Quirky social satire is a hoot

Flowery, heart-shaped love blossoms between perky youths in the bubble-gum musical Zanna Don’t — which energetically bounded on Thursday night onto The Matchbox stage in Red Deer.

Flowery, heart-shaped love blossoms between perky youths in the bubble-gum musical Zanna Don’t — which energetically bounded on Thursday night onto The Matchbox stage in Red Deer.

All romantic love depicted in this Calgary-based Attic Players production is starry-eyed and chaste. And it generally happens at first sight between same-sex couples in the topsy-turvey world of Heartsville, where chess champions rule the schoolyard and weighty social issues are tackled in the high school musical.

Mike is dating Steve, and Kate is dating Roberta, and all seems well in this heterophobic world.

In fact, a magical matchmaking fairy named Zanna figures he’s done a great job of spreading the love around — until Steve inexplicably falls for Kate and this forbidden girl-guy relationship threatens to rock the foundation of this parallel universe.

Zanna Don’t, by Tim Acito, with help from Alexander Dinelaris, is, of course, a social satire — but the quirky and enthusiastic show is also a hoot to watch.

Like an off-kilter version of High School Musical, this off-Broadway hit has plenty of infectious, feel-good tunes, inventive choreography by Red Deer College student Jennifer Webster, and witty dialogue.

In the world of Heartsville, it’s boy babies who get leg warmers as shower gifts and girls who get tiny construction boots.

Football has as much of a fan following as croquet. And sensitive cowboys drink milk and two-step together at the local bar, while hearty cowgirls ride the mechanical bulls.

The strong 10-actor ensemble includes Mitchell Lukinuk as the sweet, do-gooder Zanna, Jared Knapp as Mike, Asia Walker as Roberta, and Ginette Simonot and Red Deer’s Shane Gramlich as the confused love-birds Kate and Steve. Brandon David Meyers played the cheerful school deejay Tank.

The cast collectively belted out boisterous, bubbly tunes, such as Who’s Got Extra Love and I Ain’t Got Time, (although sometimes the singing needed to be louder, or the three-piece band quieter) while doing some seriously challenging dance steps.

At the same time the actors touched hearts with songs meant for anyone who’s been confused by love — for instance, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which was performed as part of the Heartsville High School musical about heterosexuals in the military.

With everything this production, directed by Karmen Rodomar, has going for it, all that’s needed for the rest of its two-week run is a few more bums in seats. The Matchbox was barely half full on Thursday, with the audience largely being a young, alternative one.

A different kind of crowd should also see Zanna Don’t — and not just because it’s a message musical.

Zanna Don’t isn’t about whether it’s right to be homosexual, it’s about everyone’s right to find love.

To quote one of the characters: People “were meant to fall in love” — even if we make a hash of it.

Kate and Steve aren’t the only star-crossed couple in the show — Zanna also falls for someone who can’t love him back. But it’s all summarized by what Steve says about Kate: “I love her. I know I’m not supposed to, but I can’t help it.”

Beyond the musical’s gay theme, there’s the message that love is a gift. It’s mysterious, confusing and messy — but essential.

Can any of us afford to deny it — or judge those who find it?

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com