So this is Zorro, or more correctly, Diego: only son of a 19th century Californian aristocrat, who is ‘never where he should be’, a dashing and somewhat feckless lad sent back to Spain to be turned – via a military academy – into the sort of kindly, prudent ruler his father is.
Many a rueful parent of teenage boys will sigh in recognition of Diego’s behaviour. He escapes from the academy to run with the gypsies of Barcelona, turning tricks in the streets and living on his wits. When he reappears in his homeland, prompted by his childhood sweetheart to return and save the pueblo from the tyrannical hands of his foster brother, his journey of self-discovery is only just beginning. He must conceal his identity in a metaphorical cloak of supine self-disgust, whilst battling for the rights of the villagers with cunning ploys and swordsmanship.
Like the British folk hero, Robin Hood, El Zorro (The Fox) is an immensely appealing characterisation, and in this adaptation by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson, he even enjoys some psychological complexity. This overlaid, of course, with the showmanship of the legend – donning hat, cape and mask, disappearing as if by magic, only to reappear in shadows, menacing with his rectitude. Zorro, in short, is a terrorist of the best sort: dramatic, passionate, prone to displays of flame and fighting.
Since this is a musical, however, the antics of Matt Rawle as Diego, Emma Williams as his pretty sweetheart Luisa and Adam Levy as the heartless tyrant Ramon are as mere interludes in a hugely enjoyable evening of music by The Gypsy Kings. This Catalan/French group (largely presumed to be Spanish) provides the thrilling chords of flamenco, informed by Western pop and Latin rhythms, teasing us repeatedly with strains of their international hit, ‘Bamboleo’.
There is just one downside to the exhilarating displays of Spanish song and dance which permeate the performance: they make an awkward contrast with the lesser talents of the British cast. Emma Williams, for example, attempts to achieve with volume what the ‘Women of the Pueblo’ deliver with sheer talent and vibrato. Similarly, Matt Rawle may be young and (vaguely) handsome, but Isaac de Celia, a somewhat fleshy, middle-aged flamenco dancer, is imbued with the elusive spirit of the dance. When he raises his arms and tilts his jaw, it’s hard to take your eyes off him. He has, like many of the Spanish chorus in this show, simply got it.
Another cast member gets most of the laughs. The portly Sgt Garcia (Nick Cavaliere) is the butt of every joke, being neither attractive to women nor brave enough to stand up to the tyrant, yet he, too, evolves to a position of self-respect by the end.
Even without the swinging on ropes, bloody scars in the shape of a ‘Z’ and disappearing tricks, this is a show which surprises and thrills. Indeed, for once in the West End, the standing ovations are greatly deserved.
Sue Webster, courtesy of This Is London.