Reviews


This is a High School Musical with a difference. Premiered Off-Broadway in 2003, produced in many theatres across the US and staged by students of the RSAMD at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, it had its London premiere last month in this lively production by Joseph C. Walsh which opened to packed houses at the Space in Docklands and has now crossed town to extend its run in north London.

It's a high energy show that offers a skewed mirror image of Grease and all those American film and TV high school stories. Here the lovers are all gay and homosexuality is the norm. It's heterosexual love that 'dare not speak its name.' Add to this the eponymous Zanna (sparkling Mike Shearer), a sort of Cupid-cum-Fairy Queen with a magic love wand that tells him when romance is going wrong and then helps set it right. "I can't make you fall in love," he claims, "just facilitate," but he's a matchmaker none the less. Since this is called 'a musical fairy-tale' - and the pun is definitely intended - he has an assistant in the form of a tweeting Bluebird (Larissa Webb) whose warbling he can understand.

Don't get the idea that this show is sickeningly twee. Camp yes, but it sends up its campness along with everything else, sugaring the very bitter satire at its heart. These youngsters behave exactly like homophobic bigots in reverse, turning their heterophobia on a boy and girl who find themselves attracted to each other. There's a chilling sequence when the tables turn again - but this is a fairy tale so that's only a brief hiatus in the fun and you can be sure of a happy ending that borrows a glittering lost slipper from the Cinderella story that is Zanna's bed-time reading.

As we progress through the year from its beginning to the final prom ball the underlying anti-prejudice message is a very broad one, but this isn't an acutely political show and its targets are the clichés of homophobia. In its reversals it's the chess champion for whom the cheer-leaders wave their pom poms and it's a given that quarterback Steve, the school's football captain will be in the school musical.

That musical, a show within the show, risks a daring innovation: a boy meets girl story where to general horror they find they are attracted to each other. That casting sparks off repercussions. Mike Cotton and Kate Malyon are particularly engaging as the hetero pair and Michael Stacey and feisty Bonny Hurst equally strong as their same sex partners who try a cross-gender kiss but find it quite repulsive. Lyndsey Orr gets all nasty as the biggest bigot, William J Cassidy and Josh Belli make an endearingly oddly-matched gay couple and Gemma Nichols and Justine Marie Mead a female pair with Nadeem Crowe's school DJ Tank introducing the show and having a touching number with Zanna before the upbeat finale.

There are twenty catchy numbers that carry the story and choreographer Philip Scutt keeps things almost continuously on the move, including a speeded-up hoedown, a take on ultra-butch military training squads and a delightful number on bouncing space hoppers.

The British Theatre Guide - June 2009



Set in the topsy-turvy world of Heartsville USA, where the school quarterback is a loser and the chess champion is the heartthrob, Zanna, Don’t! explores a relatively simple love story - with a twist. In a world where homosexuality is the norm, how will the school react when Steve and Kate fall in love?

Tim Acito’s poppy score is excellent, with some clever lyrics and hummable melodies. The set design is bright and breezy, the cast are good looking and fresh faced and the whole show proceeds with a bounce and a lightness of touch that draws you into their world. However, to call it the gay High School Musical is to dismiss it as more bubblegum than it actually is.

In an excellent final act the show is turned on its head (I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say everyone becomes a really bad dancer and the boys say ‘dude’ a lot) and what seemed like a piece of musical fluff actually turns out to be a rather moving piece about exclusion and prejudice.

This is mainly due to the skilful performance of the incredibly cute Mike Shearer, who gives us a Zanna that is both campy narrator and emotional centre of the show. It doesn’t hurt that he has a fantastic voice as well. The other standout performance comes out of the ensemble. William J Cassidy as Arvin, the high school dweeb and lapdog to the student president, gives a brilliant performance - always delightful to watch and reminiscent of an excited but slightly panicky spaniel.

Like all good fairy tales, Zanna Don’t doesn’t preach, but simply shows us an issue, entertains us along the way and sends us back out into the world with a skip in our step and ready to face that darned tube journey home.

Gaydar Nation - June 2009



The show is a warm, witty pastiche of everything from 'Grease' to 'High School Musical'. The music switches between enjoyably upbeat gospel or rock ’n’ roll and some genuinely touching, often insightful torch songs about unrequited or forbidden love, performed with bags of exuberance by the young cast.

Possibly the fringe feelgood show of the year.

Time Out - July 2009


It is a high octane show with a talented energetic cast.

Ham And High - June 2009

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