ORVILLE AND WILBUR DID IT! New Colony Ensemble, Chicago 2014 “Orville and Wilbur Did It! may well be the most completely off-the-wall production I’ve seen in the past five years. The New Colony world premiere about a touring children’s theater company is a fast-paced frolic that lands squarely in whacklandia — and that’s a terrific place to spend the show’s 100-minute running time. The takeaway: Playwright/lyricist David Zellnik, director Andrew Hobgood and a game cast of seven have crafted a demented delight. The story centers on a clutch of young actors with starry-eyed aspirations of both Broadway and health insurance. Perhaps you don’t happen to be working for a corporation such as They Did It Productions (TDI), a concern specializing in bringing musicals such as “Rosa Parks Did It!” and “Albert Einstein Did It!” to a captive audience of assembly-going gradeschoolers. You will relate nonetheless as the cast of “Orville and Wilbur Did It” suffers the slings and arrows of layoffs, surly audience members, dashed dreams and the arguably delusional conviction that they are spreading inspirational sunshine through their art.
Set primarily in anonymous hotels, school auditoriums and a cramped van that ferries the cast across the country like an NC-17 rated version of the Partridge Family, “Orville and Wilbur Did It” is ridiculously rich with off-the-wall, utterly believable dialogue. Zellnik’s script veers from innocuously uplifting (“I want to inspire people. To transform them.”) to wholly inappropriate yet oddly poignant (“If there’s anything I learned from Grindr, it’s that we all deserve love and respect.”). Peppered by composer Eric Svejcar’s Zoom-worthy musical numbers, “Orville and Wilbur Did It” explores the manic teeter-totter ride that is a career in the arts — or really, a career in anything.
Our heroes are all memorably played by Hobgood’s young cast. Scraggs (Josh Odor) is a handsome, shady brooder forever wounded by emotionally scarring incident at Applebee’s. (“Sooner or later,” he grimly intones in one of the script’s saddest/funniest one-liners, “Applebee’s happens to everyone.”) Pandro (Joey Romaine) is a gentle, sad-eyed twentysomething still stinging from the soul-crushing words of an insensitive high school drama teacher. Jen (Jessica London-Shields) is the stage manager, handing out notes (“Obviously, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t fall off the stage”) and driving the van with the a mix of don’t-mess-with-me authority and weirdly directed maternal protectiveness. Melitta (Morgan McNaught) is an African-American “blacktress” concerned with whether she reads as too “slavey” on stage and preoccupied with a “vision board” that is equal parts aspiration and denial. Zach (Evan Linder) and Jasper (Kevin Stangler) play the brothers Wright for TDI, stars whose creative liberties with the script result in TDI being banned from the state of Minnesota. Finally, there’s X (played by Alex Grelle, who late in the second act, reveals that he possesses the singularly most intriguing pair of legs in Chicago’s theatrosphere), a flaming hot mess of a young man who would probably benefit from a 72-hour psych hold.
