So far as I know, the Musical Theatre Guild is a totally unique company of extraordinary, thoroughly professional performers unlike anything I have ever seen anywhere. Dedicated to “exploring and preserving works from the musical theatre repertoire that were either forgotten, neglected, or unfairly dismissed,” the Guild works under “a special Actors’ Equity Concert Staged Reading code” that calls for minimum rehearsals, no more than twenty-five cumulative hours, and demands that the performers work with “book in hand.” Under those constraints, the company delivers a delicious freshness and spontaneity to their performances, spurred by the knowledge that they only have one chance on one evening to deliver the goods to an appreciative audience.
The latest MTG offering, Zorba, based on the novel, The Life and Times of Alexis Zorba, by Nikos Kazantzakis, with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joseph Stein, shows the company in full artistic flower. They completely achieve the goal in their mission statement. I had never seen or heard the Broadway version of the story of Zorba (played with unstinting energy and fine voice by Michael Kostroff) until last night. Like many others of my generation, I had fallen in love with the 1964 movie version of Kazantzakis’ novel, Zorba, the Greek, which starred Anthony Quinn in the title role, with Alan Bates as an aimless British writer, and brilliant performances by Lila Kedrova and Irene Papas. The film score by Mikis Theodorakis was heard everywhere. I still have my vinyl disc.
The stage version of the story, as rendered by MTG, banishes the ghosts of Quinn, et al. The characters are vividly rendered. The British writer is now an American with the Greek name Niko (the golden-voiced Dino Nicandros). The always-in-the-moment Zorba attaches himself to the young man who is traveling to an island where he has inherited a mine. There the unlikely duo takes lodgings with an aging French chanteuse named Madame Hortense (poignant Eydie Alyson in a glittering performance). A subplot concerns a beautiful, black-clad widow (an ethereal Tal Fox) who, through no fault of her own, is the object of lust and scorn in the tiny island village.
The cast of nineteen boasts world class singers and dancers who capture completely the splendid life of the show. There is a Leader, the electrifying Eileen Barnett, who is the heart and soul of the village, commenting on the action in powerfully rendered song.
Alan Bailey gives excellent direction within the confines of the Equity mandate. Musical director Brad Ellis at the piano leads the small combo with extraordinary precision, and choreography by Cheryl Baxter is superb. Costumes are coordinated by Jeffry Schoenberg-AJS Costumes, and Stacey Cortez manages the stage with authority.
I wish I could say, “Go! See this extraordinary show!” But it is simply a memory and one must now look forward to the next production, Minnie’s Boys, slated for performance on February 10, 2019 at the beautiful Alex Theatre, 216 North Brand Boulevard in Glendale. Here’s a sure lure—Minnie’s boys had the stage names of Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo, and Zeppo.