Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's recent review of A View from the Bridge
In the New Line Theatre production of Zorba, the title character is played by Kent Coffel, who continues to surprise with a lineage of fascinating characters. His Zorba has an "outline" or two of the great Zero Mostel, at least in the self-assured flippancy he has toward reality, as a concept, or a construct, or perhaps a disagreeable landlord.
For nearly all of New Line Theatre's existence, Scott Miller has brought a piercing, keen intellectual meaning to his shows; and now in the last couple of years there have been added layers of warmth and kindness and heart, thanks to this extremely knowledgeable director/producer/author, now working in tandem with co-director Mike Dowdy-Windsor. Plus, here, some pretty over-qualified actors on stage, and the songs of Kander & Ebb, from 1968, right after their blockbuster Cabaret.
In this production, Lindsey Jones serves as a village chorus leader, in a teased-up black wig: big-boned and wearing tight black dress, reminding us (again, in the "outlines") of Federico Fellini's La Saraghina, from his movie 8 ½. Ms. Jones is almost shockingly pitch perfect in all her great soaring notesI don't know why I never noticed this before. And somehow that makes this Zorba feel like a great, big-budget movie from the second she opens her mouth, the sheer perfection of her singing. Later, near the end, like a Greek version of Brunnhilde, she escorts another character off to the after-life with a strange, enigmatic smile on her face (which is somehow also Fellini-esque).
Nikos (representing the American-born novelist himself) is played by Dominic Dowdy-Windsor with down-to-earth charm, tethering Zorba to the soupçon of a storyline, which is set in 1924. In their unapologetically existential dance number near the end, this Nikos surprises us with grace and aplomb. And earlier, after clashing with the older man over their joint business venture (a mine in Crete), Nikos finally gets the better of Zorba, who thinks himself to be wise in the ways of women. With the sensitivity of all concerned, it's a great moment of turnabout, where all the plot devices are reduced to simple human interactions.
Chameleonic actress Margeau Steinau is Madame Hortense, a mysterious French émigré, and a fitting match for the sensualist Zorba himself. And Ann Hier exists almost exclusively in the shadows as a widow beloved by two different men. But when she ventures out of her mourning into the light of day, it leads to disaster. And that's when we learn we are only strangers, visiting a strange land.
Otherwise, the sunlight is a joyous thing (with a libretto by Joseph Stein) with a sweeping view of the Mediterranean coast. The music is almost invariably uplifting, with songs that are beautifully played to embellish the exuberance of a few weeks by the sea. And the final goodbye between the two leading men unexpectedly put a great big lump in my throat.
Through March 25, 2017, at the Marcel Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepherd Dr., three blocks east of Grand Blvd., or one block west of Compton Ave. Secure parking available, but I've never needed it, as long as you get there around 7:00 p.m. For more information on New Line's 80th production, visit www.newlinetheatre.com.
The New Line Band
The Artistic Staff