The Phantom Of The Opera isn’t the only masked man in black running around the West End while singing about the woman he loves. He now has competition from Zorro, the Spanish vigilante whose story was developed as a musical back in 2008. This new production was beginning a run in Manchester in March 2020 when Covid got in the way, but now the swashbuckler with the flaming sword is back at London’s Charing Cross Theatre.
Based on the origin tales of the famous fictional character (along with the 1998 film starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones), the show follows the life of the wealthy young Diego who is sent away from California to study in Spain. Initially Diego resents being sent away, but soon falls for the Latin way of life, along with the intoxicating gypsy Inez. Diego learns that his brother Ramon has become captain of the army, and now rules tyrannically, stripping the citizens of their privileges and leaving them little more than slaves. Determined to stand against Ramon’s regime and defend his people, Diego creates an alter ego to fight as, and so the legendary Zorro is born, with the story’s characters discovering who and what they’re really fighting for, and where their loyalties truly lie.
Directed by Christian Durham, ‘Zorro The Musical’ is vibrant and energetic, effectively recreating the hot bustling streets of 1800s Los Angeles and filling the stage with life and character. The show is performed once again in the traverse staging layout now favoured by the Charing Cross Theatre, and it suits the piece really well, perhaps the most successful of the recent productions here in this regard. The cast use every inch of the relatively small performance space, transitions are slick and the choreography is stunning when viewed at such closeness. The swordfight scenes are equally impressively, not holding back in terms of ferocity, and the front rows on either side may feel like ducking at times. The audience really does feel part of the action and the story, and it’s a fantastic achievement by all of the creatives involved.
The story itself does feel ploddy at times and lacking the narrative drive to fully justify its 2 hours 40 minute running time (including interval). Although it’s a decent script by Stephen Clark (also the show’s lyricist), it does suffer from pacing problems, with a particularly saggy second act until it nears its conclusion. The dialogue is good though, and there is also humour throughout, thanks largely to Marc Pickering’s Sergeant Garcia, the awkward bumbling policeman hopelessly in love with Inez; Pickering is a hoot to watch and really makes the character his own.
Musically, ‘Zorro’ is a mixed bag. Written by The Gipsy Kings, it’s a combination of character solos (sung in English) and group numbers (a mix of English and Spanish). The solos often feel underwhelming, and although they suit the style of the piece, they don’t really go anywhere, and won’t be in your head on the journey home. The group numbers, however, are thrillingly vibrant and captivating, full of flamenco spirit and really give the ensemble a chance to shine like they’re having the time of their lives.
Lead performances are strong, with Benjamin Purkiss being a likeable hero as Diego/Zorro. He could perhaps be a little more commanding/intimidating when he’s under the mask, but he does well. Alex Gibson-Giorgio is excellent as the villain Ramon, delivering coldness and fury in equal measure. The show’s standout performance comes from Phoebe Panaretos as the gypsy Inez; she oozes power and sensuality every time she’s onstage, seemingly running on an inner fire akin to West Side Story’s Anita, and she is mesmerising to watch, be it in her spoken interactions with Diego or in her dance sequences. She shines throughout and this will hopefully lead to more opportunities for her. If they ever bring back ‘The Hunchback Of Notre Dame’, she’s got Esmerelda in the bag.
‘Zorro’ is like nothing else currently playing in London, and is worth seeing for its action sequences, ensemble dance routines and some standout lead performances. While it may be too long and with a somewhat dissatisfying score, it still shows what can be achieved in a small space with the right creative vision. Plus, there’s a flaming sword. You don’t get that in Mamma Mia.
‘Zorro The Musical’ runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until Saturday 28th May 2022 including Sunday matinee performances. https://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/zorro
Reviewer: Rob Bartley
Reviewed: 12th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★