A dramatically compelling re-telling of “Zorba the Greek” is staged almost as a formal reading by helmer David Lee. He has the cast occupy chairs placed in a semi circle — fronting an energetic 22-piece instrumental ensemble — employing just enough stage business to infuse a zesty vitality to the tale of Zorba’s doings on Crete.
In the title role, Marc Kudisch does not evoke the larger-than-life persona that Anthony Quinn brought to the 1964 film, but he does bring an earthy, infectious humor. As a singer, though, Kudisch injects veracity into Zorba’s self-serving philosophical musings in tunes such as “The First Time” and “I Am Free.”
Driving the action is the sublimely gifted, power-lunged Camille Saviola as Leader of the Chorus, who serves as narrator and facilitator, a one-woman Greek chorus who dominates the stage with the show-opening “Life.”
Tuner tracks the misadventures of Nikos (Stan Chandler), an emotionally repressed young American of Greek descent who has inherited a now-abandoned mine on the isle of Crete. Before he can even claim his property, his existence is taken over by the ever-wily Zorba (Kudisch), who takes every “no” to mean “yes.” With Zorba serving as his jaundiced mentor, Nikos is ushered into a passionate, male-dominated world in which pride is everything and women are treated either as madonnas or as whores.
Chandler is properly callow as Nikos, who is not only dominated by Zorba, but completely befuddled by the feelings of love he has for the star-crossed village Widow (Lesli Margherita).
Tony Award-winner Judy Kaye (“Phantom of the Opera”) glows as the aging cabaret artist/courtesan Hortense, who hilariously recalls how she once saved the village from being bombed by servicing the four warring admirals. Kaye projects a haunting desperation as she fixates on bringing the foot-out-the-door Zorba to the altar in “Goodbye, Canavaro” and “Only Love.”
Lee’s fluid staging is abetted by choreographer Dan Mojica, who makes great use of the limited stage area to impart helpings of peasant energy to enliven the proceedings.