“Zorba” Brings A Strong Score To New Line Theatre’s Latest Production

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The Leader- Lindsey Jones- starts the show with “Life Is” as New Line Theatre presents “Zorba.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Kander and Ebb don’t have a bad musical in their repertoire. Although “Zorba” is not one of their most popular, it is still a strong score that relishes in the unique story and philosophy of Zorba who decries people who live life as if they will never die- he prefers to live it as if he will die any minute. For this reason and, as explained in his first song, “The First Time,” the fact that he approaches every experience- be it hearing a bouzouki, drinking a glass or rum or making love- as if it is his “first time,” he is a larger than life character that understandably dominates the show.

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Kent Coffel as Zorba and Dominic Dowdy-Windsor as Nikos in “Zorba” at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The chronology of Zorba can be summed up as a great performance by Anthony Quinn in the film, a great performance by Herschel Bernardi in the original musical version and then a horrible performance by Anthony Quinn in the revival of the musical. But New Line Theatre has given us a solid production with Kent Coffel in the title role and a solid supporting cast. Mr. Coffel has the zest and charisma needed for such an overpowering personality. He unabashedly swaggers into every situation, woos the women as if he knows they can’t resist him and handles the delightful music with a singing voice that matches the confidence of the character.

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Margeau Steinau as Hortense, Dominic Dowdy-Windsor as Nikos and Kent Coffel as Zorba in the New Line production of “Zorba.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Margeau Steinau is equally adept handling the strong willed but sentimental French woman who has been transplanted to Crete- Hortense. With a rather lusty past, she always seems to be reliving those affairs in her mind. She falls under the spell of Zorba and, with the subtle nuances of Ms. Steinau, makes them a pair that you can’t take your eyes off of during this production. The Leader, who sings the powerful opening number in the show- “Life Is”- is the brilliant Lindsey Jones. She belts her numbers with all of the gusto of any great lady of the musical theatre.

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Mara Bollini makes a point to Zorba and some of the men of Crete in “Zorba” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Dominic Dowdy-Windsor appears a bit hesitant at times but comes through with a strong performance as Nikos, the young scholar and new owner of the local mine who Zorba takes under his wing. He not only learns about life and love from his mentor, he truly becomes a man over the course of the play. Ann Hier is superb as the young widow who eventually casts her eye on Nikos. She manages to express emotions by merely taking in the reactions of those around her as well as when she is openly involved in the action.

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Ann Hier as the widow in the New Line Theatre production of “Zorba.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

A wonderful supporting cast who double up some pivotal roles are remarkable as well. Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor co-directed and they bring out the unusual story line and odd mix of characters full of life- and even a few deaths- with satisfying results. Based on the novel, “Zorba The Greek” by Nikos Kazantzakis, this autobiographical tale has endured through film and this delightful musical. Sarah Nelson’s musical direction brings charm to the music of John Kander and the Fred Ebb lyrics book by Joseph Stein have kept the feel of the novel and original film. Thankfully they did not interpolate the iconic title theme from the film by Mikis Theodorakis- beautiful but I prefer my stage adaptations free from the original film music.

With the small stage and a somewhat large cast for that small venue, the Michelle Sauer choreography is fine but loses something in the translation. Even the traditional Zorba dance and the dance of friendship between Zorba and Nikos seemed a bit stiff and awkward. Rob Lippert’s outstanding work on set design and lights shine through as do the costumes of Sarah Porter.

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Dominic Dowdy-Windsor as Nikos and Kent Coffel as Zorba dance to life and friendship in “Zorba” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

“Zorba” is worth the trip to the Marcelle because it is a classic Kander and Ebb score that is rarely heard these days. The cast is a strong one that succeeds in projecting the vastness of Crete and the overwhelming world of this quirky and endearing character of Zorba despite some of the limitations of space. It plays through March 25th. Contact New Line Theatre at http://www.newlinetheatre.com for tickets or more information.

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