NY Review: 'Zapata!'

at the Pershing Square Signature Center as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival

Reviewed by Robert Windeler

July 26, 2012


Photo by John Capo Public Relations
Most of the important elements are in place for "Zapata!," a promising and highly original musical by Peter and Ana Edwards. The titular Mexican revolutionary (1877–1919) is a dashing romantic evergreen who's ripe for musicalization. And here Zapata gets the leading man he deserves in Enrique Acevedo, whose matinee-idol magnetism is matched by his strong, soaring vocals. The show's leading lady, Maria Eberline, who plays Zapata's girlfriend and eventual wife, Josefa, is Acevedo's vocal equal. Their duets, especially on "I Can't Marry You" and "I Will Live All My Life With Your Love," offer synergistically more than the sum of their considerable individual talents. The entire cast of 17 is uniformly excellent in its acting, singing, and dancing. Their fine musicianship, backed by an exuberant onstage band of eight, led by musical director Kenneth Gartman, and generally solid production values—especially Asa Benally's colorful costumes—give director Elizabeth Lucas a strong head start on a welcome unity of purpose and approach rarely seen in a production so young.

Edwards' songs are mostly captivating, especially when he stays on the mariachi side of the musical spectrum. His Springsteenesque attempts at rock and his efforts toward more-traditional Broadway book songs are less successful, and his lyrics at times border on the banal and tortured ("curse" does not rhyme with "first," in the aforementioned "I Can't Marry You"). But the biggest problem with this show is the book, which Edwards wrote with his wife, Ana. Instead of just concentrating on the compelling story of Zapata, "the elegant Indian," the Edwardses have grafted on to it a contemporary twist. An Occupy Wall Street protestor, Tom (Andrew Call), discovers the body of his financier father, a suicide. Vowing to get some kind of revenge (on whom?), the ranting Tom is stopped by a blow to his head from a signpost thrust by one of his fellow protesters. The resulting concussion unaccountably sends him back to Zapata's time, where he morphs into Zapata's brother Eufemio and acquires a Mexican accent.

The point seems to be that Zapata, as a reluctant revolutionary, will teach the hot-headed Tom/Eufemio that "it's crucial that you fight for what you love, not against what you hate." That's surely a lesson for any age, but it's one that we could have picked up implicitly. Unlike Tom, we don't need to be hit on the head. The Wall Street protest finale, "We Fight for What We Love," is especially needless and cringe-worthy. Another script problem comes from two very heated fallings-out, one between Zapata and Josefa, the other between him and Eufemio. Seconds later both duos have made up for life, without either of the reconciliations having been earned. It's all fixable with a bit of rethinking before the next step in the process.

Presented by Luke Caliente Productions and Julie Miller as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 450 W. 42nd St., NYC. July 25–29. Remaining performances: Fri., Jul 27, 5 and 9 p.m.; Sat, Jul. 28, 1 p.m.; Sun., Jul. 29, 1 p.m. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, or www.nymf.org. Casting by Michael Cassara.
 

 
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