“Zanna, Don’t!” may not be your typical American musical, but Bert Bernardi says it still qualifies as family-friendly entertainment.
“There is a gay theme throughout the story, but there’s nothing off-color about the show,” said Bernardi, who is directing The Theater Barn production of Tim Acito’s play, opening tonight at 8 and running through Aug. 9. “It’s probably not for young children, but I think kids as young as 12 and 13 would enjoy it. As long as the family is open and accepting of the fact that it takes place in a world where everyone is gay, there’s nothing that would make parents feel uncomfortable about bringing their children.”
Well, not everyone is gay, but that’s the norm at Heartsville High School, where homosexuality is normal and those who do eye the opposite sex are subject to ridicule. Heterophobia runs rampant.
“It is a fairy tale with lively music that has something of a pop, Top 40 sound to it,” said Bernardi. “The music is great, but it’s also a great book. I think it’s a story that needs to be told.”
“Zanna, Don’t!” played off-Broadway at the John Houseman Theater in New York for three months in 2003, and it is currently creating some noise with a production in London. It earned a GLADD Award as Best Musical in 2003, and has been performed around the country regionally, although perhaps not as often as fans of the play would like.
WHERE: The Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon
WHEN: 8 p.m. today and Friday, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 9
HOW MUCH: $22, $20 for Sunday matinees
MORE INFO: 794-8989 or www.theaterbarn.com
“I actually saw the off-Broadway production and fell in love with it,” said Bernardi. “It does get performed on a lot of college campuses and some major cities, but it is seen as a risk by some theater producers.”
Bernardi, who has served as artistic director at The Theater Barn in the past, is directing his 15th production at the place in the past 12 years. He was hopeful Theater Barn owner Joan Phelps would agree to put “Zanna, Don’t!” on the schedule, and he was right.
“Joan welcomed the idea with open arms,” said Bernardi. “If you’ve been to The Theater Barn before, you know you’re going to see shows that you’re not going to see anyplace else.”
Zanna, played by Matt Densky, is a magical matchmaker who has devoted his life to helping people find their own true love.
“It would have been a joy to play any of the characters, but I did sort of have my eye on Zanna,” said Densky, a Connecticut native who will return to the University of Cincinnati for his senior year in the fall. “He’s similar to the Dolly Levi character in ‘Hello Dolly!’ He thinks with his heart and not his mind, but he really wants what’s best for everybody.”
Like Bernardi, Densky says the play is family-friendly. “We’re kind of approaching it from the ‘Brady Bunch’-‘Partridge Family’ style or situation,” said Densky. “There’s nothing too deep. It’s a heart-warming play with a really good message about acceptance. The world is a little flip-flopped in Heartsville, but other than that it’s like anywhere else.”
Bernardi, a native of Millford, Mass., graduated from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and remained there, forming the Downtown Cabaret Theatre Children’s Company 27 years ago. That was where Densky became exposed to the theater.
“I met Bert back when I was in high school and we’ve stayed in touch,” said Densky. “That was also when I first heard the cast recording of ‘Zanna, Don’t!’ I’ve always loved the music, but I’ve never seen a live production, so it’s been a lot of fun working on it.”