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Pirates of Penzance: Zach Garcia

Recently, I was able to connect with actor Zach Garcia, who is singing and dancing in The Pirates of Penzance at Park Square through March 25. A lover of serenity, cooking and Jack Sparrow, there’s more to this pirate than meets the eye!

What brought you to the Twin Cities and how did you get involved with Park Square? What other work have you done in your time here? 

It’s hard to answer the question of where I’m from. Most of the time I just say ‘The Midwest, et al’. My family hails from just north of Chicago, but I spent a good majority of my life in the Green Bay, Wisconsin area. I attended high school in a small farm town where my graduating class was 98 students total. It was there that I had a high school music teacher encourage me and foster my interest in music by having me sing in choir, recommend me for music camps, and allow me to perform in our school musicals and plays. I graduated from Lawrence University (also in Wisconsin) with a double major in Theatre and Music. I originally attended Lawrence to study opera, but I found my true home in the theatre department. Fortunately for me, I had mentors and a group of colleagues in the theatre department who guided me and challenged me to do my best work.  I was motivated by the material and learned the value of having a strong work ethic. I was constantly juggling rehearsals, class assignments, lessons, and projects. This is, by far, the most important thing I learned in university… put in the work, you’ll see results.  Being able to maintain the stamina of an actor’s life is not for the faint of heart. Lawrence taught me to be a warrior, and I will be forever grateful for that.

I moved to the Twin Cities after spending a year in Chicago after graduation. I originally moved up here for a theatre education opportunity five years ago, but once I got here, I started booking gigs and haven’t stopped since (thank God!).  The Twin Cities theatre community has been so warm and welcoming to me.  I’ve had some veteran actors take me under their wing and guide me through the ‘business’ side of the industry, which has been incredibly helpful. I also met my beautiful wife through the theatre when I was an essential at the Guthrie five years ago. It’s crazy, because not only do my wife and I own a home here, but my parents, my sister, a few of my cousins, and my in laws all live in the Metro area. I love it here… I think I’ll stay.

Since moving here, I’ve worked with companies like Theatre Latte Da, Children’s Theatre Company, Frank Theatre, The Guthrie, Walking Shadow Theatre, as well as worked on some new work with Keith Hovis, a brilliant young writer and composer. I was fortunate to work at Park Square Theatre in the Andy Boss space for The Palabras Project which was the brain child of Jessica Huang and Ricardo Vazquez exploring and expanding the story of Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca through a variety of artistic mediums. I’ve never done a show as exploratory and integrated as that!

Cast of The Pirates of Penzance: (photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

What are you most excited about and what could be a “fun” challenge? 

It has been really fun digging into the material and learning all the ins and outs that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote. They were so clever and so masterful at blending beautiful, fun vocal music with the twisting and turning of the plot.  I’m really excited to tackle the monstrosity that is Pirates with a small cast of nine actors. It’s a daunting task, but Doug and Denise have assembled a brilliant group of versatile artists that are ready to attack this piece with vigor.  We will be busy!

Working as tirelessly as you do, what could you possibly do with your free time

I love being outside! One of the great things about living in the Twin Cities is the ability to have a vibrant city life, but you simply drive 30 minutes north and you’re in the wilderness. My wife and I love the North Shore and have found a lot of solace and serenity up there. After I’m done with a long run of a show, we try to set aside time to take a trip somewhere to disconnect and recharge. This ‘reset’ time is so vital for an artist. I also really love cooking… Mexican food especially! I’m really bad at just ‘relaxing and doing nothing’. Cooking is active enough and has routine, but also allows room for spontaneity. It’s very relaxing when I can go to a farmer’s market or grocery store, plan an entire meal, and spend the entire day cooking.

OK, last question: Do you have a favorite pirate? 

Oooh… that’s a tough one! I’m going to have to say Captain Jack Sparrow. My wife has a mild obsession with Johnny Depp and, by default, have watched the Pirates of the Caribbean series multiple times.  I mean… who doesn’t love a drunk pirate, right?

Tickets and information for Pirates of Penzance can be found here!

The Legacy of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess

One of the most intriguing works of George Gershwin is the opera, Porgy and Bess, that he wrote along with his brother Ira and African American poet DuBose Heyward. Strikingly different from other major works such as Rhapsody in Blue or An American in Paris, the musical depicts the lives of the most downtrodden. In this case the people living in a rundown neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina.

The main character, Bess, is a woman trying to escape her past as a prostitute and drug addict. She is romantically involved with a criminal named Crown, who flees after committing a murder. This in turn, leads Bess to finding acceptance and solace in the arms of a crippled beggar named Porgy. When Crown returns, the pair have to make a stand.

Porgy and Bess, 1935

Porgy and Bess, 1935

You can tell from this description alone how vastly different it is from the Roaring ’20s that Gershwin is so famously associated with. As those previous orchestrations were products of their time, so was Porgy and Bess which premiered in Depression-era New York in 1935.

A “folk” opera, the work was seven years in the making and inspired by DuBose Heyward’s 1925 novel, Porgy. Now regarded as a classic and a standard in the American operatic canon, the initial run was deemed a commercial failure with mixed reviews. The New York Herald-Tribune, for instance, said that Gershwin’s ambition to include jazz and blues into a serious operatic score was “falsely conceived and rather clumsily executed…crooked folklore and half-way opera.” The run lasted four months and Porgy and Bess languished in mediocrity for decades until 1976 when the Houston Grand Opera produced the work to glowing reviews. This is when the piece secured its reputation as a classic.

It is amazing how perceptions can evolve over time, not just artistically but socially. One of the greatest merits of Porgy and Bess today, is conversely a reason for its initial short run. Gershwin was adamant that the show be entirely cast with classically trained African American singers. Of course this was a radical casting idea in 1930s America as the common practice was for a white performer to don blackface. Al Jolson, for example, had himself almost produced an adaptation with this idea in mind. Gershwin’s casting was brave and inspiring, giving work to dozens of African American performers on the mainstream Broadway circuit.


The original 1935 production. Courtesy Photo.


That bit of history, in addition to the composition and songwriting of the piece, have made Porgy and Bess the fixture in American pop culture it is today. We all know the songs, “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.” Produced all over the world, the last Broadway revival was in 2012.

Fortunately you won’t have to trek across the globe or travel to New York City to experience those songs, you can just get on down to Park Square Theatre this December. Selections from Porgy and Bess as well as Gershwin’s other timeless tunes will be featured in the show, The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer Dec 2 – 31. I hope to see you there!



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