BWW Reviews: New Line Theatre Rocks with Hilarious Production of TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA
Though Shakespeare's first play, Two Gentlemen of Verona, is ungainly and raw at times, many of the devices and plot mechanisms that will soon become the playwright's stock in trade are present in its text. As such, it remains a crude example of an early work by a master still fine tuning his craft. In Galt MacDermot (music), John Guarre (lyrics) and Mel Shapiro's (who polished and "corrected" the Bard's book) 1971 musical adaptation it becomes a light-hearted and enjoyable introduction to his work, full of the same pluck and irreverence that distinguished MacDermot's Hair, but fully capable of standing on its own merit too. New Line Theatre and director Scott Miller's current production of Two Gentlemen of Verona not only rocks, but it's hilarious as well, aided greatly by the spectacular efforts of an enthusiastic cast and a crack band. I honestly can't recall when I've ever witnessed an audience laugh at and enjoy Shakespeare more; the resident "Bad Boy of Musical Theatre" has come through again.
Proteus and Valentine have grown up together in Verona, but Valentine has his sights set on bigger things and heads for Milan, much to the dismay of Proteus, who'd rather stay behind and lust after the lovely Julia. But their night of passion is discovered by Julia's father and he sends Proteus packing off to Milan as well. While in Milan, Valentine has become smitten with Silvia, who's betrothed to the slimy Thurio, but who truly pines for Eglamour who's been sent off to fight by her father, the Duke. To further confuse the issue, Proteus is in love with Silvia too, and decides to reveal Valentine's plan to the Duke in order to win his favor and her hand. Naturally Julia, who's pregnancy is beginning to show noticeably, arrives in Milan to check up on Proteus, but disguises herself as a man. In the end things work out about as well as you would expect, this not being one of Shakespeare's tragedies, after all.
Zachary Allen Farmer (who's a bright spot in every production I've seen him in) delivers another amazing performance as Proteus, completely comically capable and always vocally assured. His game, but clumsily executed footwork during the act one showstopper (and closer) "Calla Lilly Lady", is endearingly charming. His work alone makes this show must-see viewing, however the rest of the cast is equally up to task.
Eeyan Richardson's soulful voice imbues Valentine with a true sense of the hopelessly romantic, and Taylor Pietz is beguiling and bewitching as the much sought-after Silvia. Jeanitta Perkins adds sass as the jilted and very pregnant Julia, and Terrie Carolan adds considerable spunk as her perky lady-in-waiting, Lucetta. Aaron Allen is especially dynamic and flexible in his portrayal of Thurio, with "Thurio's Samba" turning into the terpsichorean highlight of the second act.
Joel Hackbarth and Mike Dowdy amuse greatly as Launce and Speed, respectively, both appearing as servants to Proteus and Valentine, as well as cupids who crop up from time to time to spread a little love and set the plot in motion. Michael Jones does nice work as Eglamour, and makes the most of his eponymous tune, "Eglamour", with an especially sweet-voiced approach. Tom Conway delivers a broad performance as the Duke, and Kimi Short, Mara Bollini, Rahamses Galvan, Emily Ivy and Michelle Sauer are excellent in support, providing sturdy vocals for the ensemble numbers.
I really love the way director/music director Scott Miller makes the most of each comic moment, not milking it, but mining it for the richest results. This cast works hard and seems focused and attentive throughout. Robin Michelle Berger's choreography enlivens the proceedings while bringing in a little bit of the "Age of Aquarius" that it demands. Thom Crain's costumes are luridly colorful fits for the era. Todd Schaefer's set is also filled with splashes of color that springs from the floor to the walls in a multi-level design that neatly accommodates the locales portrayed. Christopher Waller's lighting scheme makes the most of each comic and dramatic moment with smooth shifts in mood.