Last night we joined a couple of friends to see "Zanna Don't", a musical being staged in one of the many tiny theatres hidden around Silver Lake. Small theatre can be hit or miss, but at only $20-30 a pop (as opposed to upwards of $100 these days for a big theatre musical show), it's worth the risk to find the hidden gems. Fortunately, LA is chock full of very talented actors and singers, so you can encounter high-quality talent performing even in a 60-seat house. In the case of the West Coast Ensemble production of "Zanna Don't", we were handsomely rewarded and consistently delighted. This show delivers foot-tapping tune after tune, propelling a whacky but engaging story that had me grinning ear to ear almost the whole time. The premise rests on the story setting in the high school of Heartsville, a wholesome midwestern community in an inverted universe where everyone is gay and heterosexuality is the love that dare not speak its name. In this world, the chess champion is the big man on campus, and being in the high school musical is way socially cooler than being on the football team. The play mines the humor inherent in its theme very creatively, with many elaborations that surprise and amuse, but never wear it down to one-gag repetition. Amidst the laughs, a couple of numbers ("Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and "Do You Know What It's Like?") plumb some unexpectedly serious and moving undertones about what it means to have to hide and lie about love. Prancing through this fanciful backdrop like some cross between Tinkerbell, Cupid, and Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu is the title character Zanna, whose magical mission is to make sure everyone (except himself?) finds love. That sounds over-the-top (which it is), but don't let the Xanadu reference fool you. Zanna Don't is more than just a gimmick to string together a bunch of fun tunes, and the second act surprises, not just in the denouement, but in the way it deepens.
The cast were all strong, with fine comic acting, singing, and dancing all around. Danny Calvert (Zanna) moved magically and had some serious pipes. Rebecca Johnson (Kate the overachiever) and Natalie Monahan (Roberta the lesbian with attitude) have the moves, voices, and expressiveness perfect for this kind of musical comedy. Brent Schindele (Steve the quarterback) and Brian Maslow (Mike the chess champ) were both talented and well-cast (Maslow was an understudy but we didn't feel shorted). Brian Weir, Justine Valdez, and Matthew Rocheleau complete the talented cast, skillfully juggling multiple character roles. Given the very limited size of the theatre, a special kudos to Christine Lakin and Paul Nygro for their choreography, and the backstage folks who were able to make much with little. This play has been running on Off-Broadway for years, where it probably has a bit more budget behind it, but this production successfully packs all the magic into a tiny local space. You'll find the Lyric-Hyperion Theatre on the corner of the same name, just a couple blocks east of Casita Del Campo or west of Trader Joes. Fun, fun, fun. I'd enjoy seeing it again.