There seemed to be a mass holding of breath at the beginning of last night’s performance at the Garrick theatre as the audience waited to see if all three sides of a giant z would catch fire as intended, writes Caroline Bishop. Thankfully, they did, which was a good omen for this show about the legendary masked man of Spanish California, Zorro.
He may have been invented in 1919, but this is the caped crusader’s first West End outing. Packaged as a tale from gipsy lore, the musical presents its own version of how the young Diego de la Vega became the masked hero who fought against the ruling powers of Spanish California, championing the cause of the people.
In Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson’s story, Diego is the son of the elderly, proud and fair ruler of California, Alejandro de la Vega. When his father ships him off to Spain to learn the skills that make a man a man, the evil army captain Ramon sees his chance to seize power and impose his corrupt and slightly psychotic ways on the people of the pueblo. It is left to the feisty Luisa, Alejandro’s adopted daughter, to go to Spain and fetch Diego to save his people from Ramon’s rule. Which he does – albeit in the alter ego of Zorro.
With a twinkle in his eye and a swagger in his step, Matt Rawle is a charismatic, cheeky and ruggedly attractive Diego/Zorro, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, especially when wearing the dishevelled, colourful garb of his adopted family, the band of performing gipsies whom he joins in Spain. Rather than learning the manly ways his father no doubt intended, with his new friends Diego learns to sword-fight and perform magic tricks, which come in handy in his later guise as Zorro – particularly the disappearing act which becomes a nifty way of escaping Ramon’s clutches.
The story is fast-paced, particularly in the first half, as the ground work for Zorro’s first appearance is established. It is in the second act where the show really comes into its own, mainly due to the fact that both the score by The Gipsy Kings and the flamenco choreography by Rafael Amargo are given the chance to flourish. It is unusual – and refreshing – to see flamenco music and dance incorporated into a West End show, and the infectious nature of the foot-stamping, hand-clapping rhythms is undeniable. Familiar work by The Gipsy Kings – Baila Me, Bamboleo – combines with songs written especially for the musical, like Diego’s rousing Hope, the pretty love song Falling and the amusing One More Beer.
With some knowingly tongue-in-cheek dialogue, the show doesn’t take itself too seriously, a fact best embodied by Lesli Margherita, who shines with her flamboyant, sexy and comedic portrayal of Diego’s gipsy friend Inez. Her relationship with the besotted, bumbling Sergeant Garcia (Nick Cavaliere) is touching, and she gets all the big dance numbers too – Djobi Djoba being a particular highlight.
Emma Williams is a sweet, yet courageous Luisa, Diego’s love interest, while Adam Levy plays Ramon as a near psychopath, a suitably evil baddie whose treatment of Jonathan Newth’s Alejandro looks a bit too real.
The giant z may have taken a moment or two to catch fire, but it did, releasing a fanfare of flamenco and fiesta that culminated in a curtain call that looked the most fun of all. Olé.