Gipsy Kings musical Zorro opened at the Garrick Theatre last night (16 July 2008, previews from 2 July), with producers no doubt hoping to turn the tide in what has so far been a difficult year for new musicals in the West End.
The flamenco-fuelled production is based on the 2005 bestseller by Chilean novelist Isabel Allende about Don Diego de la Vega, a fictional wealthy caballero who defends the people of Spanish California against injustice, and includes Gipsy King standards “Bamboleo”, “Baila Me” and “Djobi Djoba” as well as specially written new songs.
Zorro’s path to West End opening has not been straightforward, having been blighted by technical problems which caused the cancellation of two tour performances at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, as well as its first two previews at the Garrick (See News, 1 Jul 2008). The £3 million production features an elaborate set, as well as what producers describe as “high-level stunts”, “fast-moving choreography”, and of course the requisite sword-fights.
Leading the 30-strong cast, Matt Rawle reprises his pre-West End performance in the title role with Lesli Margherita as Inez, alongside new West End company members Emma Williams and Adam Levy. The production is directed by Christopher Renshaw, choreographed by Spanish choreographer and dancer Rafael Amargo and designed by Tom Piper. Also on the creative team is co-composer and musical arranger John Cameron and book author Stephen Clark.
Overnight critics were generally very positive in their response to the latest addition to the \"Zorro franchise\". Rafael Amargo’s choreography - an “orgy of foot-stamping and skirt-twirling” - garnered particular praise, as did the “spectacular flying and fighting effects”. Matt Rawle’s Zorro was deemed a “pleasantly nonchalant hero”, though most felt that Adam Levy was the real show-stealer - “by some way the best actor on stage”. Though some critics questioned the potential longevity of the show, most eagerly proclaimed the Garrick\'s latest arrival with cheers of \"olé, olé\".
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (three stars) – “The music is by the pop Latino band the Gipsy Kings, and most of it is new, but less memorable than two of their biggest hits, ‘Bamboleo’ and ‘Djobi Djoba’, both of which items prompt an onstage flamenco fiesta that sets feet tapping and blood racing round the stalls … The experience is not entirely unpleasant, even if Christopher Renshaw’s production of a tenuous story line by Stephen Clark (who also wrote the lyrics) and Helen Edmundson sometimes grinds to a halt before Rafael Amargo’s deliriously authentic choreography kicks it back into play … Nick Cavaliere’s touchingly flawed good friend Garcia is a clever adaptation of Allende’s character, and the impassioned dancing and constant music of acoustic guitars and trumpets more than acceptable … Not quite three cheers, then, but a definite olé.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (four stars) – “Zorro is often likened to Robin Hood. Here he is more like a radical Scarlet Pimpernel in that he combines the foppish persona of Don Diego with the swashbuckling alter ego of the caped avenger. The great secret of the musical is that it never takes itself too seriously: you could, in fact, say that it pitches a good deal of Gypsy camp. When Don Diego embarks for California sporting earrings and a floral hat, his sexy romany chum, Inez, asks, ‘What are you going to do? Entertain them to death?’ … But the show also has the ingredient that all good musicals need: dazzling choreography. This is in the hands of Rafael Amargo … who wrings every possible variation on flamenco and traditional Spanish dance. We get an orgy of foot-stamping and skirt-twirling accompanied by appropriate ululations … The show may not be high art but it\'s great fun and brings a refreshingly different, Hispanic sound to the jaded world of West End musicals.”
