Thursday, November 12, 2015

Kent State’s Musical Theatre program joins Musical Theater Project for ZORBA!

“I believe in grabbing at life.”  “Every minute is a new minute.”  Thus states Zorba, the lead character in ZORBA!, a musical that “captures of the spirit of Greece and celebrates a people who embrace love, life and death with equal passion.”

As a follow-up to its PERFECTLY MARVELOUS:  THE SONGS OF JOHN KANDER, the Musical Theater Project will be present an in-concert version of Kander’s ZORBA!, in coordination with Kent State University’s Musical Theatre program.

An adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel “Zorba The Greek” and the 1964 movie based on the book, the musical is set in Crete in 1924.   It centers on Zorba, a Greek who has a life-embracing philosophy, which he intends to share with Nikos, an uptight young student.  Nikos has inherited an abandoned mine in Crete which he wants to reopen.  A friendship develops between the very opposite men, and romantic relationships develop between the duo, a French woman and a local widow. 

The show, which premiered on Broadway in 1968, was nominated for Best Musical.  It has music by Kander, lyrics by his longtime writing partner Fred Ebb, and book by Joseph Stein. 

An interview with Terri Kent, Head of the Musical Theatre Program at KSU and Producing Artistic Director of Porthouse Theatre, who will direct the concert, revealed that she and Bill Rudman, the Artistic Director of MTP, have developed a partnership to produce shows for TMTP using Kent State students.  Last year, they staged BABES IN ARMS.

In order to prepare for working with ZORBA!, which will focus on the text and music rather than the traditional staging, Kent probed into Greek culture, traditions and dancing.   Fortunately, she had a built-in resource in Effie Tsengas, the KSU College of the Art’s Communication and Marketing Director, who is Greek and is involved as both a Greek folk dancer and instructor at several Greek churches.  Kent also watched the movie, which starred Anthony Quinn. 

Kent indicated that since this isn’t a traditional production, the four dance numbers written into the show, which move the story along, will have to be creatively dealt with. 

The director is aware that when the show originally opened, reviewers commented that the “material was too dark,” and the “book was too heavy” for a Broadway musical.  She states, “Yes it is dark, but it is also a celebration.  The tone is set by the exquisite music.” 

Kent explains, “ZORBA! is hopeful.  It is about finding the joy in life.”   As philosophized by the lead character, “you can live life as if you are going to die tomorrow or you can live like you are going to live forever.  The latter makes you free.” “Zorba accepts things that are unacceptable . . . he takes ownership for what he does.  He is honest.  He is likeable.”   “Many people can’t live life being a Zorba, but it sure offers a lot to be admired.”

She also indicated, “When the musical opened in 1968 there had been few musical dramas.  Since then the likes of SWEENEY TODD [and other Sondheim musicals] have changed the musical theatre landscape.” 

The show is being developed on the Kent campus where tryouts were held earlier this fall.  Jennifer Korecki, an Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre, is preparing the music with the cast.  Nancy Maier, MTP’s musical director, will come in close to the production dates and the duo will polish the musical aspects of the performances.

The cast will include 17 people playing 53 roles, standing behind podiums with microphones.   KSU faculty member Fabio Polanco will portray Zorba and Jess Tanner, an MFA graduate student, will portray Hortense.

ZORBA! In-Concert Musical, will be presented Saturday, December 5 at 2 PM in the E. Turner Stump Theatre on the campus of Kent State University (tickets—General admission $18, Seniors/TMTP members $14):  330-672-2787 or and Wednesday, December 9 at 7:30 PM in the Mackey Main Stage Beck Center for the Arts (tickets—General admission $26, Seniors/TMTP members $21, Children 12 and under $10):  216-245-8687 or online at 

There will be post-show discussions with the performers, director Terri Kent and Bill Rudman.