Swipe right! Swipe left! No, it’s not the opening of Tinder: The Stage Show, although there is plenty of canoodling going on in one of the early scenes. After all, how can you tell the legend of Zorro without some smouldering and seduction alongside the swordplay?
All of the key ingredients of a classic Zorro storyline are present in this new musical, from the cruel villain oppressing the peasants in a Los Angeles pueblo to the sultry-slash-feisty love interests our masked hero must choose between. And it’s presented with flamenco flair, with songs by 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 home from his Spanish rumspringa to confront his despotic brother Ramón (Alex Gibson-Giorgio); Phoebe Panaretos is Inez, the fiery Gypsy queen who sparks his inner Zorro. The women command the stage, including a five-strong female chorus whose impassioned lament for their broken village is the show’s most powerful moment. There’s huge verve, too, in the full-company numbers, courtesy of a couple of the Gipsy Kings’ most famous tunes, to the accompaniment of actor-musicians playing trumpets, fiddles and accordion.
The whiff of hamminess is never absent from the Zorro films and here both script and performances are endearingly alive to a sense of the ridiculous; Marc Pickering’s Sergeant Garcia is a particularly joyous comic confection. The problem is that, aside from swaggering masculinity, the characters of the duelling antagonists feel more flimsily set up than the plywood facades of a spaghetti western.
Ramón’s daddy issues become increasingly histrionic, and as for Diego/Zorro himself, a couple of solos and some backstory with puppets tell us that he is our hero-in-waiting without ever demonstrating why. Benjamin Purkiss bounds about the stage in capers with his cape, and his voice is heard at its best in Diego’s lovely duet with Luisa, but it’s hard to distinguish a sense of the man behind the mask. Still, it’s easy to get swept up in the fervent energy of this melodrama-with-castanets.