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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Zanna, Don't! and Leading Ladies
Prove Tonic for a Hot Seattle Summer

Two short-run productions in recent weeks packed 'em in for their respective companies. Zanna, Don't! from Contemporary Classics and the Northwest premiere staging of Ken Ludwig's Leading Ladies by the Driftwood Players of Edmonds, Washington, proved engaging efforts and a cool way to beat the heat during a particularly warm summer in the Greater Puget Sound.

Zanna, Don't!, a 2003 Off-Broadway musical with book, music and lyrics by Tim Acito with Alexander Dinelaris, is a gay fable of a high school musical (written before any of the High School Musicals) set in a world where the norm is being gay. The title character, an endearing good fairy boy named Zanna, helps facilitate romantic pairings amongst his chums until a couple named Kate and Steve embark on an innocent heterosexual romance, causing consternation in the community. Zanna's course of action zaps everyone into reality as we know it, and momentarily leaves Zanna the outsider at school, until his friends' acceptance and a pairing with another gay classmate set the scene for a happy ending.

Director/Choreographer Brandon Ivie (also the artistic director of Contemporary Classes) mounted the show with many of the same cast members last summer, as a tie-in with Gay Pride celebrations, and its return to the black box space at the Seattle Rep was welcome. Ivie and musical director Mark Rabe (also on piano) gave their well-chosen, youthful cast all the right sassy moves and musical backup to create a giddy, heartfelt diversion. Justin Huertas offered a cotton candy sweet but not cloying performance as Zanna, and his ultimate pairing with Don Darryl Rivera's bouncy, broad performance as school DJ Tank proved touching. Jared Michael Brown is a new talent in town to watch for, with strong presence and vocals as Steve, paired admirably with both of his onstage amours, quirky Sarah Davis as Kate and charming Connor Russell as Mike. Diana Huey was the show's vocal and comic powerhouse as the feisty Roberta, Arthur Allen was a sly scene-stealer as Arvin, and Lindsey Hedberg (in several smaller roles) with vocal and comedic skills in abundance may as well get ready to contend for the role of Tracy Turnblad when the inevitable first Seattle staging of Hairspray blows into town.

Andrea Bush's dexterous scenic design was spare yet sparkly and suitable, and Harmony J.K. Arnold's costumes were a Technicolor delight. Contemporary Classics worthily champions the cause of newer musicals which have yet to play Seattle, and based on that, I can't wait to see which one they tackle next!

In the grand tradition of such cross-dressing farces as Tootsie, Charley's Aunt, Victor/Victoria and particularly Some Like It Hot comes Ken Ludwig's Leading Ladies, in which Leo and Jack, a pair of down on their heels British Shakespearean actors stuck in rural Pennsylvania, don high heels, bras, girdles and dresses to pass themselves off as Maxine and Stephanie, aka Max and Steve, the long lost relatives of Florence, a wealthy dying American woman. Both straight men (and homely women to boot), they risk exposure after falling for a pair of local girls. Leo woos Meg, Florence's stage-struck niece, much to the chagrin of her suspicious fiancé Duncan, while Jack goes for family friend Audrey, who could be the love child of Goldie Hawn and Suzanne Somers. Many complications ensue, as the pair cross back and forth in and out of female garb, and a pre-wedding staging of Twelfth Night is even part of the mix before the faux girls get the real girls in the final clinch.

There are loads of familiar but solid laughs in Ludwig's script, but it was the Driftwood Players principal cast members, under J.D. Lloyd's able direction, that made the show as delightful as it was. Boyd Morrison as Leo showed wit and charm as he slyly romanced Larisa Peters as Meg, in a delightful performance which played up the character's own humor and smarts. No stranger to drag roles, Jay Irwin as Jack made his female counterpart a hilarious Marjorie Main–like hoot, while adding some touches of pathos to the buffoonery, and Irwin was also paired well with the amusing Amy Schumacher as ditzy Audrey. Chief delight among the supporting players was Terrence Boyd as Doc, in a droll performance, while El'Kahn Thompson had some hysterical moments as Audrey's dumb as a rock boyfriend Butch. Keith Remon was rather too stiff as Duncan, and Catherine Kettrick was simply too young and vital as waning old Florence.

Ralph Eaton's scenic design admirably created the sense of a large, rambling house on the smallish Wade James Theatre sets, and costumer Meagan McDonald excelled at finding frightening frocks for the erstwhile leading ladies.

Leading Ladies (unlike other Ludwig shows such as Moon Over Buffalo and Lend Me A Tenor) has yet to play the Great White Way, or even one of the all-pro Seattle houses, but the accomplished Driftwood Players production was a worthy introduction to the piece.

Zanna, Don't! closed July 5. Contemporary Classics has a cabaret night of New Voices (songs from new musicals sung by top Seattle talent) ahead on August 3rd at ACT Theatre. Go to www.contemporaryclassics.org.

Leading Ladies closed June 28. For more information on the Driftwood Players (which launches its next season with the Tony Award winning Broadway musical

The Secret Garden, go to www.driftwoodplayers.com.



- David Edward Hughes



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