Captain Ramon (played by John Bellomo, right) and Don Diego Vega/Zorro (played by Paul Steger) duel in UMT's production of "Zorro."
OGDEN, Utah – When Utah Musical Theatre decided to open its 2004 season with "Zorro," Bruce Cohen, the company's Artistic and Managing Director, knew he needed an expert.
In "Zorro" director Drew Fracher, Cohen not only landed a master swordsman and internationally renowned fight director, but also the co-author of the play.
UMT's production of "Zorro," based on the play by David Richmond and Fracher, features 12 fight scenes and nine cast members wielding swords. Fracher said that in bringing "Zorro" to the stage, he has the luxury of working with "highly skilled sword fighters" who are also very talented actors.
Fracher has worked with many of the cast members before, including old pals Paul Steger and John Bellomo who play Don Diego Vega/Zorro and Captain Ramon, respectively. The cast features six members of the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD), an organization Fracher has been involved with since its inception, including a stint as its president.
Fracher first discovered his swordsmanship while taking a sports fencing class in college. Around that time he began working with a faculty mentor who had worked with theatrical swordplay in Great Britain and was part of a group trying to establish the SAFD.
"Back then I was a terrible actor, so it enabled me to continue to work in theater," Fracher said of his early work as a fight director.
Having a cast with extensive knowledge of swordplay is critical, Fracher said, considering the inherent danger involved. "There's lots of risk—a bajillion ways to get hurt," he said. "We try to reduce that by repetition and rehearsal, doing it over and over again until the actors create a skill for themselves." He added that in choreographing sword fights, the actors use certain formulas and timing to make the swordplay look realistic, yet ensure safety.
Serving as both director and fight director for the production, Fracher spends two hours a day working on the swordplay, dancing and music, and five hours on scene work and blocking. He said directing this show is easier for him because he was involved in creating it, so he doesn't have to spend as much time trying to interpret the work.
Cohen viewed the play as a way to stretch the boundaries of UMT. In lieu of show tunes heard in traditional musicals, this production features a score with plenty of Latin rhythms to enhance the costumes, sword-play and dancing.
Fracher adds that the story is an archetypical drama filled with good guys and bad guys.
"I think the play is very timely with what's going on in the world today," he said. "It's about honor and doing the right thing—making sacrifices for the good of others."
"Zorro" will be performed at Peery's Egyptian Theater, (2415 Washington Blvd.) in Ogden, at 8 p.m. June 11, and 7:30 p.m. June 12; 16-19, 23-26. A matinee performance will be presented at 2 p.m. June 19. Individual tickets are $18 adults, $16 senior citizens, and $10 for students. Tickets are available at 1-800-WSU-TIKS or 801-626-8500. Season subscriptions covering the 2004 UMT season are also available at $48 each.