The cast captures the idiosyncrasies and insecurities of this misbegotten travelling troupe down to the smallest facial tic. As for the show’s twisted, invigorating musical finale, it’s absolutely celebratory. - CATEY SULLIVAN Chicago Sun-Times http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/stage/28256645-421/wright-brothers-did-it-satire-an-education-for-all-ages.html#.U6hu56iaR39 ...."What makes this comedy work is the honest depiction from each character that renders laughs. From the butch stage manager, Jen (Jessica London-Shields) who supports an otter to Pandro (Joey Romaine), the red-bearded actor who plays the bird and wants to play Wilbur to Melitta (Morgan McNaught) who has plans to play Mama Rose in ten years. Scraggs (Josh Odor) is the veteran, ex-con bent on making it as an actor while he cons everyone. Zack (Evan Linder) is the wound-too tight actor with a loving boyfriend he is loyal to yet he is being seduced by Jasper (Kevin Stangler) who had a crush on Zack from high school. Lastly, when X (Alex Grelle) replaces Scraggs, the humor turns raunchy and hilarious. Fueled with some original songs (music by Eric Svejcar and lyrics by David Zellnik), Orville And Wilbur Did It! shows how lame their children’s show actually is and how each actor reacts to negative talk backs from the children. But what makes this play so funny is the deep development of each character that produces a rich dynamic that creates funny, heartfelt situations that are funny because they are plausible. That is the source of most humor. This is a fine ensemble piece that gives each character their special moments. It is refreshing to see a show with everyone so committed to the work that the sheer energy produced laughs. This is a fun, silly yet truthful comedy that is a terrific night at the theatre. The New Colony folks continually produce stage worthy shows. This one will make you laugh. - Tom Williamshttp://chicagocritic.com/orville-wilbur/
LET A HUNDRED FLOWERS BLOOM Defunkt Theatre, Portland 2014 "Hilarious, raucous, heartfelt and thoughtful, the play is a stunner, and Defunkt Theatre’s current production of it should not be missed....The jokes are plentiful and sharp, but never at the expense of the story’s emotional resonance....The production’s like that person you meet at a party who’s so funny and charming that it’s only the next day you realize how brilliant she is. Defunkt’s “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom” is one of those special, seemingly alchemical productions, where the right cast and crew meet the right script and the results feel magical. Catch it before it’s gone!" By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly http://www.pqmonthly.com/blooming-brilliant-defunkt-thetatres-let-hundred-flowers-bloom/18655
"Maybe you’re not familiar with the wit and wisdom of the people’s philosopher Puppy. He’s a smart-talking paraplegic author of gay Marxist porn, the unlikely and clingingly adorable central character in David Zellnik’s equally unlikely and charming post-AIDS romantic comedy Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, which is getting a winsome, sexy, and emotionally perceptive performance at defunkt theatre. A wheelchair-bound Matthew Kern, wheedling and wisecracking and alternately acting the wise guy and the yearning fool, becomes the fulcrum of the tale, which is about what happens when you’ve been living under a death sentence and it’s suddenly lifted....The snakes in Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom seem mainly in the mind, but that doesn’t mean they’re harmless. …Zellnik wrote A Hundred Flowers in 2001, and even now its setup seems a little daring, a little dancing-on-skeletons, with a smart sense of the complicating fear and pain underlying the liberation. It’s a warm play, ultimately, a feel-good sort of story, but with enough nuance and emotional shadings to give it real impact." Bobby Hicks, Oregon Arts http://www.orartswatch.org/love-and-mao-in-the-miracle-days/
YANK! Original Cast Album PS Classics 2014 "If I were a commanding officer of the troops of musical theatre fans, I would order you all to attention for a forward march to any place where you can buy a copy of the superb cast album of Yank!, the tale of gays in the military (and thus necessarily in the shadows) during World War II." Rob Lester "http://www.talkinbroadway.com/sound/march1314.html
