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Miss Xanna Don't vs. Zanna, Don't!

Country singer Xanna Don't wants the writer of the musical Zanna, Don't! to provide compensation for use of her name...but Zanna won't. logo

Got an e-mail from a woman who wrote because she'd read my Theatermania article on Zanna, Don't!, a new show I caught at a reading some months ago at Amas Musical Theatre. She saw that I admired Tim Acito's book, music, and lyrics for a show that takes place in a fascinating world: Steve, the captain of the football team, is in love with Mike, the captain of the chess team -- and Steve's mighty grateful for the attention, for chess is much more popular than football at this school. Mike says he admires Steve when the jock says he's going out for the school musical; Steve shrugs and says, "What kind of high school would this be if the captain of the football team didn't go out for the school musical?" As it turns out, Mike plans to try out, too, and not only do the two expect to land fat parts, they also anticipate that they'll be elected King and King of the prom.

Meanwhile, cute-as-a-button Kate is the trainer for the school's mechanical bull riding team. As she tells a young woman named Roberta, "When I see you straddling that bull, I feel a spiritual connection." Soon, these two are a blissfully happy couple. They expect to be elected Queen and Queen of the prom after they also audition for the school musical, an original work that wonders whether heterosexuals should be allowed into the army.

I love a show that takes us into its own little, unique world -- especially if that world is a much nicer and more accepting one than ours. Whether or not the e-mailer agreed with my opinions, she certainly had one of her own. You see, her name is Miss Xanna Don't, and she believes that Zanna, Don't! -- set to open Off-Broadway in October -- should compensate her for the use of her name. I wrote back to say that there is a spelling difference between the two, though I did ask if the plot of Zanna, Don't! had anything to do with her. She said that I just might find more of a connection than I thought and asked if she might send me her press kit. Certainly, I replied, and soon I received in the mail a set of pages thicker than the original book of Camelot.

Over a full day of reading, I learned that Miss Xanna Don't was born Suzanna Conway, grew up in Waltham, Massachusetts, was in high school drama club, and attended the Boston Conservatory of Music in the '80s in hopes of an opera career before dropping out and becoming a Jello wrestler. At some point, to avoid being nicknamed "Sue," she opted for "Zanna." She liked attending such Boston clubs as The Rat and Spit, which resulted in years of drug abuse; but she straightened out and, after singing some Patsy Cline songs at a club, decided to concentrate on country music. Then one night, in a pub, a barfly began showing interest, and asked her name. When she said "Zanna," he asked, "Like Xanadu?" causing her to snap: "No, Zanna Don't." With the change of just one letter, she had her new stage name.

Miss Xanna Don't was soon part of such groups as The Department of Cultural Affairs, Jesus Chrysler Corporation, and The Beverly Sills Abortion. She also opened for such acts as the Kentucky Headhunters, Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Killbilly, Morphine, The Derailers, The Ex-Husbands, The Gourds, The Impotent Sea Snakes, Pansy Division, and Robinson's Racing Pigs. (That last one is not a rock group but a group of genuine animals who are trained to race around a track at various barbecue festivals.)

Soon, Miss Xanna Don't was being backed up by such acts as the Blood Oranges and the Swinging Steaks, performing with groups where she was billed above the title: Miss Xanna Don't and the Wanted, then the Maybes, then the Willin'. (A planned collaboration of Miss Xanna Don't and the Wristslashers never quite happened, though.) Some of the songs she's sung include "Daddy Just Exploded" and "Your Mother's on the Roof." But she also presented "A Tribute to Connie Francis," delivering that diva's greatest hits. On record, selected Xanna Don't cuts can be found on "Boston Gets Stoned," "L'Austin Space," and "Dropped on the Head" (on which she sings "Damaged Goods"). She also wrote a song for the film Night of the Killer Pinatas. Despite this fame, when she went to Ireland to visit her relatives, they wouldn't let her in.

