BWW Reviews: SING FOR YOUR SHAKESPEARE in Westport
Whether you love Shakespeare or would rather pass on his plays, you are in for a special surprise with Sing For Your Shakespeare, a world premiere musical revue at the Westport Country Playhouse. Co-conceived by Wayne Barker, Mark Lamos and Deborah Grace Winer, Sing For Your Shakespeare knocks your socks off.
It's been a trend in the past decade or so to promote Shakespeare as friendly and accessible instead of serious and elitist. Quite frankly, many of the theatre companies which do Shakespeare have been long on promise and short on delivery. Happily, that was not the case with Sing For Your Shakespeare. As a revue, there is no real book, but it is much more than just a tribute to Shakespeare or any composer or songwriter. It is an irresistible invitation to rediscover Shakespeare as it was meant to be - for everyone.
The revue is based on a successful concert at the 92nd Street Y called Brush Up Your Shakespeare, but it further transforms our views of the Bard. Yes, Shakespeare wrote the Queen's English, but he was all about entertaining the masses. In the 15th century, most people were illiterate, but they loved a good show, and Shakespeare could take any story plot, any poem or any historical event and turn it into something that resonates with people throughout the world to this day. Just as every generation rediscovers Shakespeare and fairy tales and comics, for that matter, every generation also rediscovers musical artists such as Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Frank Loesser and others. Each of these artists and more interpreted Shakespeare in popular song, jazz and parody, but Barker, Lamos and Winer made it all seem completely fresh and original. Who knew Shakespeare could be so viral?
Mark Lamos proved that he is a skillful director of musical theater as well as comedy and drama. The marvelous cast of six includes Karen Akers, Britney Coleman (who appeared in Brush Up Your Shakespeare), Darius de Haas, Stephen DeRosa, Constantine Germanacos and Laurie Wells. Akers's voice is still pretty amazing, but the rest of the ensemble is more than able to compete with this legend. Coleman and Wells are captivating performers with exceptional singing voices on stage or in a cabaret setting. It was a treat to see de Haas at the Westport Country Playhouse, this time dancing and singing. Previously, he played Feste gracefully in Twelfth Night in a wheelchair after he injured his Achilles tendon, but he moves and sings smoothly. DeRosa shines, especially in Frank Loesser's "Hamlet" and dressed up as Shakespeare in Richie Webb and David Cohen's hilarious "Shakespeare Song." Germanacos is a rising star. His sings beautifully. His recitation of "Sonnet 40" was utterly heart wrenching. And he's got charisma to spare.
Wayne Barker's music direction was simply brilliant with his choice of music. The show began with "Hey, Nonny, Nonny," a phrase that everyone remembers, but forgets its meaning. It was sung as Elizabethan "pop music" and then as jazz, kicking off the verve of the show. Straight readings and some education were interspersed between Broadway tunes and jazz numbers. This critic would have preferred "Shakespeare Song" to be performed right after the opening because of its wit and pithiness, grabbing the viewer by the throat with a cheeky mix of Shakespeare's quotes.
Kudos also to Dan Knechtges for the choreography, Riccardo Hernandez's two-part set, giving the audience a full view of the orchestra, and Robert Wierzel's exciting lighting design, complete with vivid colors five chandeliers. The sound could have been adjusted so that in parts it would be softer on the ears, but that should be simple.
The entire production is classy and stylish and audience members have already asked if a CD is available of Sing For Your Shakespeare. Wayne Barker, get thee to a studio stat! And please have this production on video and sell it to every high school and college. Students will be thrilled with Shakespeare once they see the numbers from this show. Somewhere in Heaven, Shakespeare is saying, "Finally! They totally get it!" and Sir Laurence Olivier is shaking his head, lamenting, "Why was I so stiff? What was I thinking?" Seriously, this show needs to be recorded for posterity. Sing For Your Shakespeare is ready to go to Broadway and beyond.
Cancel your vacation reservation if you must, but go see Sing For Your Shakespeare. Due to popular demand (and this is no cliché), the run has been extended until June 28. For tickets, call (888) 927-7529 or (203) 227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org. 25 Powers Court, Westport.