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Chicago by John Olson

Zanna, Don't!
Bailiwick Repertory

Also see John's review of Altar Boyz

Zanna, Don't
J. Oliver Perry, (standing R) Sitting front, L to R: Stephane Duret, Jay Reynolds, Jr., Ira Spector, Annie Fitch; Sitting back, L to R: Jastine Dumlao, Erik Kaiko, Amber Coartney
As Jerry Seinfeld reminded us in his TV series, there was a recurring plotline in the Superman comic books that concerned "Bizzaro World," a planet on which everything we know on Earth is reversed Ė wrong is right, Superman is evil and so on. Zanna, Don't!, which first appeared Off-Broadway in 2002 and is receiving its Chicago premiere in this production, creates a "Bizzaro World" in which gays and chess team champions are the cool kids of high school while heterosexuals try to pass as gay and the football team quarterback doesn't quite fit in. Even the parents are all same-sex couples who would be really upset if they thought any of their children were straight.

It's a parable to show the idiocy of the heterocentric mindset of course, but author/composer/lyricist Tim Acito seems to know that the likely audiences for his piece don't need to be lectured about that. He keeps the musical from becoming a mere after-school special for a high school gay-straight alliance by gently satirizing the conformist attitudes that exist within the gay community itself at the same time. The concept would otherwise be a bit thin to sustain a full-length (hour and 45-minute playing time) piece, but Acito provides enough rock-influenced songs to keep the show moving in song and dance if not always in plot.

Bailiwick's attractive and likable cast does indeed keep things moving, energetically performing D. Eric Woolweber's clever choreography and assuming multiple and gender-switching roles via costume and wig changes. The post-collegiate performers are all believable as high school kids, are strong singers, and can dance well enough. Erik Kaiko as Mike, the chess team captain and big man on campus has the strongest voice, and he plays his bizarro-BMOC role quite honestly, without pushing the obvious irony. Jastine Dumlao is hilarious as the school overachiever and busybody Candi McAllister, and she also impressively shifts gears to become the crusty old proprietress of the snack shop. With Stephane Duret and Jay Reynolds, Jr., the three do a country western patter song called "Fast" that's a highlight of the show. In his primary role, Duret is Candi's exasperated guy-pal Arvin, nicely delivering lines like "And I was this close to finishing my sentence" after Candi cuts him off for the umpteenth time. J. Oliver Perry makes a nice romantic lead as Steve, the all-American boy-next-door quarterback. He's well-matched by Annie Fitch as his straight love interest Kate. Though they fake interest in their same-sex paramours, the two fall in love with each other. Amber Courtney is the tough and funny Lesbian love interest Roberta.

Despite the overall sunniness of the piece directed by Elisa Woodruff, played among pastel sets and costumes designed by Courtney O'Neill and Alice Broughton respectively, Acito faces head-on the general ickiness of the sham relationships carried on for appearances. In one of the show's most impressive songs, the ballad, "Do You Know What It's Like?" the dumpers and dumpees confess the pain caused by the deceit and its ultimate revelation. Acito also acknowledges the potential for loneliness regardless of whether one's orientation is in the majority or not.

The Zanna of the title seems to be a descendant of the sexless but sensitive best friend gay characters played by the likes of James Coco in years past. He's a sweet kid who uses witchcraft and a magic wand to help all the others fall in love, without finding it for himself, at least not until after his magic backfires on him. As Zanna, Ira Spector seems the sort of gay kid who would be most vulnerable to taunts and threats, though in this dream world, his compassion and capacity for friendship are recognized and appreciated. Spector does a nice job of capturing all this without excessive campiness, even while being forced to wear a quite unflattering costume through most of the show.

In the end, everything works out for the characters and resolves with a High School Musical-like perfect high school community. Unlike the Disney musical, though, Zanna, Don't acknowledges its fantasy right from start. Its reminders of the tougher reality underneath give us even more permission to enjoy the dream.

Zanna, Donít! will be performed Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. through November 4, 2007. For tickets, call 773-883-1090 or visit www.bailiwick.org.


Photo: David Zak

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-- John Olson



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