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Two Gentlemen of Verona

Redemption in an Under-Achieving Effort

Two Gentlemen of Verona (the musical) Concert Performance
Shakespeare Theatre Company, Sidney Harman Hall, Washington, D.C.
Saturday, January 28, 2012, A–102&103 (front row, far right)
Directed by Amanda Dehnert; Musical Director, George Fulginiti-Shakar; Choreographer, Spencer Liff

STC launched “The Bard’s Broadway” this year to honor Shakespeare’s influence on the American musical by staging short-run concert performances of Rodgers and Hart’s The Boys From Syracuse and the 1971 Two Gentlemen of Verona adapted by John Guare and Mel Shapiro with lyrics by Guare and music by Galt MacDermot. These performances are not the full-length Broadway shows; rather, actors, with the band sharing the stage, sing and dance the songs and speak only enough lines to introduce the numbers. Because of the format and with only nine days of rehearsal, the actors carried their scripts and songbooks on stage.

I did not review The Boys of Syracuse on last fall because the STC presentation had no redeeming value whatsoever. Not quite the musical, not fully a concert, it was just a half-hearted musical revue with actors and singers, at least one of whom lost his place despite being on book. I’ve seen high school productions with higher professional standards, and it certainly was not worth the $65 ticket price. As we regularly see actors at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Va., with five days of rehearsal tackle obscure Renaissance texts and play them brilliantly without scripts in hand, I simply don’t buy the nine-day-rehearsal excuse. Stick to that reasoning and cut the ticket price to $10 and I might reconsider.

This second outing, Two Gentlemen of Verona, was better in many ways, starting with the material. I saw a student production of the full Tony-award-winning musical at the University of Missouri in 1979, and I still have fond memories of it after all these years. Furthermore, the players this time out were noticeably acting parts as opposed to just performing songs. Better acting also wrought higher standards; much of this cast was off-book, and Julia even flamboyantly dispensed with her script early in the show as part of her character. For those staying on script, they used that fact to fun up the anomalies in the original text, such as Eglamour’s uncharacteristic flight in the face of danger. After Valentine turned his girlfriend Sylvia over to best bud Proteus after catching him trying to rape her, the actors stopped in puzzlement, checked their scripts, saw that, indeed, that’s what the lines were, and so carried on. Another funny moment was Crab, a puppet carried by Danny Rutigliano as Launce, reading from the songbook when he joined in the choruses.

Another reason to review this production is that it bears discussing in the context of PJ Paparelli’s serious stab at Shakespeare’s original Two Gents that STC was staging simultaneously at the Lansburgh Theatre a few blocks away. We saw these two productions within four days of each other.

Guare, Shapiro, and MacDermot’s musical version left Shakespeare’s good parts intact and used musical conventions to rework the play’s loose ends and weird turns, all while infusing the whole with contemporary references (for example, the Duke as a Richard Nixon caricature). A musical highlight was the introduction of the most romantically named character in the Shakespeare canon, Eglamour (sounds more like an English Round Table knight than a Renaissance Milanese lord), who inexplicably shows up out of nowhere at Sylvia’s beck to spirit her away. In the musical, Sylvia early on refers to him as a long-lost love, but the context turns completely comic when he answers her call and reveals that his name is his chief charm. “It sounds so sweet and fair to hear me called by name,” sang Manu Narayan, dressed like a South American revolutionary, responding to Sylvia (Eleasha Gamble) rapturously singing “Eglamour” over and over. Narayan’s Eglamour seductively drew in a cigarette and prodded her on: “Once again, baby.” She happily obliged with another “Eglamour.”

A purely Shakespearean highlight came when Arielle Jacobs as Julia tore up Proteus’ note. In the musical, Julia is a Hispanic spitfire, even ranting in Spanish at one point. But after ripping apart Proteus’ love note in fury, Jacobs, piecing the shreds back together, spoke Julia’s soliloquy from Shakespeare’s play in ever-altering degrees of pouts and sighs, deftly navigating the speech’s serious implications with her comic turns. When she folded the scrap of paper so that Proteus’ name would join with her name, Julia grew so enraptured merely folding the paper she teetered toward R-rated territory.

If STC wants to explore The Bard’s impact on Broadway, these concert performances don’t do the mission justice. The Boys of Syracuse was poorly done, The Two Gentlemen of Verona was underdone. Give us the full musicals in their proper context, and bring back this Two Gents cast to perform them.

Eric Minton
February 1, 2012

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