‘Life Is’ Pretty Darn Grand, Zorba

zorbaI didn’t know much about the 1968 musical Zorba walking into the Encores! production at New York City Center except that Chita Rivera had played “the Leader” in the revised 1970 national tour and that it was considered one of Kander and Ebb’s lesser musicals.

So although excited to see it, I wasn’t prepared for Marin Mazzie to grab hold of me so much and so instantly in that opening number, “Life Is.” I haven’t seen her on stage since I saw her in Kiss Me Kate many years ago, but what a powerful and stunning voice. And coupled with that great song and production (courtesy of director Walter Bobbie and choreographer Josh Rhodes), she blew the lid off that beautiful theatre.

(See a snippet of the opening number below.)

I only wish John Turturro was as up for the lead part of Zorba as Mazzie was for hers. I kept wanting that same power and masculinity of Topol from Fiddler on the Roof. The role of Tevye seemed to me to hold the same qualities as Zorba, too. I wanted that full, strong voice and that confident dancing that projected a zest for life and love both of these characters exemplify. Turturro acted his part well, but physically and vocally he was just too awkward and weak.

Luckily the people surrounding him were up for the challenge. Santino Fontana was as charming and winsome as he was in Cinderella. Zoe Wanamaker broke my heart. Vocally I wish she had a stronger voice, but I cared for her deeply and that lovely song, “Goodbye, Canavaro” was so playful and sweet. She won me over. As did the whole production by the end.

After the opening song, I whispered to Loren, “If the rest of the show sucks, that opening number was worth it.” Luckily, the show, even with a weak lead, did not suck. Leaving me very thrilled to have discovered Zorba and the chance to revisit the amazing Mazzie.

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