae from the Oscar Award winning 1964 film is the benchmark for any performer who undertakes the role. The original 1968 Broadway production starred Herschel Bernardi and opened to mixed reviews even though it received a nomination for Best Musical. After a one year run, it was revised and had a national tour with John Raitt, Barbara Baxley and Chita Rivera. The 1983 revival starring Quinn and Lila Kedrova faired well on Broadway and on the road but was denied accolades.

The story is more suited to opera rather than musical comedy since it involves the death of a loveable major character, a suicide of a teenaged rejected lover and the murder of the widow, the object of his desire. Add to this a female called The Leader (Alexandra Kaprielian) acting as a Greek chorus of one with other members of the cast predicting dire consequences. The dire consequences become reality but there is an uplifting, if not satisfactory, ending to the play when Zorba (Michael Stevenson) the protagonist exits to the refrain of “I Am Free.”

It all begins with The Leader accompanied by the ensemble in a bouzouki circle sing “Life Is” with the much foot stomping dancing we come to expect for a story set in Greece. In this case the locale is Crete where Niko (Ian Leonard) a Greek-American scholar arrives to claim an abandoned mine he has inherited. He is accosted and taken under-the-wing by the volatile, voluble con-artist Alexis Zorba. . . “just call me Zorba.” In the village there are the attractive young widow (Teressa Byrne) and the older French woman Hortense (Stephanie Rhodes). Romantic relationships begin with Nike/Widow and Zorba/Hortense. The primary adventure is the budding friendship of young Nike and worldly Zorba with the older man becoming an adept mentor.

Michael Stevenson with his physical stature and dominating stage presence is a good fit for the role Zorba but does not grasp those scenes where humanity should break through. Ian Leonard has the right touch of insecurity that reaches across the footlights and one feels his pain. He has a nice comedic touch in his “letter scene” with Stephanie Rhodes. Alexandra Kaprielian’s strong voice and acting ability, as The Leader, is a gem.

Director Greg MacKellan has a daunting task staging 15 cast members on the less than spacious stage but his skill shows through and his top notch cast responds. There are individual vignettes that populate the evening with drama and humor. But, the too often stated rhetorical question, “Can I tell you a Story” with the expected “No!” response loses its humor long before the final request by Zorba receives a reluctant “Yes” from Niko as a lead-in to Zorba’s mantra song “I Am Free.”

Although there are some fine musical numbers, non are memorable but they are accompanied by the excellent musical direction of Dave Dobrusky aided by Nick Di Scala on reeds. For this production we have an onstage bouzouki and unseen other instruments back stage.

Running time is about 2 hours and 40 minutes with intermission with slow act one lasting one hour and 20 minutes.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com