and Juliet: A Rock and Roll Love Story' at WestConn
NEWS-TIMES THEATER CRITIC
Above, Shawn Turner of
Shelton and Sarah Ahearn of Norwalk star as Romeo and Juliet in
WestConn’s production of “Romeo and Juliet: A Rock and Roll
Love Story.” Below is the play’s ensemble
crossed lovers. Tragic misunderstandings. Death. Sweet, sad and simple ""
that's "Romeo and Juliet." When the new musical version of the Bard's
beloved story at WestConn in Danbury sticks to the story's core, as it
mostly does, touching theater flourishes. When the elegant simplicity of
Shakespeare is swamped with mismatched excesses, as it too often is, even
the most famous lovers in theater have to fight to keep the spotlight
focused properly on their fateful path.
"Romeo and Juliet: A
Rock and Roll Love Story" is the spring production of the Theatre Arts
department at the university and the director, Professor Sal Trapani, has
written a 15-song score for this ambitious exercise.
Trapani has pared the
script to essential scenes and has incorporated many of the well known lines
into his lyrics. It may be a slightly condensed version, but the essence
shines through and most audiences will gladly trade off a few well turned
phrases for the songs.
While I am not a
musicologist, it seems to me this is a "rock musical," though I suppose the
plentiful pelvis thrusting the actors indulge in justifies the additional
"roll" in the title. Much ado about nothing!
music has an essentially soft rock sound broken occasionally by belted
ensemble numbers which harness the voices of the large ensemble cast. There
is also a hint of New Age music in the haunting orchestrations played by the
seven-piece orchestra under the direction of Peter Tamaro. The music
continues to sound first rate in WestConn productions.
There is a cast of 22,
headed by a trio of performers who bring appealing stage presences to the
production as well as strong vocal talents.
Shawn Turner and Sarah
Ahearn are easy to look at leads and would surely get the most votes for
prom king and queen. They sing well and convincingly convey the awakening
sexuality they both are discovering with dismay and delight.
Once their love at first
sight has been established, most of the songs and the story are carried by
them "" including the touching, understated crypt scene at the conclusion.
Backing them up with
spirited élan is Chris Vater as Romeo's buddy, Mercutio. Vater seems the
actor most completely at home in the skin of his character and he moves like
a well lubricated dance hall lizard.
Others making noticeable
contributions include Scott Condon as the irrepressible Benvolio, Drew
Petrella as a Mickey Rooney like Balthasar, Ann Crupi as Tybalt (one tough
gal), and Anthony DePoto as Juliet's father. Jean Billingsley scores as a
harried, somewhat unkempt Nurse, as did Chris Sumrell as the unlucky in
Where the production
goes astray is in the visual accessories assumedly added on to enhance the
story. It almost looks as though the creative teams behind the costumes and
more particularly the video projections weren't on the same page as the
What does work is Liz
Popiel's simple set, a few balconies, some open stairs and wooden platforms
-- basic enough to suit any locale. Patrick Laffin's costumes are wildly
eclectic and seemingly inspired by the East Village grunge of "Rent." With a
cast this big and everyone in different garb, the stage unfortunately looks
like a costume warehouse rather than a particular place. And would Romeo,
the son of the wealthy Montagues, dress like a street urchin? Laffin's work
is truly imaginative but needs a cohesive touch.
That same complaint must
be leveled at the videography of Adam Berlingeri. When it's right it's
terrific, when wrong, thoroughly out of place.
The use of projections
is always a risky business. How much will they enhance the stage action, how
much will they distract?
Berlingeri has come up
with some handsome, intriguing images "" ghostly figures falling through
space and a captivating silhouette of the two lovers kissing. Travelogue
like montages of buildings initially suggest that we are in Verona, where
the story is set "" and the script continually refers to the city and its
heritage. But then we find ourselves looking at the George Washington Bridge
at night and the Manhattan skyline. Abstract images to accompany Vater's
clever "Queen Mab" number are fine, but later funky ones seem forced.
Amy Jones gets credit
for the well staged dance numbers and also for the vocal arrangements.
Audio problems still bug
this auditorium when it comes to ensemble numbers. The words often turn into
mush. Luckily most of the principals are individually miked and they come
through with flying colors.
I couldn't find a valid
reason for the director's decision to sexually cross cast certain parts.
Having Ann Crupi play the bad guy in the pivotal fight scene makes Romeo and
Mercutio look like bullies. John Estock's blonde wigged Lady Capulet defies
This "Romeo and Juliet"
may lack the impact of other versions, but it is a sweetly told tale, one
that will warm the hearts of every romantic.
"Romeo and Juliet: A
Rock and Roll Love Story" plays through March 10 at the Berkshire Theatre in
Berkshire Hall, WestConn midtown campus, 181 White St., Danbury.
Performances are tonight, tomorrow night and next Thursday through Saturday
at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17; $12 for seniors and non-WestConn students.
WestConn students admitted free with valid ID. Call the box office at (203)
WestConn alumni couples are invited to attend tomorrow night's performance
(March 3) preceded by a "Met and Married" dinner beginning at 5 p.m. in
Warner Hall on the midtown campus. Tickets are $45 and include dinner and
show. For reservations, call the Office of Alumni Relations at (203)