Musical: “Two Gentlemen of Verona”
Group: New Line Theatre
Venue: Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
Dates: March 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26
Tickets: $10-$20; contact 314-534-1111 or www.metrotix.com
Story: Valentine longs to venture from his small-town home in Verona, Italy to see the big city of Milan, and urges his friend Proteus to join him. The latter refuses, however, because he loves Julia, even though he hasn’t told her yet. Valentine departs for Milan, where he falls in love with the Duke’s daughter, Silvia. Meanwhile, Proteus is ordered by his father to experience Milan as well, but before leaving unites with Julia, giving her a ring as expression of his love.
Once in Milan, Proteus also falls in love with Silvia, who is betrothed by her father against her will to the foppish nobleman Thurio. While Silvia is smitten with Valentine, Proteus conspires to have Valentine banished from Milan to win Silvia for himself. Silvia isn’t interested in Proteus, but Julia is. She arrives in Milan with her servant Lucetta, both disguised as young men, as she attempts to reunite with Proteus. When the fickle Proteus hires ‘Sebastian’ (Julia) to send a symbol of his love to Silvia, will love’s labor be lost for Julia? And will Valentine and Silvia find happiness together?
Highlights: Galt MacDermot, composer of the rock musical “Hair,” collaborated with playwright John Guare (“House of Blue Leaves,” “Six Degrees of Separation”) and director Mel Shapiro for a musical version of this early Shakespearean work that opened on Broadway in 1971 and garnered two Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Book, running for 614 performances. MacDermot contributed the music, Guare wrote the lyrics and Shapiro interjected modern references into The Bard’s uneven comedy, often suggested by scholars as his first play because of its numerous defects in plot and structure.
Like its subject material, this musical version of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” is flawed, most notably by a dreadful opening and closing number, “I Love My Father,” that features amazingly banal lyrics more wincingly childish than sophisticated. Despite the clumsy introduction and stumbling finale, this winsome work by MacDermot, Guare and Shapiro is a delightful romp that is much more than the sum of its parts. Scott Miller’s inspired version directed for New Line Theatre features an exuberant and engaging cast that thoroughly enjoys itself and infectiously spreads that fervor throughout its audience.
Other Info: A warning: Be prepared for some serious acts of thievery on stage, as Terrie Carolan steals virtually every scene in which she appears as Julia’s assistant Lucetta. Carolan is non-stop delightful, whether dancing fiercely impervious to actions elsewhere on stage or donning a ridiculous male disguise complete with handlebar mustache and long sideburns. Her energy both permeates and propels the entire production.
Miller, however, has surrounded her with a strong and amiable cast that keeps this goofy tale moving forward improbably and endearingly. Eeyan Richardson has a charming way as the romantic Valentine, while Zachary Allen Farmer stylishly conveys the oafish, meandering impulses of Proteus in suitably confused fashion.
Taylor Pietz portrays Silvia as a hip, sexy and vapid siren, and Aaron Allen delights as a seedy and cowardly Thurio, the kind of guy the brutish and blustery Duke could push around as a future son-in-law, at least as portrayed in the amusing, over-the-top performance by Tom Conway. Joel Hackbarth and Mike Dowdy are entertaining as the carefree servants, Launce and Speed, for Proteus and Valentine, respectively, while Jeanitta Perkins demonstrates her own splendid comic touch as the mistreated but loyal Julia. The festive ensemble includes Kimi Short, Mara Bollini, Rahamses Galvan, Emily Ivy and Michelle Sauer.
Miller is most adept at mining memorable nuggets from obscure or forgotten musicals, and “Gentlemen” is no exception. Despite a cumbersome list of numbers, pacing for this production is smooth and steady and suitably showcases the cast’s considerable talents. There’s an array of musical styles to please sundry tastes, from the Latin beat of the title tune to the jaunty rhythm of “To Whom It May Concern” to the festive bit, “What Does a Lover Pack?” to the rollicking highlight, “Where’s North?” None of it makes a lot of sense upon reflection, but most of it is consistently good fun.
Conductor Justin Smolik and his tight New Line Band get the most out of MacDermot’s funky little tunes, although they have a tendency to frequently overpower the singers. They’re comprised of guitarist Mike Bauer, bassist Dave Hall, percussionist Clancy Newell, trumpeter Cliff Phillips, Marc Strathman on reeds and Patrick Swan on trumpet and guitar.
Thom Crain adorns the players in a bright, splashy rainbow of colorful hues that are favorably illuminated with Christopher Waller’s lighting. Todd Schaefer’s scenic design cleverly mimics the psychedelic ‘70s, combining a pastiche base with Elizabethan stairs that also reflect the bright colors of MacDermot’s era, all supported by a backdrop that creatively alludes to the Milanese skyline. Robin Michelle Berger contributes the upbeat choreography, which adds to the show’s allure but also seems a bit confined on the cozy stage. Props manager Alison Helmer and specialty props designer Pat Edmonds provide the cuddly canine Crab to enhance Hackbarth’s amusing soliloquy.
“Two Gentlemen of Verona” also inspired another musical several years ago titled “Two Rockin’ Gents.” That show actually is a more enriching approach, but uses hit tunes from the ’50s and early ‘60s to tell its tale, while MacDermot composed original music for this version. With Miller’s flamboyant and spirited approach, though, it’s easy to sit back and enjoy these musical “Gentlemen.”
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.