BWW Review: New Line Theatre's ZORBA Exhibits Zest for Life
There's something oddly life-affirming about the character of Zobra. He's a cheerleader for living life to its fullest. ZORBA the musical (lyrics by Fred Ebb, music by John Kander, and book by Joseph Stein) impresses an audience with the realization that time never stands still, and therefore, life goes on despite the nasty curves it may lob our way. New Line Theatre's production is a real revelation, because even though this show received its fair share of award nominations, it's really not revived that often. Perhaps it's the darker shades that pervade the show that turn some people off, but then life isn't always sunshine and roses, so I like that that those elements are present. This kind of presentation is something that New Line does better than anyone else, and that's to revive a neglected or forgotten show for a new audience to appreciate, and their track record is impeccable in this regard. This show is a genuine must see, and taking it in I've come to realize that we all need our own personal "Zorba" to prod us into taking risks and fully investing ourselves in whatever we do, even if things might go awry on occasion.
The American Nikos meets Zorba the Greek in 1924, and the pair strike up a friendship at Zorba's insistence. Nikos hires Zorba to assist with a mine on the Island of Crete that he's going to start working on, The pair move in with a friendly French woman named Madame Hortense. And while Zorba romances the aging Hortense, Nikos is pushed to connect with the town Widow. Surprisingly, a lot of deaths occur, with the jealous (of Nikos) Pavil taking his own life, the widow being murdered because of this, and Hortense passing, but not before she performs "Happy Birthday" (not the familiar tune) after succumbing. Yet, none of these events is significantly dwelt upon. They happen, but life continues on as it is wont to do.
Kent Coffel embodies Zorba with perfection. He's a womanizer, and can spin a tale with considerable skill, but more than anything he's determined to live his life just as he pleases. Dominic Dowdy-Windsor is a great complement to him as Nikos. He's more than a bit repressed, and he really needs someone like Zorba to enlighten him about how life really works. Each brings a strong voice to their respective roles, and both get ample opportunities to shine. Margeau Steinau is splendid as the ailing Madame Hortense, rich with stories of the men she has romanced, and wistfully longing for something of more permanence from Zorba's attentions. Ann Hier delivers an emotional performance as the Widow, mercilessly teased and berated by the community, she finds something special with Nikos that makes her come out of her shell. Lindsey Jones provides exceptional vocal work throughout as the Leader, a role which finds her guiding the People of Crete/ "Greek chorus" (Evan Fornachon, Devin Riley, Mara Bollini, Sarah Dowling, Robert Doyle, William Pendergast, Kimi Short, and Sara Rae Womack) through a slew of powerful numbers.
Directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor find the heart and humor that define this piece, and they have their cast deftly bring it to life for another generation to enjoy. Sarah Nelson's (piano) music direction is skillfully done, and greatly aided by the exemplary work of D. Mike Bauer (bouzouki, guitar), Twinda Murry (violin), Clancy Newell (percussion), and Jake Stergos (bass). Michelle Sauer's lively choreography really comes to fruition when Zorba and Nikos dance together before parting ways. Rob Lippert's set conjures up Crete with crumbling columns and a colorful background that features the island, and it's all nicely lit by Him as well. Sarah Porter's costume designs fit the locale, the period, and the characters well.
Don't miss New Line Theatre's ZORBA! It's not only tuneful, but it provides food for thought. A nice combination that continues at The Marcelle through March 25, 2017.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg