Tuesday, June 19, 2012

You were Romeo, you were throwing pebbles and my daddy said, "Stay away from Juliet..."

An odd confession coming from a theatre person and also the only person in my university who voluntarily took Shakespeare I and Shakespeare II ("for fun")...

I have never seen a production of Romeo and Juliet on stage.

I read the play, of course, in high school and in college. I'd seen the 1960's version of the film and the 1996 one (I'm from the age group of girls for which it was a requirement to fall in love with Leonardo DiCaprio...it didn't matter if you didn't like pretty boys with blond hair...Chris O'Donnell was much more my speed during those days...you had to love Leo.) I knew West Side Story by heart, and I remember when I first read Romeo and Juliet comparing it to the musical...instead of the other way around. ("Ohhhhhhh! They had a balcony instead of a fire escape!")

High schools in sitcoms always seem to do Romeo and Juliet, but mine did Woody Allen and Neil Simon plays instead.

I finally saw Romeo and Juliet live on Sunday night at the Hudson River Valley Festival in Garrison, New York and I can't think of a better way to have done so.

How did I end-up all the way up there to see theatre? (And for the girl who doesn't really venture too far from New York City or central NJ...I mean, why would I need to? NYC and Central NJ have everything you could ever possibly need in life...it really IS "all the way up there".) The answer is, simply, because of Romeo. Two years ago, I was casting my first off-Broadway production. My good (and extremely knowledgeable and very very patient) friend was by my side going-through headshot submissions with me and after I opened one email and saw the actor's photo, I said to him, "He's our star." My friend said, "THIS IS WHY YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO CAST THIS SHOW WITHOUT ME. You just think he's cute and like that he talks about Frank Sinatra in his cover letter." "No, no. Well, yeah. But he's definitely our star. Believe me, I know."

The young man, Carl Howell, came-in to audition, nailed it and brought my character to life in the most perfect way. (I was right!) Everybody involved with that play will always have places in my heart because it was such a special experience for me and when Carl told me he was set to play Romeo this summer, I knew I couldn't miss it. In the past year, I've gone-up to Garrison to see Carl do some Chekhov and direct some munchkins in It's a Wonderful Life. I've grown to quite love it up there, and saw a different part of town with Romeo and Juliet, which is staged outside on the grounds of Boscobel.

I don't think it gets much more beautiful than Boscobel. I was half-expecting Mr. Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility to show-up. If I had known it was going to be so fancy, I would have worn my fascinator hat headband. (No, I wouldn't have. But I do need excuse to wear that thing.)

It's just so pretty!  I worked on Broadway for several years...I know Broadway, I love Broadway...but being at a show like this one does something to me that even Broadway can't quite do.

This production was absolutely stunning, gorgeous and lyrical and just enough modernized (I recognized the Nurse's dresses from one of my favorite sites to shop for 1940's-style dresses), the perfect balance between Luhrman and Zeffirelli. The cast openly engaged with the audience, which I honestly haven't really seen much of outside of children's theatre, but it worked...moves like that can seem a bit hokey and like cheating, but it only added to the magical element of being in this tent and watching this story the world has not been able to get enough of for over four hundred years. 

The show uses pop music of the day, including a lovely acoustic version of Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody", sung by Juliet, accompanied by Romeo on guitar. (That song as been stuck in my head since. I've been singing it to myself as I walk-up the street instead of my usual Aida and Phantom medleys...I do all the voices, it makes my walks go by faster.)

They put together one stellar cast and I wish I could personally comment on all of them because even the "party guests" were stand-outs. Angela Janas is making her New York debut as Juliet, fresh from college, and gives an absolutely lovely (and adorable and funny when need be) performance. As for Carl's performance,  all I can say is, I KNEW that guy was a star from day one, and he's proved me quite right once again. (Leo WHO?)  Denise Corimer plays the Nurse a bit like Audrey from Little Shop playing the Nurse, and completely delighted the audience. Mercutio, Tybalt and Benvolio are played by Daniel Morgan Shelley, Charlie Francis Murphy and Drew Lewis in such a way that I didn't even miss the Sharks and the Jets. The rest of Romeo and Juliet's circle of family of friends all truly breath spectacular life into these characters which should have been played to death by now...but they haven't...and there's obviously a reason...because it's all just some of the most beautiful and clever writing ever done. (Seriously, that Will was one witty guy.) It's never going to get old, and it shouldn't.

I truly enjoyed my evening at Boscobel, and am recommending it to anybody who will listen. It's well-worth getting lost on the two "roundabouts" on the way-up.

Bravo to all...a truly gorgeous show.

Diana Rissetto

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