In Coleridge’s famous poem, the eponymous Kubla Khan decreed a stately pleasure dome in Xanadu. In the ‘musical fairytale’ Zanna, Don’t! however, now receiving its London premiere, this pleasure dome takes the form of a high school in Heartsville, USA. The title may be contrived but this off-Broadway show has a genuine spring in its step.
Its flavour could best be described as Godspell meets Avenue Q - with all the joyous youthfulness one might associate with those shows - plus a heavy dollop of Cinderella. The fairytale element is important, for there is no other way to account for a lead character who possesses a magic wand that can spread love and happiness. Okay, there might be another way (stop sniggering at the back) but fairytale is more acceptable and it also encompasses the main gist of the plot.
The production takes place in a world where to be gay is the norm and to be straight is freaky. With one neat device society is turned on its head, giving rise to some jolly jokes (‘What are you doing tonight?’ ‘Oh the usual guy stuff: making brownies and watching Buffy.’) whilst also making a generalised plea for sexual tolerance.
The captain of the football team, Steve (Michael Cotton), falls for the real school hero, the captain of the chess team, Mike (Michael Stacey), but then finds himself unaccountably attracted to the captain of the mechanical bull-riding team, Kate (Kate Malyon)… And so on. It gets more complicated than that (as love does) and all is resolved in the end (as fairytales are), but not before everyone has been turned straight without their noticing.
With book, music and lyrics by Tim Acito, the show has gathered plaudits in the US and Australia, but London audiences may take a little more persuading. Even if one can’t quite shake off the feeling that Zanna, Don’t! is just a little too cute for its own good, and trying too hard to be loved, it is lighthearted, tuneful and thoroughly good fun, delivered by a young, zesty cast of 12, who dance and sing for all they are worth. If a high school musical with a difference is your thing, this is a collectors’ item.