Zorba (musical)

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Original Cast Recording
MusicJohn Kander
LyricsFred Ebb
BookJoseph Stein
BasisNikos Kazantzakis's novel
Zorba the Greek
Productions1968 Broadway
1983 Broadway revival
AwardsDrama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics

Zorba is a musical with a book by Joseph Stein, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and music by John Kander. Adapted from the 1946 novel Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis and the subsequent 1964 film of the same name, it focuses on the friendship that evolves between Zorba and Nikos, a young American who has inherited an abandoned mine on Crete, and their romantic relationships with a local widow and a French woman, respectively.

The musical premiered on Broadway in 1968 in a production directed by Harold Prince. It was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical in a season that included Hair, Promises, Promises and 1776. The last of these won the award. The original production ran for 305 performances, and a 1983 Broadway revival ran for 362 performances with a cast starring Anthony Quinn.


Original Broadway Production

The musical opened on Broadway on November 16, 1968, at the Imperial Theatre, where it ran for 305 performances and twelve previews. Directed by Harold Prince and choreographed by Ron Field, the cast included Herschel Bernardi, Maria Karnilova, Carmen Alvarez, John Cunningham, and Lorraine Serabian. Scenic design was by Boris Aronson, costume design was by Patricia Zipprodt, and lighting design was by Richard Pilbrow.

The production received several Tony Award nominations, winning the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design.

Music On Tour!

The musical was revised to be less "austere" and toured with John Raitt, and included a new song for him ("Bouboulina") as well as the addition of "The First Time" sung by Nikos as part of "Why Can't I Speak." Chita Rivera played the role of "The Leader". Because reviews were not favorable, the show did not return to Broadway at that time.[1][2][3]

The bus and truck tour featured Vivian Blaine ("Guys and Dolls") as Madam Hortense and Michael Kermoyan ("Camelot" & "Anya") in the title role, with Prince directing and choreography by Patricia Birch.

1976 (summer) Second National Tour

The second national tour started in Philadelphia in May 1976 and traveled all over the East Coast of the US and into Montreal, Canada (two weeks at Place des Arts after the Summer Olympics). The cast featured Theodore Bikel and Taina Elg. It was considered the best touring show of the "Straw Hat Circuit" that summer.[citation needed]

1983 Broadway Revival

The 1983 revival directed by Michael Cacoyannis and choreographed by Graciela Daniele opened on October 16, 1983, at the Broadway Theatre, where it ran for 362 performances and 14 previews. The cast included Anthony Quinn and Lila Kedrova (who had both starred in the film version, the latter winning an Oscar for her performance), in addition to Robert Westenberg, Debbie Shapiro, and Rob Marshall.

A film adaptation of the revival was in the works by film production company The Cannon Group, Inc., but the film was never materialized.[4]

Other productions

Zorba has been produced professionally in Argentina (2003). Cast: Raúl Lavié, María Rosa Fugazot, Miguel Habud, Julia Zenko, Marcelo Trepat, Alejandro Viola (replaced by Gustavo Monje), Roberto Fiore, Rubén Ballester and Andrea Mango.

Concert production

Zorba was presented in the New York City Center Encores! staged concert series on May 6–10, 2015. The cast featured John Turturro, Zoe Wanamaker, and Marin Mazzie in the lead roles and direction by Walter Bobbie.[5]


The story follows Zorba as he talks his way into traveling with Nikos, a young American who has inherited an abandoned mine on Crete. Eventually, Zorba falls in love with a French woman, Hortense. Meanwhile, Nikos falls in love with The Widow. Tragedy ensues when Zorba loses all of his money to a belly dancer. Further, a mentally unstable man, Pavli, commits suicide after witnessing Nikos and the Widow together. Then, a member of Pavli's family murders The Widow.

Design elements[edit]

Director Prince visited Crete and Mykonos, and the show's original design reflected the "peculiar color and light of the Greek Islands, the stark white of the...buildings as against the funereal black of the...clothes. Memorably 'Zorba' was presented in severe chiaroscuro."[6]

Musical numbers[edit]

§ = in 1983 revival


According to Sheldon Patinkin, the "material was too dark" and the "book too heavy" for a Broadway musical. "It includes a serious and often unpleasant commenting chorus, the death of the central female character, a suicide...and other depressing events. It didn't return its investment."[7]

Clive Barnes in his review in The New York Times, wrote that "Prince was one of the very few creative producers on Broadway-a man who can put his own imprint on a show, and that imprint is planted all over Zorba like a sterling silver mark."[8]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1969 Tony Award Best Musical Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Herschel Bernardi Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Maria Karnilova Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Lorraine Serabian Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Harold Prince Nominated
Best Choreography Ron Field Nominated
Best Scenic Design Boris Aronson Won
Best Costume Design Patricia Zipprodt Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Lyrics Fred Ebb Won
Outstanding Set Design Boris Aronson Won
Outstanding Costume Design Patricia Zipprodt Won

1983 Broadway revival[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1984 Tony Award Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Lila Kedrova Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Won
Theatre World Award Robert Westenberg Won


  • Alexis Zorba (Αλέξης Ζορμπάς), a fictionalized version of the mine worker George Zorbas (Γιώργης Ζορμπάς 1867–1942).[9]


  1. ^ Smith, Cecil A. Musical Comedy in America: From The Black Crook to South Pacific, From The King & I to Sweeney Todd (1987), Psychology Press, ISBN 0-87830-564-5, p. 287
  2. ^ "Production information, San Francisco Civic Light Opera production" chitarivera.com, retrieved November 18, 2010
  3. ^ "Listing at Los Angeles Civic Light Opera" Archived June 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine broadwayla.org, retrieved November 18, 2010
  4. ^ "Cannon To Produce 'Zorba', 'Buffalo'". Variety. 1986-03-19. p. 4.
  5. ^ Gans, Andrew. "John Turturro Is Zorba! for City Center Encores!, Starting Tonight" playbill.com, May 6, 2015
  6. ^ Hirsch, Foster. Harold Prince and The American Musical Theatre (1989), CUP Archive, ISBN 0-521-33609-0, p. 69
  7. ^ Patinkin, Sheldon. "No legs, no jokes, no chance": A History of the American Musical Theater (2008), Northwestern University Press, ISBN 0-8101-1994-3, p. 400
  8. ^ Ilson, Carol. Harold Prince: A Director's Journey, Hal Leonard Corporation, 2000, ISBN 0-8791-0296-9, p. 156
  9. ^ Thomas R. Lindlof (2008-08-08), Hollywood under siege, ISBN 978-0813173160

External links[edit]