Is there anyone who doesn’t know the legend of El Zorro? The character has had countless incarnations since it first appeared in Johnston McCulley’s novel, The Curse of Capistrano, and one of the most recent is Stephen Clark, Helen Edmundson and The Gipsy Kings Zorro The Musical which first premiered in the West End in 2008, and is now revived at the Charing Cross Theatre under the direction of Christian Durham.
The musical follows the Zorro story that many of us grew up with, the young nobleman Don Diego de la Vega is sent from his home in Los Angeles (it was a lot smaller back then) to Spain to study, but instead joins a group of gypsies, and as ‘King of the Gypsies’ spends his days “drinking in the gutter”. When he discovers that his brother has usurped his father and is oppressing the people of Los Angeles, he returns with his band of gypsies and takes on the alter ego of the sword wielding Zorro.
In this production, much smaller than at the Garrick, the cast is comprised of a group of talented actor-musicians bringing the Gipsy Kings rousing score to life. Audiences will undoubtedly recognise ‘Bamboléo’, one of the Gipsy Kings biggest hits, but they might be surprised by the richness and vibrancy of the remaining musical numbers.
The Charing Cross Theatre remains in its in-the-round configuration for this production, the set is fairly simple, comprised of wooden ladders and ropes, yet it feels sumptuous, especially when bathed in Matt Haskins warm lighting design.
The stage is often fairly crowded as it’s a big cast, but Rosa Maggiora’s bright, colourful and authentic looking costumes further emphasise the feeling that this is something special. At times this looks and feels like a West End show, but is able to immerse the audience in the sights, sounds and passion of Spanish culture in the way a bigger stage couldn’t.
Of course, some of the magical elements seen in the original production are lost here, but that doesn’t mean Durham’s version isn’t without some magic of its own; the final scene before the interval drawing the odd gasp from the audience.
Benjamin Purkiss confidently leads the cast as the title character, while managing to retain the gentleness of Diego when not wearing the infamous black outfit. Alex Gibson-Giorgio cuts a terrifying figure as the pretender to the throne, Ramón. Anger and venom spews forth from Gibson-Giogio with such voracity we’re left in no doubt why the people of the pueblo are so terrified of their leader. It is also the most nuanced performance of the night, leaving the audience torn between feelings of hatred and pity for the character.
While this could technically be classed as a comedy musical; it certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously, and Marc Pickering has some scene stealing moments as Sergeant García, there’s far more to it than that. A real sense of adventure is evoked and the thrilling sword fights have been choregraphed beautifully. The story is enriched by Diego’s childhood friend, Luisa (Paige Fenlon) and the gypsy, Inez (Phoebe Panaretos). Both performers, particularly in their solo numbers, are outstanding.
If you’re going to take a West End show and revive it in a smaller theatre, then this is the way to do it. Not only does Zorro The Musical look and sound fantastic, it draws the audience into its classic tale of chivalry, love and family feuds. Christian Durham’s production means that the legend of El Zorro remains as iconic as it ever was.