Book by Joseph Stein. Based on Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. Music by John Kander. Lyrics by Fred Edd. The original Broadway production opened on 16 November 1968 and was directed by Harold Prince, with choreography by Ronald Field. The production closed on 9 August 1969, running for a total of 305 performances.
Synopsis and Musical Numbers
A Bouzouki company decides to perform the story of Zorba, the Greek (LIFE IS). They set the stage to represent a cafe in Piraeus on the Island of Crete in 1924. Nikos enters carrying a coat, valise and a carton of books. He is uneasy for he is not the type of person who is usually found in such a cafe and is a stranger to these parts. Zorba, a lusty man in his late sixties sees him and strikes up a conversation. Zorba’s manner of interrogation into Nikos’ affairs is more an attempt at inflicting his own beliefs than an honest attempt to listen to Nikos’ problems. Zorba explains his philosophy on life to Nikos (THE FIRST TIME). When Nikos tells Zorba that he is going to take over a mine that he recently inherited, Zorba insists that he too go along because mining is his specialty – even though he gives the impression that everything is his “specialty”. Nikos agrees rather halfheartedly.
Later, outside a cafe elsewhere in Crete, some men are playing games, drinking and discussing the new owner of the mine. The village is extremely poor, backward and superstitious. When Zorba and Nikos arrive, they are urged to stay with certain villagers and agree to move in with an old man who starts demanding extra payment for various services. However Mimiko, a young nineteen-year old simpleton, entices them to the house of “the Frenchwoman” – Madame Hortense, a flirtatious, faded coquette in her fifties who still dresses and acts in a youthful manner. Nikos and Zorba go to the shabby inn at THE TOP OF THE HILL, where they are welcomed by Hortense. Zorba charms her as she relates her experiences to him (NO BOOM BOOM) and, as Zorba carries Hortense to her bedroom, the chorus comments, “VIVA LA DIFFERENCE”. In the bedroom, Zorba romantically calls Hortense his virgin. She is pleased and confesses she has been a virgin many times, but never married. Her deepest wish is to marry before she dies. Zorba answers, “Perhaps”, and begins to caress her.
The men are gathered at the mine to sign in for work. Mimiko enters only to be berated by Manolakas, the younger brother of Mavrodani. Zorba stands up for the boy as an attractive widow enters with Mimiko’s lunch. The widow is a woman in her late twenties with an air of mysterious tragedy about her. Most of the men in the village are attracted to her, especially Pavli, Mavrodani’s son. Having no interest in any of them, she ignores them. Zorba urges Nikos to follow her, but Nikos refuses, saying that things that are meant to happen never need to be rushed (THE BUTTERFLY).
The next day, when Zorba leaves to buy items for the mine, Hortense offers him a farewell basket of fruit. She is worried that he will forget her while he is away (GOODBYE, CANAVARO). She also tells him she would like a ring when he returns. Later, Nikos reads a letter from Zorba, who admits that while he was in Khania, he failed to spend Nikos’ money on anything but women and good times (GRAND PAPA). He mentions nothing about Hortense, but Nikos tells her that Zorba is bringing her a present when he returns. She excitedly tells him she knows it is a ring and that Zorba will marry her. Nikos is uneasy, but she is ecstatic (ONLY LOVE). The chorus approaches Nikos, and lead him to the widow’s house in the BEND OF THE ROAD. She opens the door and they embrace. Pavli sees them and runs off in agony.
A dance in the village square is interrupted by a mourning song. The priest and townsfolk arrive with Pavli’s body. He has drowned himself. The town blames the widow for driving him to suicide. Zorba returns to Hortense’s garden and untruthfully says he has ordered the rings. When Hortense shows him wedding rings she already has, he is forced to agree to the engagement. The chorus and Nikos solemnize the occasion in a mock marriage ceremony (Y’ASSOU).
On the road, Nikos tries to assure the widow that everything will be fine but she is unable to express her feelings (WHY CAN’T I SPEAK?). As he tries to draw her out, a young girl stands behind the widow, expressing the widow’s innermost thoughts. On the steps of the church, Mavrodani, in a dramatic and captivating scene, decides to revenge his son’s death by stabbing and killing the widow.
At the entrance to the mine, a priest is chanting blessings. Nikos, still distraught over the death of the widow, can’t condone Zorba’s compliance of letting Mavrodani live, but Zorba philosophizes that revenge only brings more revenge. Zorba and Manolakas go down in the mine to try a sample blast but a huge explosion occurs and the mine is declared useless. Its timbers are rotting and it isn’t operational. Mimiko enters to tell the men that Mme Hortense is very ill and wants Zorba.
They arrive at Hortense’s home. The villagers are gathered around her like vultures, waiting for her death so they can take her things (THE CROW). Zorba enters, pushing the women out, and tells her he has come. She confesses her past to him and remembers her sixteenth birthday, reliving the moment as if she as if she was a young girl (HAPPY BIRTHDAY). Exhausted, she collapses on the bed and dies in Zorba’s arms. Zorba is overcome with grief and Nikos, fearing Zorba will go mad if he doesn’t vent his sorrow, begins a GREEK DANCE, which Zorba finally joins.
The baggage is packed and Zorba and Nikos are ready to leave. Nikos suggests that he might join Zorba, but Zorba knows he really isn’t able to do that for only he is able to risk all that he has (I AM FREE). The two men say goodbye and the play closes as it began with the Bouzouki Chorus singing (LIFE IS – REPRISE).
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