Miss Xanna Don't
I learned that Miss Xanna Don't won the Best Country Act Award from the Boston Phoenix in 1990 and got a slew of good reviews -- some of them for a stint as Mary Magdalene in a local production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The others were for her club dates. "An amazing voice," said critic Crystal Meth of The Beat. "'Dead Flowers' never sounded better," said the Pit Report. "Her bubbly powerful voice makes 'Train to Satanville' a sheer pleasure," opined the East Coast Rocker. More significantly, all three music critics from the esteemed Boston Globe paid their respects. "She may dress like Dolly Parton's campier sister," wrote Brett Milano, "but she has a heck of a voice and an open-hearted delivery." "She's putting a personal, high-energy stamp on various metallic, hoedown-flavored tracks," said Steve Morse. "She'll be missed," insisted Jim Sullivan in 1993, when Miss Xanna Don't announced that she was leaving Beantown in favor of Austin. Part of her motivation was certainly that the Texas capital has a well-established alternative music scene; but another reason, she said, was that "Governor Ann Richards has a beehive hairdo, too."

Ah, the hairdo! It measures nearly a foot-high, thanks to natural growth and lacquer. As she has often said of her distinctive look, "I can sleep on it and it looks exactly the same the next day. It doesn't move." She often wears strapless dresses "because I'm a self-taught seamstress and haven't learned to make sleeves." Yet she also insists that, "If I had to, I can look like a nun. Like, if I got busted tomorrow and had to go to court, I could do it."

Anyway, the new town was not a blue town for Miss Xanna Don't. "Don't miss this country-punk dyke with a passion to entertain," advised Austin Queer Events. "Great country swing," proclaimed Idiot's Delight Digest. "She's clearly blazing trails to an ever-growing audience," commented the Austin Chronicle. And the San Antonio Express-News said, "Though it may take a while for her to be crowned the country queen of Texas, Miss Xanna Don't appears to be well on her way to becoming at least a princess." (This is possibly true, for she was named as one of the "Best of 1996" by The Fag Rag. She was also named "Best Hair Tease" by the Austin Chronicle, and when The Jenny Jones Show planned a segment on outrageous hair, they gave Miss Xanna Don't a call.)

Now, she's 40 and happily married to news editor Ann L. Brown. But she'd be happier if Zanna, Don't! gave her: (1) a 209-word credit in the program that establishes that people coming to the musical won't be seeing this country performer; (2) tickets to the show for her and her wife; and (3) airfare to New York and hotel accommodations. To which request Zanna, Don't! co-producer Jack M. Dalgleish responded: "As you know, Zanna, Don't! is not based on your life or career. In fact, Tim Acito, the author of the play, was not familiar with you or your work until you first contacted Amas Musical Theatre. Regarding your requests, we will not be able to include any promotional information about you in our program, nor can we pay for you and your wife to travel to New York City to see the show. However, we would love for the two of you to see the Amas Musical Theatre's production of Zanna, Don't!. So, if you happen to be in the city in October, please contact us as we would be willing to provide you with a pair of complimentary tickets."

Miss Xanna Don't's reaction? "Sorry, wrong answer. You'll hear from me again." And to me, she wrote, "Peter, plain and simple. It's MY NAME! It's my hard-earned reputation. I don't know WHY they simply can't give me a program credit (even an edited one) -- if not for legal reasons, then at least because it's the right and respectful thing to do for a member of the gay community who has given so much TO the community and has given UP a lot because of being gay. It's a gay play! We can be so awful to each other. I'm asking that Tim/Amas do the right thing. I deserve it. I've got 15 years of being Xanna. Everyone I've spoken with says I have a case. And a good one. Can you expect me to give up who I am without a fight?"

Everyone I've spoken to says she hasn't a case. Nevertheless, when I listened to the CD that Miss Xanna Don't sent, I did find that she has a lovely voice and knows how to deliver a country song very well. So I wish both Miss Xanna Don't and Zanna, Don't! all the luck in the world. If you want to know more about her, she's at; if you want to know more about the show, try

While listening to her CD, I perused Miss Xanna Don't's newsletter, and one item did catch my eye: "I still think the Xanax people owe me money for stealing my name!" she writes. Hmmm, so this is not the first time Miss Xanna Don't has brought up this issue. I'm wondering if she'll next sue the estate of Sherman Edwards, for -- in 1776, in "Cool, Considerate Men" -- that gentleman wrote: "Come sing ho-Xanna, ho-oh-Xanna!"


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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