“Zorro” plays the Alliance Theatre from April 3 to May 5.
The legend of Zorro has been around since the early 20th century, the music of the Gipsy Kings just since the 1970s, but they seem to have found synergy onstage.
The Kings, who come from France and live there still, are largely responsible for bringing the joyful sounds of progressive pop-oriented flamenco to the world, and to Zorro. But it wasn’t always so.
The two bands of brothers that make up the 10-member group — the Reyes and Baliardos — began as a Gypsy band that busked on the streets of Cannes, and played weddings and parties. The young men flavored their flamenco with Western pop and Latin rhythms. Their name, originally Los Reyes, comes from their nomadic lifestyle and their heritage; their Spanish Gypsy families fled to France to escape the Spanish civil war.
The group’s first two albums attracted little notice, then, in 1986, they connected with a French record producer named Claude Martinez, who believed they could be more. He nudged them toward a more contemporary sound with Middle East, Latin America, North Africa and rock ‘n’ roll influences.
Flamenco purists predicted epic failure. They were wrong.
In 1987, the Kings released two songs — “Djobi Djoba” and “Bamboleo.” Both were hits in France. Their first album charted in 12 European countries, including England, which often turns its nose up at international music.
Then came the United States. The Kings debuted at the New York Music Seminar, signed with Sony in America and were invited to perform at an inaugural ball for George H.W. Bush (they went home to rest instead) and never really looked back.
To date the brothers have produced 20 albums and six videos and, in a sure sign of American success, performed their hit “Bamboleo” on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” in May 2010.
No less a music bible than Rolling Stone magazine has described their music as a place where “Spanish flamenco and Romani rhapsody meet salsa funk.”
And now comes Zorro, with more than 30 songs from the Kings, co-composer John Cameron and lyricist Stephen Clark.
Tony Award-nominated director Christopher Renshaw (The King and I, Taboo) began developing Zorro as a play with musical bits in London in 2001. It wasn’t working. Then a producer took him for a ride in a “rather nice limousine.” Destination unknown. They eventually stopped at an open-air concert venue, where the Gipsy Kings were performing. The producer handed Renshaw a specially made edition of the London Evening Standard with the headline “Chris Renshaw directs Gipsy Kings musical Zorro.”
Renshaw, who had insisted all along that flamenco be part of the show, began doing a series of workshops, tinkering after each. The new musical finally toured England in 2007, then played the Garrick in London in 2008.
“It was so important to me that Zorro was not to be just a catalog show,” Renshaw says. “The Kings created a treasure chest of new music.”
The Alliance edition contains even more new material. Says Renshaw, “Hopefully here we’re producing the definitive version for America.”
Kathy Janich, Encore Atlanta’s managing editor, has been seeing, editing, writing about and working in the performing arts for most of her life. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.