BWW Review: DRESS THE PART Is Super Fresh Hip Hop Musical “Ad-rap-tation” of Two Gentlemen of Verona
St. Louis is so lucky to have a Shakespeare Festival, yes? Aren't we also lucky to live in a city where an energetic audience comes out on a weeknight in the middle of an icy February to pack a house and watch characters originally created some 430+ years ago take their shots at first love? Teens and grandparents and everyone in between have been gathering at The Ready Room in The Grove to go back to high school at Verona College Prep, where our old friends Valentine and Proteus show up as high school football teammates, each keenly aware of the social constructs inherent in high school cliques.
The Q Brothers' Dress the Part--which was commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, premiered at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, and then was further developed here by Shakespeare Festival St Louis--and William Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona are plotted similarly. Proteus and Valentine--in a longtime bromance--are coming of age, expressing interest in girls, and going to great (and sometimes ridiculous) lengths to attract those girls. When Proteus, who loves Julia, falls for his buddy Valentine's new love interest Sylvia, Proteus risks losing both his relationship with Julia and his friendship with Valentine. All of The Bard's original story elements are here, but Composers/Directors Q Brothers' version is layered, arranged, mixed and mashed up like only expert DJs could do.
In GQ and JQ's Dress the Part, Julia is the smart but brooding art chick advised, of course, by her sassy bff Lucetta. Speed, the brilliant marching band flautist he is, is the object of Lucetta's hormonal desires. Sylvia is the sexy but goodie-goodie cheerleader whose criteria for a homecoming date are that he be: 1. smart, 2. smart, and 3. hot. Lance is the water boy for the football team, whose main mission is to recruit an assistant (yep, that's going to be Julia, who must fool everyone into thinking she's a guy). Proteus' father Antonio becomes Tony in this one, the flaccid-mustached redneck, who is afraid Proteus has turned into a "crunchy, commie Buddhist" for having the nerve to quit the team to pursue his artistic endeavors (ahem... Julia). The Duke presents as Coach Duke, that one coach you know only teaches history because they make him, and whose mixed metaphors make absolutely no sense at all. Even Lance's dog Crab has a prominent (offstage) role in this production as the school mascot (GO CRABS! a flier slapped across a locker reads. Another stealthily reads GOT CRABS?). Julia's ring makes its appearance as a lacy black bra, a hysterically over-the-top modernization. Handwritten notes are updated to be viral videos.
All of Shakespeare's freshly made-over 20+ characters, mind you, are played by just two outstanding actors-Jordan Moore and Garrett Young, with brilliant beats mixed by DJ Crim Dolla Cray, who gets in on the fun as well. Altogether it is a high-energy, hilarious 80 minutes of sharp, shrewd word play, not in strict iambic pentameter but in witty raps, making the material highly accessible and FUN. Both Moore and Young entertain with charmingly funny interactions and dazzling dance moves. They are a pair of master comedians, employing the use of physical humor and even a little improv, I suspect, as they power through a fast-paced evening packed with dazzling delight.
If you haven't read Two Gentlemen of Verona since high school, you might want to give the No Fear version a quick scan just so you catch all the wildly fast-flying jokes, but it's not at all necessary to review to enjoy this uproarious indulgence. Teachers! Hurry up and offer extra credit to your high schoolers for this weekend's final performances. This is exactly the kind of show we need to engage young audiences in both the classics and new forms.
The pacing of this magnificent thing will have your head spinning, while Sheila Laird's outrageous choreography, particularly during a number called "Strange" will crack you up and make you want to dance. The Ready Room is a refreshing venue for this show, with its stage along one wall and a full bar along the other. Margery and Peter Spack have designed an efficient Verona College Prep High School, with just a few lockers housing multiple costume changes. Christina Leinecke's admirable costume design turns modest bibs into comedy masterpieces, while Jesse Kulg's lighting and Rusty Wandall's sound design work in concert with the space and material giving a fun club appeal.
Grab your own Valentine this weekend and head on over to The Ready Room to have a good laugh at Shakespeare Festival St Louis' Dress the Part. This is some funny, funny (FUNNY) stuff. For tickets and more information, https://www.sfstl.com/dress-the-part/.