Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: Lyric Opera's ROMEO AND JULIET Presents a Grand-scale, Classic Interpretation of Shakespeare's Eternal Love Story

Under the direction of Bartlett Sher (whose work is currently represented on Broadway with Lincoln Center Theater's revival of The King and I, Charles Gounod's 1867 French opera ROMEO AND JULIET comes to opulent, dramatic life--with the quality and grandiosity that characterize Lyric Opera's productions. This production of Gounod's opera--with libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré and which was first performed at the Lyric in 1981--retains the original Renaissance setting of Shakespeare's classic play and renders it larger-than-life. The inherently dramatic nature of the play makes it a fitting choice for an operatic adaptation--Romeo and Juliet's tragic love story becomes even more heightened when set to Gounod's decadent score.

The opening sequence finds an ensemble of dozens of singers on-stage (many of whom seldom occupy the stage again), decked out in Catherine Zuber's elaborate and often period-authentic costumes, coming together to deliver the operatic version of Shakespeare's prologue as one large, looming chorus. This sets a dark tone for Sher's production from the outset, reminding audiences of the tragic outcome they likely already know well. And yet, in this moment, I hoped for just a bit more spark of creativity--the production's vision for ROMEO AND JULIET hems very closely to Shakespeare's original play. When Susanna Phillips as Juliet rushes onto the stage in a voluminous pink gown, though, we discover the most compelling reason to visit this ROMEO AND JULIET: Sher's cast is filled with impeccable voices. In her initial moments, Phillips soars in each and every one of Juliet's high notes with ease. And when Joseph Calleja as Romeo (at performances through March 8) joins her in their first duet, it's no less than pure joy to hear.

Phillips and Calleja are surrounded by equally talented vocalists. Marianne Crebassa's performance as Romeo's servant Stephano--her Act Three solo is both an auditory and comedic highlight. Crebassa's vocals are a delight to hear, and she has great comedic acting chops as well. As Juliet's nurse Gertrude, Deborah Nansteel also delivers a strong vocal performance. Jason Slayden as Tybalt, Takaoki Onishi as Count Paris, Philip Horst as Lord Capulet, Joshua Hopkins as Mercutio, and Christian Van Horn as Friar Lawrence are also vocal stand-outs in this production. Together, these performers all bring the dramatic tension in ROMEO AND JULIET to new heights with their vocal deliveries.

This operatic staging of ROMEO AND JULIET is filled with vocal mastery. The inevitable tragic end for the opera's central couple feels all the more tragic in the hands of the production's capable singers.

Lyric Opera's ROMEO AND JULIET runs through March 19. Tickets are $20-$369 and are available online at, by phone at 312.827.5600, or in-person at the Box Office at the Civic Opera House, 20 North Wacker Drive.

Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg

Related Articles View More Chicago Stories

From This Author - Rachel Weinberg

Chicago native Rachel Weinberg has been one of the most frequent contributing editors and critics for BroadwayWorld Chicago since joining the team in 2014. She is a marketing professional and works as... (read more about this author)

Review: IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE at Chicago Shakespeare Theater
July 5, 2022

What did our critic think of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE at Chicago Shakespeare Theater? Kellen Blair and Joe Kinosian’s IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE is campy musical theater fun that pays homage to the 1953 “B-movie” from which it’s adapted. In the vein of musicals like LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, Blair and Kinosian lean into the source material’s ability to delight and amuse with a take-home message that’s clear as day—but the earnestness of the material is what allows it all to be delivered with a wink.

Review: WHERE WE BELONG at Goodman Theatre
June 28, 2022

What did our critic think of WHERE WE BELONG at Goodman Theatre? Madeline Sayet proves herself to be a powerful and magnetic storyteller in her one-woman play WHERE WE BELONG. Sayet has structured her text so the story becomes more personal and poetic as it progresses, and under the direction of Mei Ann Teo, she delivers her testimony to the audience in a compelling and dynamic manner. 

Review: CHOIR BOY at Steppenwolf Theatre Company
June 27, 2022

What did our critic think?With direction by Kent Gash, Steppenwolf’s staging of CHOIR BOY hits all the right notes. Steppenwolf ensemble member Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play is is a heartwrenching and tuneful story about Pharus— a young gay Black man who relishes nothing more than his role as the choir lead at the prestigious Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys. Over the course of the play, Pharus navigates that classic adolescent tension between his desire to be fully himself and his wish to be accepted among his peers. McCraney’s script beautifully demonstrates this push-and-pull in a way that will universally resonate with audiences, but the story is also incredibly specific to Pharus and his classmates.

Review: LIFE AFTER at Goodman Theatre
June 23, 2022

Britta Johnson's LIFE AFTER is a deeply moving and creative new musical that beautifully probes the complexities of grief and the accompanying anxiety and unanswered questions it brings in its wake. See what our critic had to say. 

Review: CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE '90S MUSICAL at Kokandy Productions
June 20, 2022

What did our critic think? Kokandy Productions' staging of CRUEL INTENTIONS: THE '90S MUSICAL is a fun romp filled with '90s nostalgia and some banging vocals from director Adrian Abel Azevedo's ensemble.