BWW Review: Romeo Captures the Heart of Brooklyn in Saltzman's ROMEO & BERNADETTE
As great as Brooklyn is, rich in history and with an ever-growing population, there are few things that can bring excitement back into the soul of a tired Bensonhurst resident, stranded on a local N train to Midtown with little hope of making pre-show dinner with a friend on time.
Fortunately, one such thing that can bring the spark into such a Saturday night is a wonderful new musical called Romeo & Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona & Brooklyn, an hilarious continuation of Shakespeare's classic play that brings love-stricken Romeo to 1960's Brooklyn in search of his beloved. This Off-Broadway hit not only perfectly captures the essence of Brooklyn and creates a nostalgia of what was, it is a beautiful tale of what a man will do to win over his Juliet... even if that means stealing her away from another and potentially getting shot in the process. Italian mobsters, wild hand gestures and a talented cast had my friend and I (two Brooklyn-raised Italians) cackling from the stands, and will undoubtedly have the same effect on anyone who sees this production.
Now in performances at the A.R.T./New York Theaters, you can simply say "fuhgeddaboudit!" to any show you were thinking about seeing this week and allow Romeo & Bernadette to sing, dance and perhaps even throw some Italian charm into your life instead.
With a book and lyrics by Mark Saltzman, presented by Amas Musical Theatre (Donna Trinkoff, and in association with Eric Krebs), Romeo & Bernadette makes its Off-Broadway debut under the direction of Justin Ross Cohen. Turning traditional Italian melodies into songs that are the perfect mix of heartfelt ballads and slick Brooklyn confidence, Romeo & Bernadette is one of those rare shows that posits this brave, new idea to the world and then doesn't just simply follow through - it storms ahead with the foul-mouthed grace of a Brooklyn girl who knows no boundaries when it comes to getting what she wants.
To give Shakespeare's young Romeo, forever smitten with his fair Juliet, the chance to win her heart yet again is either the sweetest basis of a plot I've ever come across, or just the cleverest damn theatrical move ever. So saying, to describe Saltzman's show as something that simply "works" is a complete understatement - this musical is the perfect combination of love and laughs, simultaneously getting its fill of the Brooklyn Italian stereotype while paying its respects to this borough that is a world all its own. It's quite exciting to see a piece of theater fully take charge of itself, and Romeo & Bernadette is truly a model citizen of Off-Broadway productions.
To give an idea of what this show is about, we must turn to the end of Shakespeare's tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet, just as Juliet has stabbed herself after finding her Romeo dead beside her. What happens if this wasn't the true ending of the story though? If, as put forward by a 1960's Brooklyn highschooler to impress his date, Romeo mistakenly took the same concoction as Juliet, but such a great amount of it that he wakes up hundreds of years later in fair Verona? He then meets the spitting image of his dear Juliet, only this young woman is donned in a hot pink dress, recent purchases hung on each arm and a sense of entitlement stretched as high as her stilettos.
Romeo confronts her, but she is quick to dismiss this dashing yet seemingly confused man; after all, his outfit is a little behind the times. When Romeo hears she is meant to be wed in a few weeks' time, he follows her back home to the Penza family's home in Brooklyn and becomes involved in a true modern-day family feud. After he comes to the rescue of young Dino and becomes involved with the Del Canto family, they work together to find his beloved Juliet... not knowing that she is one in the same with the feisty Bernadette, crossing enemy lines. Romeo & Bernadette is a beautiful new musical about falling in love all over again, and about second chances to be had in Brooklyn...and all the comedy that goes with it.
I truly have to give this cast and crew tons of credit for how they pulled this production off. All the pieces fit into place with this musical: Romeo is at the perfect level of charming where Shakespearean verse gives way to Brooklyn "mother-freaking" vernacular and still sounds just right. Where Bernadette questions her life because deep down, she knows something isn't right with her tyrannical fiancé Tito; she finds solace in Romeo's persistence, and he in her foul-mouthed beauty that he will dress like someone out of Grease to impress. This musical is so utterly Brooklyn Italian, and how Verona and Brooklyn are meshed is simply amazing - it's almost moving.
So saying, I would love to give my greatest regards to all those involved with this production. Nikita Burshteyn, Anna Kostakis, Carlos Lopez, Michael Marotta, Judy McLane, Michael Notardonato, Ari Raskin, Troy Valjean Rucker, Zach Schanne and Viet Vo round out this wonderfully talented cast that put its all into every aspect of this musical. Joining them is a wonderful orchestra: Music Director/Keyboards 1 Aaron Gandy, Associate Music Director/Keyboards 2 Jason Loffredo, Simon Hutchins on woodwinds and Jon Berger on drums. Kudos must also go to Set Designer Walk Spangler, Costume Designers Fabio Toblini and Joseph Shrope (a stellar job on making those actors look the part), Lighting Designer Ken Billington, Sound Designer One Dream Sound, Choreographer Justin Ross Cohen, Music Supervision, Arrangements and Orchestrations by Steve Orich and Production Stage Manager Christine Viega.
So if you're looking for a worthwhile night of theater, please consider buying a ticket or two to Romeo & Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona & Brooklyn. Currently in performances at A.R.T./New York Theaters (502 West 53rd Street @ 10th Ave), performances began on January 14th and will continue for a limited five-week run thru February 16th. Tickets are priced $49-$69 and can be purchased online here or by calling (866) 811 - 4111. The performance schedule is as follows: Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays thru Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm/8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Running time is approximately two hours with one 10-minute intermission.