One of South Florida's premier theater companies, Palm Beach Dramaworks has been performing its own Encores!-style series of musicals in concert for the past several seasons. Their latest was the Kander & Ebb musical version of the great Cacoyannis film Zorba.
I saw the revival, with Anthony Quinn, at the Broadway Theatre many years ago and was, truthfully, underwhelmed. Never thinking it was a great piece of musical theatre, I approached a return visit with some apprehension. Relax, dear readers. I enjoyed this concert version far more than the original.
While still not a musical for the ages, shorn of its large cast and much of its book, this concert version was entertaining and well worth a re-hear of an unusual and melodic score. Credit goes to musical director Caryl Ginsburg Fantel and her prolific duo, Louis Martinez (guitar/bouzouki) and Roy Fantel (drums/percussion), for transporting her audience to Greece via her authentic-sounding arrangements.
Zorba is a show about life and how we live it "'til the day that you die." Relationships, both platonic (Zorba and Nikos) or romantic (Zorba and Hortense) or universal (Zorba and ... the world!), are explored via a snappy libretto and a rarely heard score.
Utilizing a cast of 14, director Clive Cholerton not only had the group moving as though in an actual production rather than a staging, rendering the music stands practically invisible. Most were "off book" which added to the professionalism. Utilizing, primarily, familiar actors from the area, several are worth mentioning. First and foremost, Laura Hodos as The Leader. With her Eydie Gorme- clarion-trumpet belt, combined with gorgeous looks, Hodos stood out in a role that is little more than a narrator ... and a minor one, at that. Interesting that the characters who would be considered "supporting" stood out the most to me. Katherine Amadeo as The Widow and Josh Lerner as Mimiko being the most effective examples.
As Zorba, Broadway's William Parry made a role that is indelibly Anthony Quinn's very much his own. A man of average height and above average vocal talents, Parry managed to convey Zorba's "larger than life" qualities. As his "latest" best friend Nikos, Nick Duckart did his best to bring the show's least interesting character to life, and succeeded.
Dramaworks' Bill Hayes and Sue Ellen Beryl are to be commended for producing high quality concerts in South Florida's "off-season", aka "the summer". There is an avid, hungry audience down here for quality theatre, as evidenced by the packed houses the concerts have been playing to.
While Zorba has concluded, Dramaworks is revving up for its next concert, The Most Happy Fella, beginning July 11th. Starring will be South Pacific's own William Michals (who also starred in Dramaworks' Man of LaMancha last season). Along with Palm Beach Dramaworks' loyal audience, I am very excited at the possibilities of what will be done with this Frank Loesser masterpiece. "Bravi" to all involved!
Zorba has concluded its run. The Most Happy Fella opens July 18 and runs through July 27, 2014. Performances are : Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8PM; Saturday and Sunday @ 2PM at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, FL. For tickets and more information, call 561-514-4042 or visit palmbeachdramaworks.org.
-- Jeffrey Bruce