"(With) by newly-commissioned orchestrations from Jonathan Tunick ...we have the cast recording to savor. ...The Yank! opening number, "Rememb'ring You," initially sounds like just another World War II 'missing you' ballad. It turns out, though, that the Zellniks have something more in mind. The song fits what is to come and becomes the musical theme; at one point, they weave it into a scene as the GIs write letters to the girls back home, which only accentuates the hero's awkwardness as he writes to his soldier boy.... The opening is followed by the lively "Yank," an uptempo song with an insistent beat which supports a full scene, setting the story and getting it rolling. Next comes a second musical scene ("Polishing Shoes") in which the hero's dramatic predicament is clearly demonstrated. The two authors' abilities are ably demonstrated in "Click," a song of seduction with David's smart lyrics set to Joseph's toe-tapping music — and not just in a vague sense; the Zellniks' characters use tap as code for evading Army regulations; the wolf (as it were) teaches the lamb (as it were) to click his way through taboos to exhilarating effect. ...The second act includes a third upbeat-and-tuneful Army-guy song, "Your Squad Is Your Squad," but the treasure of the show is something called "A Couple of Regular Guys" ...it is exquisite; one of the most effective new musical theatre songs I've heard in years." Steve Suskin http://www.playbill.com/news/article/189106-ON-THE-RECORD-Yank-Original-Cast-Recording
YANK! York Theatre, Off Broadway, 2010 "Supremely entertaining. Often unabashedly romantic and quite funny, this sweetly old-fashioned show never slips into a soupiness that might lessen the effectiveness of its emotional message." Michael Kuchwara, The Associated Press "They just don't make old-fashioned musicals anymore, do they? …. Actually, they still do. YANK! is solidly in the Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition. Only difference: it's about two male soldiers in love. Director Igor Goldin pulls it all together with a fluid staging that even includes a dream ballet. ….Most impressive is the Zellniks' jazzy, swoony score…. And while the musical conventions are familiar, it's new to see a retro-style tuner treat this potentially controversial topic with such humor and humanity. Now the season isn't over yet, but I'd go so far as to say that YANK! could be the best original musical so far. If there's any justice it will have a life beyond the run at the York Theatre. I'm not asking, I'm telling you: go see YANK!" - David Cote, NY1
“Yank!,” has an added resonance because of the current debate over whether to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. But this is hardly a political show. Its subtitle, “A WWII Love Story,” encapsulates its main aspiration: to depict a same-sex couple as so many heterosexual couples have been shown over the years, struggling to capture the elusive thing called love against a backdrop of grand events... here, it’s Stu and Mitch doing the kissing; the effect is sublime." Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times
"With its inspiration firmly in the Rodgers & Hammerstein handbook, the abundantly charming Yank! is a delight….The score, by out brothers Joseph and David Zellnik, is a surprisingly tuneful collection of 1940s pastiche delivered by a top-notch cast. There’s real chemistry between Steggert and Hernandez, particularly the scene when they first kiss on a train that’s as palpable and heartbreaking as anything on stage in New York…. Don’t miss it!" - David Hurst, Next Magazine
Yank! …offers plentiful food for thought, a rarity in musicals…. This is surely the only musical in history to use tap dancing as a metaphor for clandestine sex. When the lovers do finally sing their hearts out, it's in the late-'40s "Broadway-opera" idiom. Their yearning even gets visualized in a '40s-style dream ballet….This ingenuity keeps Yank! constantly interesting, especially in its big dance numbers, choreographed with dazzle and inventiveness by super-tapmeister Jeffry Denman." - Michael Feingold, Village Voice
Twelve engaging actors and a small band are making some kind of history in the grotto theater at Saint Peter's Church in Midtown. A romantic love story set during World War II, "Yank!" is in most ways a traditional musical. Joseph and David Zellnik's affectionately nostalgic pastiche score could have come from Rodgers and Hammerstein or Sigmund Romberg. … What separates "Yank!" from the rest is that the romance concerns two earnest young men who wish merely to survive the war and live the American dream." - Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg
"This cast could play South Pacific and its book has the same integrity that Oscar Hammerstein and Joshua Logan brought to that master work....Some twenty musical numbers illuminate, enliven, drive the story. Yank! gives renewed hope for the future of our beleagured musical theatre. It is most welcome. There should be banners around town – “See Yank! at the York!” - Richard Seff, DC Theatre Scene
