“It’s seven a.m. on the dot, and a perfect sixty-eight degrees out there to start the school year off right,” announces DJ Tank on his morning show on WLUV, Heartsville High’s student-run station. “Just a reminder folks, Heartsville’s annual community picnic is this weekend. So, guys grab your guy and girls grab your girl and head on down to Lookout Lake.”

What? Did Tank just say “Guys grab your guy and girls grab your girl”? What kind of topsy-turvy world is this?

The answer is, it’s the topsy-turvy world of Zanna, Don’t!, the hit off-Broadway musical fairy tale now getting its Orange County premiere at Santa Ana’s Theatre Out. Sparklingly performed by a talented young cast of OC triple-threats, Zanna, Don’t! is just under two hours of Technicolor musical fun.

Since we’re talking fairy tale here, what would Zanna, Don’t! be without a quartet of princes and princesses and a fairy godmother to play matchmaker?

At Heartsville High, the princely duo are new-kid-in-town (and football quarterback) Steve (Billy Rodriguez) and chess champion Mike (Frankie Marrone), the pair of princesses are school brainiac Kate (Andrea Dennison-Laufer) and part-time waitress Roberta (Alissa Sanchez), and the fairy who matches boy with boy and girl with girl is a tall, romantic young lad named Zanna (Bryan Rogers), following in the grand musical matchmaking tradition of (Hello) Dolly Levi and Fiddler’s Yenta. Unfortunately, five divided by two leaves Zanna the only one without a partner in love.

Other than that, though, there’s not a cloud on Heartsville’s horizon. Couples spend time at the “I’m Okay, You’re Okay Corral,” cowgirl-lovin’ cowgirls ride the mechanical bull at the town’s lesbian Western bar, and school kids fill gym bleachers for the chess championship (this being a world in which chess champs are sex symbols and football quarterbacks mere nobodies).

No scholastic year would be complete without its high school musical, and this year the kids at Heartsville High decide on something a bit weightier than usual: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a “very special” musical about Straights In The Military. Despite naysayers’ objections that such a controversial theme would never get the school board’s approval, the student thespians go ahead with the show, Kate and Steve getting cast as a pair of soldiers who discover their opposite-sex attraction in the trenches. When Kate and Steve discover to their joy/horror that they have the same heterosexual feelings as the characters they are playing, Zanna, Don’t!’s idyllic boy-boy/girl-girl world gets turned upside down and inside out.

Zanna, Don’t! The Musical is the brainchild of Tim Acito, writer of its book, music, and lyrics (with additional book and lyrics by Alexander Dinelaris), and Acito shows boundless imagination in creating this alternate universe. His melodies are catchy, his lyrics clever. Take Mike and Steve’s bubbly romantic duet “I Think We Got Love”—“It looks like love, and it sounds like love, and it seems like love, and it feels like love, and it walks like love, and it talks like love, and it runs like love, and it skips like love, and it hurts like love, disappoints like love, disappears like love, reappears like love, and it shouts like love and it sings like love. So guess what, my friend? I think, I think I got love.” One of my favorite lyrics ever, and even better when set to music.

From rock to romance to Broadway to disco—Acito’s score runs the gamut of styles, and provides ample opportunities for Zanna, Don’t!’s cast to shine. Marrone gets the lovelorn ballad “I Could Write Books” and sings it gorgeously. Later, he is joined by Dennison-Laufer, Rodriguez, and Sanchez for the four-part “Do You Know What It’s Like,” a song which could coax tears from a stone. Sanchez rocks the house with her powerful pipes in “I Ain’t Got Time” and “Whatcha Got?” Justin Scott Eaton, James Oronoz, and Colleen Wilson sing at rocket speed the delightful (and appropriately titled) “Fast.” Rogers sings a lovely, plaintive “Someday You Might Love Me.”

Zanna, Don’t! features a bunch of energetic production numbers, imaginatively choreographed by Marrone, particularly “Ride ‘Em,” “Blow Winds,” and prom night’s bouncy “Straight To Heaven.”

These and other song-and-dance sequences are performed by an all-around first-rate cast. Though he could really let Zanna soar by upping the character’s flamboyance, Rogers nonetheless makes for a charming, likeable title character. Dennison-Laufer, Marrone, Rodriguez, and Sanchez are terrific as the quartet of star-crossed lovers. Eaton, Oronoz, and Wilson get the plum assignments of playing a bevy of characters, from country-western bar regulars to high school students and staff, and the trio play them all with pizzazz. In the lesbian cowgirl bar sequence, Eaton, Marrone, Oronoz, Rodriguez show up in butch dyke drag to hilarious effect.

Jack Millis deserves high marks for his sparkling direction, about my only quibble being that by having Mike & Steve and Kate & Roberta seated at opposite sides of the Empire Theatre’s wide stage for “Do You Know What It’s Like?”, anyone not in the first row ends up having one of the couples blocked from view, lessening the song’s impact. Also, it would be great if Mills could find a way to delineate the character of Tank a bit more clearly from the other characters Oronoz plays—in view of the show’s finale.

Musical director Stephen Hulsey provides impeccable accompaniment on keyboard. David C. Carenvale’s bubblegum-colored set and costume designs couldn’t be better, with Christina L. Munich’s lighting making them even more Technicolored. Kara Kessener is stage manager.

Rarely has a show dealt with serious issues like homophobia, gays in the military, LGBT youth, etc. in a frothier, more delightful form than Zanna, Don’t! Theatre Out’s excellent production provides the OC with a thoroughly entertaining introduction to the show that has already taken New York and L.A. by rainbow-colored storm.

Theatre Out, The Empire Theatre, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana.

–Steven Stanley
June 25, 2010
Photos: Darcy Hogan

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