Tuesday, May 26, 2009

'Zanna Don’t' at Actor’s Express is a Do

Imagine living life as a heterosexual in a homosexual world. “Zanna Don’t,” now playing at Actor’s Express in Atlanta, shows us what it could be like if our sexual preference were outside the norm.

Playwright Tim Acito skillfully shows us what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes. In a land of upside down living, he takes us to a place where chess players are studs, football players are geeks, and heterosexuality is an anomaly.

It’s all done tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a fun show with light, catchy pop tunes reminiscent of those in “Little Shop of Horrors.”

The story revolves around a group of students at Heartsville High and their searches for love. With a wave of his magical wand, Zanna, a Cupid-like sprite, casts spells upon the boys and girls as they descry possible mates. But alas, even Zanna cannot stop true love when the unexpected happens: a boy and a girl, each already in a relationship with another of their same sex, fall for each other. To the couple’s dismay, no matter how hard they try to stay away from each other, they can’t stop the magnetic force between them.

Although the story takes place at a high school where kids rebel against the establishment in the heartland of America, that’s about as close as it gets to other high school musicals like “Grease” and “Hairspray.” All right, “Hairspray” takes on the topic of racial equality and “Zanna Don’t” covers homosexual equality, but thankfully, “Zanna Don’t” is a lot more subtle. It doesn’t preach about equality, nor does it throw in a gratuitous, over-the-top drag queen to catch our attention. It does, however, have a fairy of sorts, Zanna, played by Ricardo Aponte.

Unfortunately, upon the show’s opening, Aponte played the role like a true “fairy.” He could have been more interesting had he chosen to play his character as a stronger being. When he finally stopped his fey ways and his mugging for the audience, in one of his final solo tunes he belted out from his heart, Some Day You Might Love Me. That is the moment when his passion and inner light sparkled far brighter than the sequined top and red pumps he closed the show in.

The play is good and the music is a fun mixture of pop, blues, and doo-wop, with catchy tunes such as I Ain’t Got Time and Whatcha Got. The show features a live band and notable performances from Erin Lorette as Roberta, Caitlin Smith as Kate, and Jimi Kocina as Mike.

“Zanna Don’t,” book, music and lyrics by Tim Acito with help from Alexander Dinelaris, has played Off Broadway, around the country, and currently is playing in London and at Actor’s Express in Atlanta, where it is running through June 20.

Photo: Eric Hermann

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chris Botti Trumps Symphony Hall

Written by guest blogger: Karin Koser

Lush. Lyrical. Light.

That was the fare tonight at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concert at Symphony Hall. From the moment guest conductor Sarah Hicks lightly, quickly entered the stage, the hall was filled with fresh air. What, a female with bare arms leading the ASO? Long silky brown hair shaking as she directed, Hicks was warm, engaging and enjoying herself and the caliber of the musicians under her baton. Guesting from her usual assistant conductor spot in Minnesota, Hicks led the ASO in a breathless version of Debussy’s Claire de Lune. As in, I dared not breath during it, so as not to miss a single, perfect note.

Three songs later, she introduced the main attraction: trumpeter Chris Botti. To the initiated Botti fan, there was but one new addition to his usual tour fare--the exquisite young violinist Lucia Micarelli, barefoot and sparkly and the centerpiece of one of Botti’s (and my) favorite songs--the love theme from Cinema Paradiso. The show featured just one number accompanied by the considerable vocal talents of the show-stopping Sy Smith, cousin to Botti’s versatile guitarist Mark Whitfield. Her vocal rendition of The Look of Love, that iconic pop song popularized by Dionne Warwick, blew more fresh air into the room, especially when she mimicked Botti’s notes on the trumpet in a pitch-perfect vocal mirror. Everyone around me wanted more of Ms. Smith.

Botti’s show was complemented beautifully by the ASO, particularly the strings. His choice of songs--by now predictable to his fans--nonetheless showed off the exceptional range of one of the finest symphonies working in America today. To have the talented Ms. Hicks at the helm was a bonus, for Botti and the audience.