Theatre Horizon is hosting a one-night-only reading of an updated version of “Zanna Don’t” June 29, featuring an all-star cast of Broadway and Philadelphia performers.
The musical, written by Tim Acito with lyrics by Alexander Dinelaris, is a fairytale satire set in a parallel universe in which homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality isn’t accepted. Also, at the hetero-phobic Heartsville High School, members of the chess team are the popular kids while the jocks are the outcasts. The titular character, Zanna, is an enchanted fairy who makes love connections for the people in town with a wave of his wand.
The version of the musical being read has been rewritten to better reflect the diversity within the LGBT community. Acito said that he hadn’t initially planned on ever rewriting his play.
“I didn’t have any intention of revisiting it in the decade or so since it closed Off-Broadway. But then I was asked by a nonprofit theater-educational group if I would be interested in revisiting it for their students and that was the immediate inspiration,” Acito said. “[It] made me realize that, if I really do want to be a positive contribution to LGBTQ issues, I needed to step up to the plate and revisit the work and address many of the shortcomings I had failed to succeed with in the original and try to make it more inclusive to accommodate the world as it is 15 years later. I wanted to try and create better characters that are in the world today.”
Acito realized some fans of the original play might not be enamored with version 2.0 of “Zanna Don’t,” but he thinks the updated narrative made the story better.
“I’m sure there will be some [critics] but, you know, that version has been around for 15 years and it’s preserved on the original cast recording,” he said. “So die-hard fans who want to revisit it are welcome to keep enjoying the original. I myself am much happier with this new incarnation.”
Acito added that the changes he’s made to the musical don’t change the message of the play but rather make some of the characters more representative of the LGBT community.
“Most of those bones are still there,” he said about the new story. “The narrative arc is still as it has always been. The changes have been more about fleshing out characters. Two characters end up together at the end, one of whom in the original version was barely seen as a fleshed-out human being. It was important to me to really expand on that particular character to give that final relationship much more meaning. I was also inspired by something trans activist Laverne Cox said a couple years ago: ‘As a trans person, don’t ask me what I am, ask me what I am doing.’ I wanted to revisit the character of Zanna in that light. I didn’t want to ever worry about what Zanna was but I wanted to explore what Zanna was doing. In this case, Zanna has dreams of being president and even though the arc is overall the same, the reason to exist in the first script was to spread love like a puckish, Cupid-like figure. But now he’s committed to creating a greater, safer community. In some ways they’re similar, but I think this shift in emphasis is much more meaningful and much more interesting.”
Theatre Horizon presents a reading of “Zanna Don’t” as part of its “Pay What You Decide” initiative 7:30 p.m. June 29, 401 DeKalb St., Norristown. For more information, visit www.theatrehorizon.org.