"Yank! is a timely, funny, and deeply moving knockout....a flawless mixture of emotion and courage." - John Peacock, Flavorpill.com
"You know, they just don't make musicals like Yank! anymore. And that's a real shame, because Yank! succeeds on just about every level that a musical can.….In an era of ironic, self-aware musicals, where much of the comedy seems to stem from characters knowing they're in a musical and winking about it to the audience, Stu and his fellow young soldiers are blissfully unaware that they're singing and stepping in time. How many new musicals have you seen in the past decade that have the audacity to include not one, but two exuberant tap numbers? …As far as the writing goes, you can't ask for a better team. Joseph Zellnik's score is lush and retro…David Zellnik's book is tight, funny, and touching, and his lyrics are wonderful…. If we had a star rating here at AfterElton.com, Yank! would get all of them. It’s the best show I’ve seen in a good long while." - Tim OLeary, Afterelton.com
SERENDIB THE HIPPODROME, Gainesville FL 2011 “Thought-provoking and like us, you will find yourself wanting to know more about monkeys, their social structures, and their habitat…Now if all this sounds too serious, hold on, you’ll find plenty of comedy, along with engaging monkeys with names….” DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM, EU
Ensemble Studio Theatre, NYC 2007 “A celebration! Mr. Zellnik’’s comedy engages some big questions of evolutionary biology. Mr. Zellnik has not shied away from intellectual ambition, and that is more than can be said for many emerging playwrights." New York Times “Fascinating! Zellnik tells great, compelling stories and created varied, grandly human characters that we care about and identify with. The fact that some of them are macaques is entirely the point! Serendib is that rarity, a play that really stimulates thinking.” -nytheatre.com “Rarely are simian mating rituals given the urgency and moment they deserve, but David Zellnik's new play Serendib sets that matter right! A clever and frequently funny little drama ……The denouement is satisfying and unexpected.”” - Backstage “A marvelous play, Serendib. There's a reason the title of the show sounds like serendipity: seeing this show is an instance of finding something valuable that you may not have expected.” - New Theatre Corps “A crazy, wonderful, multilayered play about science and humans and monkeys and love, not necessarily in that order but all interconnected in unexpected and surprising ways. ……Captures our imaginations and our minds ... gives us humor and heartbreak - a truly imaginative and ambitious script!” - MilkCanTheatre Blog
FOR ELISE...........EST Marathon 2010 “For Elise,” in which the elegant title character takes a breather from
the wedding reception of her grandson Josh (Drew Hirshfield). “Ach. It
was so Polish!” she disdainfully tells her gay nephew Donny
(Erik Liberman) when he joins her outside to sneak a cigarette. Appalled
that her grandson has embraced Hasidism, Elise shares some prejudices
with Donny and clashes over others. But with delicate strokes Mr.
Zellnik makes Josh a figure of such joyous inclusiveness that their
differences are reconciled in a touching rapprochement" David Rooney, NY Times Memory, both sweet and painful, triggers engaging drama.... (In) David Zellnik’s For Elise, in which Josh, a young Hasid, finds his grandmother, Elise, and cousin, Donny, outside the synagogue on his wedding day. The wedding stirs disturbing memories of Polish ancestors for Elise and loss of a friend and favorite cousin for Donny. Ghosts of the past mingle with a new order of things, as the three strive to hold their family together. Delphi Harrington, as Elise, gasps at the horror of finding her favorite grandson back in the shtetl of her grandparents. Drew Hirshfield counters with a confident sweetness of someone who has finally found his home. And, Erik Liberman displays the disquieting unease of a young man searching for a place to fit in. Beautifully directed by Pamela Berlin, the cast is allowed to develop the characters in a natural, satisfying way, mixing humor with their disquieting revelations." Jo Ann Rosen, NY Theatre.com
Pre-2010 Selected Reviews Ideogram 2008 “Zellnik's a playwright to watch!” Gwen Orel, Backstage .............“Succeeds at being fresh and engaging! Zellnik's delightful Ideogram, is as perfectly funny and complete as a ten-minute comedy can be.” Martin Denton, NY Theatre.com .......... “David Zellnik’s goofy comedy ‘Ideogram’ plays off the appealing idea that we all might have secret talents. Jason Zinoman, The New York Times ............ “Smartly skewers a number of Orientalist motifs even as it employs them. Keeps a nice balance between whimsy and mystery, contains a lot of laughs.” Dan Balcazo TheatreMania Text for Roz G in “4 Seasons Ballet” (The Chase Brock Experience) 2008 “The Four Seasons,” the final piece, is improbably even better. Roz G., a tightly put-together television weather announcer, is quite brilliant! Roslyn Sulcas, The New York Times
