Does anyone know the legend of El Zorro? The character has gone through countless incarnations since first appearing in Johnston McCulley’s novel The Curse of Capistrano, and one of the most recent is Stephen Clark, Helen Edmundson and The Gipsy Kings. Zorro the musical which first premiered in the West End in 2008, and is now revived at the Charing Cross Theater under the direction of Christian Durham.
The musical follows the story of Zorro that many of us grew up with, young nobleman Don Diego de la Vega is sent from his home in Los Angeles (it was much smaller at the time) to Spain to study, but instead joins a group of gypsies, and that the “King of the Gypsies” spends his days “drinking in the gutter”. When he discovers that his brother has usurped his father and oppresses the people of Los Angeles, he returns with his band of gypsies and takes the alter ego of the sword wielding Zorro.
In this production, much smaller than at the Garrick, the cast is made up of a group of talented actor-musicians who bring the catchy score of the Gipsy Kings to life. Audiences will no doubt recognize “Bamboléo,” one of the Gipsy Kings’ greatest hits, but they might be surprised by the richness and liveliness of the remaining musical pieces.
The Charing Cross Theater remains in its round configuration for this production, the set is fairly simple, made up of wooden ladders and ropes, but it looks plush, especially when bathed in Matt Haskins’ warm lighting design .
The stage is often quite crowded because it’s a big cast, but Rosa Maggiora’s bright, colorful and authentic costumes further heighten the feeling that it’s something special. At times it looks and feels like a West End show, but is able to immerse audiences in the sights, sounds and passion of Spanish culture in ways a larger stage could not.
Of course, some of the magical elements seen in the original production are lost here, but that doesn’t mean Durham’s version isn’t without magic of its own; the final scene before the interval drawing strange breath from the audience.
Benjamin Purkiss confidently leads the cast as the main character, while still managing to retain Diego’s sweetness when he’s not wearing the infamous black outfit. Alex Gibson-Giorgio cuts a terrifying figure as the pretender to the throne, Ramón. Anger and venom erupt from Gibson-Giogio with such voracity that we have no doubt why the pueblo residents are so terrified of their leader. It’s also the most nuanced performance of the night, leaving the audience torn between feelings of hatred and pity for the character.
Although this could technically be classified as a musical; it certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously, and Marc Pickering has some scene-stealing moments as Sergeant García, there’s a whole lot more to it than that. A real sense of adventure is evoked and the thrilling sword fights have been beautifully choreographed. The story is enriched by Diego’s childhood friend, Luisa (Paige Fenlon) and the gypsy, Inez (Phoebe Panaretos). Both performers, especially in their solo numbers, are outstanding.
If you’re going to take a West End show and bring it to life in a small theater then this is the way to do it. Not only Zorro the musical Fantastic looking and sounding, it draws audiences into its classic tale of chivalry, love and family feuds. Christian Durham’s production means the legend of El Zorro remains as iconic as it ever was.