Swipe well! Swipe left! No, it’s not the opening of Tinder: The Stage Show, although there are a lot of canoods in one of the first stages. After all, how can you tell the legend of Zorro without a bit of brooding and seduction alongside the swordplay?
All the key ingredients of a classic Zorro storyline are present in this new musical, from the cruel villain oppressing the peasants of a Los Angeles pueblo to the sultry love interests our masked hero must choose between. And it’s presented with a touch of flamenco, with songs from the Gipsy Kings, those enduring monarchs of Latin pop, set to an original story by Helen Edmundson (Small Island) and lyricist Stephen Clark (Martin Guerre).
Paige Fenlon is Luisa, who brings her childhood friend Diego back from her Spanish rumspringa to confront her despotic brother Ramón (Alex Gibson-Giorgio); Phoebe Panaretos is Inez, the fiery gypsy queen who awakens her inner Zorro. The women command the stage, including a chorus of five women whose passionate lament for their broken village is the show’s most powerful moment. There’s plenty of verve in the company’s numbers too, thanks to some of the Gipsy Kings’ most famous tunes, accompanied by actor-musicians playing trumpet, violin and accordion.
The smell of hamminess is never absent from Zorro movies and here the script and performances are endearingly sensitive to the sense of the ridiculous; Marc Pickering’s Sergeant Garcia is a particularly cheerful comedic confection. The problem is that, swaggering masculinity aside, the characters of dueling antagonists feel more fragile than the plywood facades of a spaghetti western.
Ramón’s daddy issues become increasingly histrionic, and as for Diego/Zorro himself, a few solos and a puppet backstory tell us he’s our hero-in-waiting without ever demonstrating why. Benjamin Purkiss leaps onto the stage cuddling with his cape, and his voice is heard at its best in Diego’s charming duet with Luisa, but it’s hard to make out any sense of the man behind the mask. Yet it’s easy to get carried away by the fervent energy of this melodrama with castanets.