SHARON/HERZL 2007 “A bold, sobering examination of a century of Zionism... Zellnik tracks contrasts and parallels between the two lives (Sharon’s and Herzl’s) raising provocative questions about how violence, pragmatism and utopian yearnings have fit into the history. Compelling and unnerving.” Celia Wren, The Washington Post................“What a title! So crazily, breathtakingly ambitious… Epic Theatre Center staged a reading and "talkback" at the Beckett Theater and I confess I was crying at its savage conclusion….The theater critic Alisa Solomon told me she found the play "unusual" and "exciting." Yes it is "provocative," but she said that Zellnik had quoted history responsibly. "And the history is full of shocking moments. I can't wait for it to reach a New York stage in a true production. It is a big play, with visions and violence … and deserves to be seen and, yes, argued about.” Phil Weiss, NY Observer YANK! 2007 The Gallery Players "Though Yank! is a new 1940s musical, you needn’t worry about its being a reanimation of a long-embalmed form. Instead, it’s a contemporary show using the wisdom of the past to uncover timeless truths about what makes, and has always made, men who they are. Masculinity, or the lack thereof, assumes many forms David and composer Joseph realize the couple’s troubles with a lilting score of supple accomplishment that combines pastiche and the urgency of the heart to often searing effect." Matthew Murray, Talkin’ Broadway ... "David and Joseph Zellnik’s new musical, “Yank!,” is one of the most heartening theatrical experiences in years… this is a unique coming-of-age story that pulls no punches and honestly depicts how gays lived during World War II. The songs seamlessly dovetailed with the unfolding action and the Zellniks’ unforced sincerity makes the lyrics potent, and each song touches on an aspect of the human condition."Deirdre Donovan, The Brooklyn Paper..."If an audience member is outraged and offended enough to pick up and leave in the middle of Act 1, something interesting is probably happening on stage. In the case of Yank!, the Gallery Players' ambitious new musical, Stu the tortured and conflicted World War II private, and Mitch, his seemingly more confident and macho fellow soldier, had finally let their long-festering homoerotic defenses down, found a secluded moment, and kissed. That did it — out the well-dressed spectator bolted. The kiss, by the way, was pretty hot." Marc Miller, Backstage
FIRST IN FLIGHT “David Zellnik's book is clearly about something bigger — the dream of flight — and it communicates it thrillingly… Joseph Zellnik's richly complex score ranges from ringing hymns to soaring evocations of flight.” Laurel Graeber, The NY Times
Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom 2001 “There’s tremendous insight, poignancy and humor in Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, a play alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) wrenchingly funny and achingly sweet.” Jill Perlberger, oobr.com … “A witty, intelligent, absolutely hilarious romantic comedy. Although the subject matter is serious, Zellnik tackles it with wit and a delightfully wicked irreverence.” Dan Balcazo, theatremania.com … “Colorful and observant - a compassionate and moving piece about love and commitment.” Douglas Keating, The Philadelphia Inquirer
City of Dreams 2001 “The Zellnik brothers have really pulled it off! A compelling new musical!” Irene Backalenick, Backstage … “Passion-filled... extremely well-crafted, intelligent, sophisticated, melodic.” SethBisen-Hersh, NYtheatre.com ….“From its glittering charm to its grittier reality, City of Dreams is captivating” Laura Shea, American Theatre Web … “An intelligent, insightful, and thoroughly engaging piece of musical theatre!” M. Lundskaer-Nielsen, OOBR.com
Sunday Paper 2001 "Sunday Paper is touching, sensitive …Zellnik smartly eschews obvious dramatics for a quiet resolution that's heartstoppingly, potently real.” Martin Dentin, nytheatre.com
Killing Hand 1998 “Yet, for me, the most impressive piece was David Zellnik’s ‘Killing Hand,’ a dark moody episode about a Serbian refugee suddenly confronted by college customs at a Park Slope dinner party. This had the ragged, jagged edge of truth to it.” Clive Barnes, The New York Post… “Mr. Zellnik’s muscular prose infuses the situation with tension…. Killing Hand is an incisive quick hit on a complex subject.” Peter Marks, NY Times