Man in black cape, hat, and mask stands center with his arms outstretched, a sword in his right hand. Another man in dark clothing is kneeling before him, his back to the camera.
Zorro: The Musical at Music Theater Works Credit: Brett Beiner Photography

There’s a reason you rarely see Zorro: The Musical, the 2008 show inspired by a masked Spanish hero (conceived of by Johnston McCulley in 1919 and since the subject of numerous books and movies) who defeats evil and tyranny by expert swashbuckling. Scratch that. There are myriad reasons. Among them: 

Zorro: The Musical
Through 8/21: Wed 1 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 PM, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, 847-673-6300, musictheaterworks.com, $19.50-$106

The musical (score by John Cameron and the Gipsy Kings, book by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson, lyrics by Clark) offers a deeply racist take on “gypsies,” reducing a complex culture and ethnic identity to a slur and a series of stereotypes centered on fluttering scarves, flowy skirts, and cartoonishly seductive women. The score is almost as monotonal as Gregorian chant. The plot is incomprehensible. 

 But perhaps the most glaring issue with Music Theater Works’s production, directed by Adrian Abel Azevedo, lies in the way it juxtaposes grimness with guffaws. As to the latter, Zorro offers a dictator who ruthlessly imprisons anyone who questions him and uses the military against peaceful citizens. There is an attempted gang rape. In one prolonged scene, we see the Guantánamo-like specter of a hooded prisoner, hands bound. But all the day is, we’re to believe, repeatedly saved by Zorro (Cisco Lopez), a Hamburgler-like clown who is as believable a hero as a week-old cheeseburger. Further, watching Nick Sandys’s fight choreography is akin to watching children trying out their new souvenirs from the Medieval Times gift shop.  

The technicals in MTW’s production don’t help. The cast is swallowed up by the stage, leaving the impression that Jacqueline and Richard Penrod’s expansive set is vastly underpopulated. The ensemble often seems to be singing in a different key than music director Justin Akira Kono’s nine-person pit orchestra. As for the flaming “Z” Zorro is known for, it’s about as fiery as a wet bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The entire endeavor clocks in at two hours and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission and too many laborious scene changes to count.