The last time I saw something Spanish at the Garrick it was 'Peter Pan - El Musical'. That show was rather dire, as well as confusing because it was entirely in Spanish. I'm glad to say that history hasn't repeated itself with this Spanish-influenced show. In fact, there couldn't be such a cavernous artistic gap between the two productions, because 'Zorro' is a highly polished, professional and hugely entertaining show that's not only great fun, but has the ability to laugh at itself at the same time. That latter quality is a much-needed welcome relief in the crowded musical market.
The show begins in the Spanish colony of California at the start of the 19th century. Military commander Don Alehandro despatches his son, Diego, off to military school back in Spain, but it's not long before Diego has run off to join a band of gypsies and is heading-up their magic routines. Then Luisa arrives from the colony to give Diego the news that his father is dead and his childhood friend Ramon has taken over the reigns of power and is impoverishing the people with crippling taxes etc, and torturing or murdering them when they don't pay up. Diego decides to return with the gypsies to California, and there dons the black cloak, mask and hat of Zorrro (Spanish for fox).
The story is, of course, pretty limp and undemanding. The obvious attraction is the hero, Zorro, his swordsmanship, and ability to appear, disappear and reappear in the blink of an eye. But the thinness of the plot doesn't seem to get in the way here, because the show never really takes itself that seriously even if the cast play it 'straight'. Well, that might be a loose expression actually because there is a considerable dash of camp in the show too.
Matt Rawle is a tousled-haired and fairly light-hearted (but not lightweight) Zorro/ Diego. His singing is powerful and he's incredibly convincing in the numerous illusions which he has to enact - such as the one where he has to exchange places with a woman tied-up in a box. Emma Wiiliams is Diego's sweetheart and the two work well together. Williams's voice is not quite so strong as Rawle's, but there's a tenderness in her vocals which suits the part well. Lesli Margherita supplies most of the jokes as the smouldering, vivacious gypsy Inez.
Tom Piper's set is impressively inventive, with gadgets, ropes and sundry other devices to help Zorro appear from all over the place - including from a huge rope hung from the flies and a wire stretched high over the audience. Fire figures extensively in the design with clever tricks such as when a huge Z is lit at the start of the show, and there are dozens of torches blazing away during a considerable amount of the action. It's all quite impressive, even if the resulting pong around the theatre is a little nauseous.
Fans of the Gypsy Kings will already be fighting their way to the box office to book their tickets - or may well have already snapped them up. There are a number of songs that even I, as one who cannot claim to know much in the way of their music, could instantly recognise such as Mamboleo and Djobi Djoba (whatever that might mean!). The music is vibrant, energetic and there's a strong guitar influence throughout the show which fits well, lending a touch of authenticity to the proceedings. There's also an enormous of foot stomping during the flamenco numbers, but one can forgive that since the choreography is brilliantly realised.
Overall, this is a musical with originality, flair and a sense of fun. Well executed and staged, it's a fine antidote to others in the genre that seem to want to be taken seriously even though they can't be bothered to provide the substance which would help us believe in them. No such pretensions from 'Zorro'. It simply seeks to entertain and does it extremely well. Judging by the rousing and enthusiastic reception from the audience, it's on course for a very long run.
What the popular press had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Dynamically choreographed musical...A truly highflying musical." RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Cynical corporate product." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Thoroughly enjoyable musical." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "It’s nonsense, but quite agreeable nonsense...Zorro is fun, but not as much fun as all that." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "this almost insanely enjoyable musical, with a fabulous score of stamping flamenco, tavern choruses and tender love songs by the Gipsy Kings, looks like the surprise hit of the summer."