Review: 'Zanna, Don't!' sparkles at Island City Stage

Correspondent

In the world of South Florida musical theater, the region may currently be home to better, more lavishly produced and more broadly appealing shows than “Zanna, Don’t!” at Island City Stage.

But if you’re looking for a musical that is both adorable and embraceable as it makes a funny, poignant statement about acceptance, trust me on this one: “Zanna, Don’t!” takes the glitter-topped cake.

As the first musical produced by the Wilton Manors-based company, the 2003 off-Broadway show by Tim Acito and then-future “Birdman” Oscar winner Alex Dinelaris presents plenty of challenges.

How does a director fit eight actors onto a small stage and execute multiple quick scene changes? How does a choreographer get those performers to pull off snazzy routines without accidentally kicking one another? What about the sound mix in a small space? Musical direction? Tracks to accompany the vocals?

Not to worry. Island City artistic director Andy Rogow staged plenty of musicals when he was running the Hollywood Playhouse, and choreographer Andy Fiacco collaborated with him there.

Musical director Michael Ursua, currently Carbonell Award-nominated as best actor in a musical for Slow Burn’s “The Secret Garden” and MNM’s “La Cage aux Folles,” gets fine work from actors singing to tracks created by Emmanuel Schvartzman, himself a Carbonell nominee for his musical direction of Palm Beach Dramaworks’ “Sweeney Todd.”

Costume designer Peter A. Lovello dresses a stage full of young gay characters in clever designs — the jersey for the captain of the football team, for instance, is pale pink and sports slightly puffy sleeves — and David Hart achieves a good sound balance in a tricky space.

Ardean Landhuis’ lighting is particularly dreamy for Conor Walton’s Zanna, the wand-waving matchmaker at heterophobic Heartsville High. Set designer Natalie Tavares has come up with simple ways to convey the show’s multiple locations (including Zanna’s bedroom, a locker room, stadium risers and a diner), but moving those pieces around on opening night resulted in some near collisions and lots of noise.

As for the musical that’s the object of all that Island City creativity, “Zanna, Don’t!” (the title is a jokey nod to “Xanadu”) exists in an alternative world in which homosexuality is the norm and being straight is considered weird or shameful.

Zanna, whose heart sparkles as much as his clothes do, uses his magic wand to unite couples. Steve (Arrow ZurSchmiede), the new-kid football captain, falls for Mike (Eric Daniel O’Keefe), the school’s much-desired chess champ. Unlucky-in-love Roberta (Darcy Hernandez-Gil) is linked to brainy Kate (Mallory Newbrough), a scholar and captain of the Girls’ Mechanical Bull-Riding Team.

Tank (Sahid Pabon) is the school DJ, a good guy with a crush on the oblivious Zanna. Candi (Casey Sacco) is a bossy gossip who runs the Drama Club with a will of iron, and Arvin (Randall Swinton) is her put-upon sidekick.

The drama in “Zanna” takes off when Steve and Kate start falling for each other and, at the end of an original musical promoting tolerance in the military, seal the deal with a kiss that horrifies almost everyone.

Island City’s talented performers bring the show’s through-the-looking-glass world to delightful, hilarious, touching life.

Walton, a Carbonell nominee for “It Shoulda Been You” at Actors’ Playhouse, conveys Zanna’s sincere and unflagging delight at enabling love. ZurSchmiede and double Carbonell nominee Newbrough (for “Beauty and the Beast” and “Beehive,” both at the Wick Theatre) are tonally perfect as the star-crossed lovers, and O’Keefe and Hernandez-Gil are sympathetic as the partners who get left behind. The appealing Pabon, Sacco and Swinton jump in and out of multiple roles with ease.

In a world in which contentious nastiness seems to bombard us daily, “Zanna, Don’t!” serves as a reminder that love — with or without a magic wand — can conquer all. Or at least put us in another person’s sparkly shoes.

“Zanna, Don’t!” runs through Feb. 11 at Island City Stage, 2304 N. Dixie Highway, in Wilton Manors. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $42. To order, call 954-519-2533 or go to IslandCityStage.org.

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