In celebration of its 25th season, the Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) has developed the Bard’s Broadway series. Two Gentlemen of Verona (a rock opera), much like the theatre’s Encores-like staged concert of The Boys from Syracuse earlier this season, takes a classic William Shakespeare play and gives it a little twist. This might be considered a risky move for a theatre company known for mounting classics, but this contemporary rock opera more than results in a fine evening of entertainment.
Adapted by John Guare (who also wrote the lyrics) and Mel Shapiro in the 1970s, this rock opera follows the same general plot as the play on which it is based (currently playing at the STC’s Lansburgh Theatre) – friends Proteus and Valentine are still the central characters and there are cases of mistaken identity, a struggle for love, and the like. The book, though humorous at times, lacks cohesion in the first act though it gets more focused in the second. Thanks to the hard-working concert cast, the audience is rarely given a chance to notice the shortcomings of the book and its groan-worthy jokes.
The strong and diverse musical score, by Galt MacDermot (of Hair fame), also creates a sense of excitement. Genres range from rock and classical to Latin and gospel, though all of the songs have a 70s vibe. Among the standouts are “I Am Not Interested in Love, “I Come From the Land of Betrayal,” and “Thurio’s Samba.” All are played with much precision by a 12-piece orchestra, which is visible on stage. The brass section is a particular highlight.
Though the music is very strong, it becomes intoxicating when performed by a versatile cast under the musical direction of George Fulginiti-Shakar. Among the vocal standouts is Washington, DC’s own Eleasha Gamble (Sylvia). Her powerful voice can reach the rafters and she demonstrates a flair for comedy as well. Her rendition of “Love Me,” together with Tony Award nominee Robin de Jesús (a very comedic and adorable Speed) and Danny Rutigliano (Launce) is a vocal highlight. A close second is Arielle Jacobs’ (Julia) comical “I Am Not Interested in Love.” A strong belter and actress, Jacobs brings a very modern flavor to the source material – all while maintaining a very nice, credible, and authentic Spanish accent (though, interestingly enough, she is one of the few members of the cast to use one). Washington’s Florrie Bagel’s (Lucetta) opening number in act 2 (“I Come From the Land of Betrayal”) also nicely displays her vocal prowess and comedic timing.
Rounding out the strong cast of singers is the incomparable Ken Page (Duke of Milan), Terence Archie (Valentine), and Javier Muñoz (Proteus). Archie has a great vocal range that is in full display in songs like “Love’s Revenge.” Page displays copious amounts of charisma and great stage presence in his brief moments on stage. Muñoz, though not the strongest singer in the cast of powerhouse vocalists, possesses a real connection to his songs and has a likable way of delivering them.
As this is a staged concert, the music is the focus (as it should be). That being said, Broadway’s Spencer Liff has incorporated some nice choreography for the ensemble cast. The creative team, led by director Amanda Dehnert, also incorporated some inventive and unique props into the show (including a Segway, and an enormous picture of Eleasha Gamble as Sylvia). The set (James Noone), sound (David Budries), and lighting design (Nancy Schertler), though minimal, serve the piece well in that they don’t detract too much from the beautiful singing.
The theatre company should be commended for taking a risk to do something a little outside of the ‘traditional’ box. I hope this leads to more musical stagings at the Harman Center for the Arts.
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission.
Two Gentlemen of Verona (a rock opera) concludes its run today on Sunday, January 29, 2012, at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sydney Harman Hall – 610 F St., NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office (202) 547-1122, or purchase them online.
Listen to Ken Page (Duke of Milan), Tom Deckman (Thurio) and the rest of the cast of The Bard’s Broadway musical concert Two Gentlemen of Verona (a rock opera) rehearse the song “Bring All the Boys Back Home.”