A few minutes into the show, when Damian Hudson (above) started belting out “In fair Verona..,” my nine-year old daughter Olivia leaned over and whispered to me, “Is this a musical?” And truth to tell, it was — a R&J for the Glee generation.
They opened with a clever frame that accented the elaborate wooden set, built with ramps and slides like a cross between a skateboard park and a huge summer house deck. Tony Torn*, who would also play Capulet, came on stage to throw a big cocktail party, which naturally devolved — this happens all the time — into a reading of Romeo and Juliet. Some nice framing tension when it turns out that his wife cast herself as Juliet, her husband as Capulet, and an old flame as Romeo.
The best part was the music, produced by Stew who has worked with Shakespeare on the Sound for the past four years. A lively bass line choreographed almost every moment on stage, and many of the longer speeches — Queen Mab, etc. — were presented with full musical accompaniment. Given how hard it can be to freshen up lines we’ve all be reading since junior high, it was a great gambit.
The best vocal performance I saw was by David Cale as Friar Lawrence, who turned the Friar’s opening speech about the moral ambivalence of nature (“The earth’s that’s nature’s mother is her tomb”, 2.3.1-30), into a gorgeous fusion-backed song, turning the phrase, “Many for many virtues, excellent” into a refrain. Really great stuff, and that’s a speech I often teach: I wonder if they play to record or distribute any of the songs as songs.
(I remember, a few years back, a brilliant performance of Sonnet 129 done by the actor playing Othello just after the intermission: as good a rendition of the hero’s sexual anxieties as I’ve seen staged.)
I didn’t get all the way through this one — Olivia was tired by halftime — but I’ll be back with students later in July, and I’m looking forward to seeing if the frame recurs, and if the actors playing the leads are up to the second-half reversals. But I liked what I saw so far.
*Tony Torn, for all the STJ folks reading this blog, is married to my English dept colleague Lee Ann Brown, with whom Olivia & I sat last night. Olivia and their daughter Miranda also had some good mask-making and tree-climbing before the show started. They run a great family event at Shakespeare on the Sound!