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (three stars) – “A new breed of escapist musical, inspired by an American pulp-fiction story and a brace of Hollywood movies, swaggered into town last night, looking as if it might make an original summer holiday attraction … This literally swinging, high-flying man in a mask, flowing cape and huge earrings borrowed from Lesli Margherita\'s sultry come-hitherish gypsy Inez, looks distinctly camp and he knows it … A succession of spectacular flying and fighting effects, about which it would be unfair to give away much, add to the fun. The best of these make it actually seem as if Zorro escapes by dissolving into thin air or vanishing by a rope. And the final fight to the death between the two men\'s rapiers\' flashing to the clamour of guitars, Zorro almost felled by a giant crucifix and turning the murderous tables again and again, is managed with genuine elan. The Zorro of Mr Rawle, who boasts the best-looking teeth on the London stage, can permit himself a victorious smile.”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times (three stars) – “I don’t think Zorro is red-hot enough to match the 22-year-old Phantom of the Opera for longevity. In fact, I’m not sure it will survive 22 weeks, though it just about deserves to do so. Stephen Clark’s book and Christopher Renshaw’s production have the merit of not taking themselves too seriously. However, that’s a plus bought at a price, for narrative excitement is largely sacrificed. Imagine a mix of Errol Flynn and Monty Python, and you have the feel … It’s nonsense, but quite agreeable nonsense. Levy is by some way the best actor on stage … but Rawle makes a pleasantly nonchalant hero with a nice sense of humour … I couldn’t quite agree with the bloke in the audience who cried ‘Olé!’ in a public-school accent after most numbers. Zorro is fun, but not as much fun as all that.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph – “If you have swashes prepare to buckle them now. Zorro has stormed into the West End and his derring-do provides the perfect theatrical night out. Indeed 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 … Terry King’s inventive fight routines are an exhilarating delight and … Paul Kieve and Scott Penrose have conjured up some stage illusions that prove truly magical … Matt Rawle reveals himself as a real star as Diego/Zorro, combining physical skills with a cool charm, while Adam Levy has exactly the right sneering cruelty as the loathsome Ramon.”
Paul Callan in the Daily Express (four stars) – “It is entertainment, pure and simple, at its best. From the moment the curtain rises, the stage is filled with technical images, swirling Spanish dresses and the wonderful rat-tat-tat of frenzied flamenco dancing … The dancers, courtesy of choreographer Rafael Amargo, performed the complex steps and routines with a wonderful, fiery agility … And for once, it is a joy to walk out of a show with the tunes still ringing rampantly in one’s head. Matt Rawle as Zorro is agility and stylish poise personified – swinging around the theatre with speed and power … One of the noteworthy aspects of this production is the first-rate fencing scenes. These are notoriously difficult and can easily slip into clumsy parody if not handled and choreographed with skill … It was an evening to stand and simply roar Ole Ole.”
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail – \"Zorro el musical is a blast: Funny, exciting, noisy (really very, very noisy in places) and a riot of souped-up flamenco music composed by the Gipsy Kings … This show will make perfect summer family entertainment … Flames pour forth from almost every crevice of the Garrick’s old stage. The theatre’s foundations had to be checked daily by structural engineers during rehearsals, so vigorous is the action. Tom Piper’s set, based around a multi-tiered hemicircle of pale wooden walls, keeps springing clever surprises … Zorro is not always wildly sophisiticated. There are passages which contain a good deal more cheese than, say, your average packet of Wotsits. Yet the show is certainly not without artistic merit … Muy bueno. Viva el Zorro.”
Rhoda Koenig in the Independent – “Zorro Incorporated, it seems, has lost faith in its raison d\'etre, a state reflected in the decision to hand over much of the show to the gypsies, who fling the 20-year-old hit ‘Bamboleo’ and other music by the Gipsy Kings at us with the vehemence and charm of an assault. This means that, while the stage repeatedly resounds to keening and thudding, the leading man and lady are left with the low-voltage numbers … Matt Rawle is pleasant enough as the laid-back freedom fighter, but he seems far too innocuous, and Emma Williams, as the love interest who is now ‘feisty’ (ie, a pushy nag) seems even more self-absorbed. Lesli Margherita, as the spitfire Inez, is even pushier, a kind of Lesley Joseph of Spanish California. The only pleasure in this timid and cynical corporate product is the Captain Ramon of Adam Levy, an actor who brings real creepiness to his sadistic character as well as very real sex appeal.”
- by Theo Bosanquet