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Community theater turns sexuality upside-down in 'Zanna, Don't!'

Ricky Cona stars as Zanna, the matchmaker with a magic wand, in MAD Theatre’s production of the musical Zanna, Don’t!

Special to the Times

Ricky Cona stars as Zanna, the matchmaker with a magic wand, in MAD Theatre’s production of the musical Zanna, Don’t!

Zanna, Don't! portrays an upside-down world. At middle-American Heartsville High, gay is normal, and heterosexuality is taboo. The chess champ is a sex symbol, the quarterback of the football team is a loser and the school musical, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, is about straights in the military.

"It's right up MAD's alley," says Cathy Hooten, president of the Tampa community theater that is staging Zanna, Don't! "It's edgy. We try to do things that are not mainstream, things that are a little more provocative."

MAD, founded in 1999 (the initials stand for music, acting and dancing), specializes in musical theater, and its biggest hits have been shows like Hair and Reefer Madness. "I don't think you'll ever see MAD Theatre do Bye Bye Birdie or Annie or The King and I," Hooten says. "That's just not our genre. You know what happens in Annie. You know what happens in The King and I. You don't know what's going to happen in Zanna. So it's more entertaining, more exciting."

Zanna, Don't!, with book, music and lyrics by Tim Acito (with additional lyrics and material by Alexander Dinelaris), had an off-Broadway run in 2003. The MAD production, directed by Chad Smith, has a cast of nine, with Ricky Cona starring as Zanna, the matchmaker with a magic wand. Thomas D. Guthrie leads a four-piece band.

Acito's score is loaded with bouncy pop tunes, and the show, subtitled "A Musical Fairy Tale," has obvious appeal for gay theatergoers. MAD is donating part of the proceeds to the Trevor Project, which works to prevent suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.

"Of course, there will be a large gay audience," Hooten says. "But it's not just for the gay community. I'm hoping that word of mouth will get to the straight community that it's a wonderful piece of theater."

Zanna, Don't! opens Thursday and runs through Jan. 23 at Hillsborough Community College's Studio Theatre on the Ybor City campus, E Palm Avenue and N 14th Street, Tampa. $20. (813) 386-6173; madtheatre.com.

• • •

One of the best roles for a young woman actor is Catherine, the troubled math whiz in Proof, the David Auburn play that won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize in 2001. Emily Belvo plays Catherine in the Hat Trick Theatre production that opens Friday at Eleanor Dempsey Performing Arts Center in Hudson. Jack Holloway directs the cast that also includes Ian Beck, Thom McColgan and Lani Winskye. $11 and $16. (727) 857-2604; ed-pac.org.

• • •

Frank Galati, an important figure in Chicago's bustling theater scene, directed Twelve Angry Men, the Reginald Rose courtroom drama opening Friday at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota. Galati, a member of Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, won two Tony Awards for his adaptation and direction of Grapes of Wrath, a Steppenwolf production on Broadway in 1990. He also directed the musical Ragtime (1998). Galati, 67, professor emeritus at Northwestern University, and his partner, director Peter Amster, have a condo in Sarasota. Twelve Angry Men runs through March 26. $25-$60. (941) 351-8000 or toll-free 1-800-361-8388; asolorep.org.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at tampabay.com/blogs/critics.

Community theater turns sexuality upside-down in 'Zanna, Don't!' 01/11/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 9:00pm]

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