Review: Zorro the Musical at Charing Cross Theatre

After its previous run at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre was cut short by Covid after just two previews, Zorro the Musical has finally made its long-awaited debut in London at the Charing Cross Theatre. With music by the Gipsy Kings and an original story by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson, this immersive production promises much and, mostly, it delivers.

Set in California in 1805, the show tells the origin story of the legendary Zorro, a.k.a. Diego de la Vega (Benjamin Purkiss). Having been sent away to school as a child, Diego returns from a life of pleasure and privilege in Spain at the request of his childhood friend Luisa (Paige Fenlon) to confront his jealous brother Ramón (Alex Gibson-Giorgio), who’s declared himself alcalde following the mysterious death of their father (Pete Ashmore). With Diego are his gypsy friends, led by the seductive Inez (Phoebe Panaretos). On their arrival, appalled by his brother’s tyranny, Diego dons a disguise to become the masked hero Zorro and fight injustice, while somehow managing to keep his true identity secret from both Ramón and Luisa.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

If it sounds very silly, that’s because it is – and it certainly requires more than a little suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience. But it’s great fun and never takes itself too seriously, and as a result there’s a lot to love about Christian Durham’s vibrant and immersive production, with thrilling fight sequences, flaming swords, unrequited love and infectious – and in some cases, very familiar – musical numbers. Staged with the audience on both sides, Rosa Maggiora’s intimate set makes use of every inch of space, with cast members racing up ladders and chase sequences that take in the whole theatre, ensuring that we’re at the heart of the action throughout.

The legend of Zorro is enduringly popular for a reason, but the true hero of this production, and what lifts it beyond just being an entertaining caper, is the defiant gypsy spirit that runs through all the mesmerising ensemble numbers. This means the main story and characters often take second place to any scene involving the gypsies, and Phoebe Panaretos in particular completely steals the show any time Inez steps on stage. But that’s not to say that the rest of the cast are bad; the quality overall is extremely high – Marc Pickering is both hilarious and adorable as the timid Sergeant García, Paige Fenlon’s Luisa absolutely nails some of the best solo numbers, and Benjamin Purkiss makes a suitably charming and reckless Diego/Zorro.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

For an evening of high energy and lighthearted entertainment, you could do a lot worse than Zorro the Musical. It’s easy to pick holes in the plot (so I won’t), but ultimately it’s easy to get swept up in the sheer exuberance of it all. You’ll be dancing in your seat and leaving with a smile on your face – and after the couple of years we’ve all had, that’s more than enough.

Zorro the Musical is at Charing Cross Theatre until 28th May.

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