"The only real death is the death we die every day by not living." Good words spoken by a great character in a mediocre musical.
When I was greeted by a tacky curtain speech by cast member Raymond Jaramillo McLeod, I thought I was in store for a dismal evening. Another lame production of the poor-man's Fiddler: Kander & Ebb's Zorba. I was wrong. Although Zorba the musical has many faults, North Shore Music Theatre's production has only a few.
The cast is mostly first-rate. Natalie Toro's soaring voice brings new life to "Life Is," as the Leader. Ron Holgate shows great gusto as the life-loving Zorba, and Anita Gillette is delightful as Madame Hortense. Ms. Gillette is especially charming while warbling through "No Boom Boom" and "Happy Birthday." Mr. Holgate and Ms. Gillette display wonderful chemistry with one another and seem to love life as much as their counterparts in the show.
The only casting faults lie in the weak Franc D'Ambrosio as Nikos and Nicholas Sattinger as Mimiko. Although Mr. D'Ambrosio displays a lovely voice, his acting leaves much to be desired. Mr. Sattinger is the evening's main problem. His ditzy/clutzy portrayal of Mimiko is very distracting and reminds one of a bad impersonation of Hank Azaria in "The Birdcage." Mimiko is a pivotal character, one who we would care about immensely if he were portrayed in a more suitable fashion. This portrayal is a caricature, not a portrait of a hopeless boy searching for some consistency in his life.
The faults of those listed above cannot detract from the glorious performance given by Glory Crampton in the role of the Widow. Ms. Crampton gives us a beautiful, stoic women in the Widow. Her vocals are amazing, particularly those in the moving "The Butterfly."
As usual, NSMT gives us top-notch designers and production teams. The lighting by Kendall Smith is especially effective. Mr. Smith creates gorgeous warm lighting which reminds one of the blazing Greek sun. He also gives us appropriate lighting for the more dramatic, darker scenes. The direction by Richard Sabellico is strong; he stages the show very well for the round, and the musical direction of Darren Cohen is also first-rate giving Kander & Ebb's score the sound it deserves.
The only flaw in the production itself, isn't even NSMT's fault. The problem lies where it always has: in the book by Joseph Stein. Given the terrific source material, one would think Stein would have been able to fashion a stronger book. Although several scenes have real power, much of the action seems contrived. The first act moves much too slow, and the second act much too fast. Several characters have no basis for performing the actions they do. The real fault lies with the author's placement of "Happy Birthday" smack in the middle of Mme. Hortense's death scene. Zorba and Nikos' dancing after her death just seems wrong after this macabre song is presented.
However, for all his faults, Zorba is still a very entertaining guy, as are his cohorts. Their tale is a celebration of life, one we can all use right now. So to quote another Joseph Stein musical: "To life!"
North Shore Music Theatre's production of Zorba runs through October 21. Tickets may be purchased by calling (978)-232-7200 or by going to the box office at 62 Dunham Road, Beverly MA, 01915, or by visiting their website at www.nsmt.org