– I would be remiss to not begin the “good” section by talking about Michael Kimmel. I am obsessed with Romeo and Juliet–Shakespeare in general, but really, Romeo and Juliet. I love it, so I am PICKY. Really picky. In my life, I have seen more productions of this show than I can count. The combination of Jeff Buckley’s music with this play was nothing short of genius. It is absolutely uncanny how well they fit together at certain points. A part of me wanted to make another bullet point here to praise Jeff’s music, but that’s not what it is. The music is great. His music has always BEEN great. Shakespeare’s language and story are great, no one has to tell you that–they’re classic for a reason, but in this show it’s really the combination of the two that brings the story to life in a brand new way. Every song is perfectly placed. I found myself absolutely SHOCKED at how well they matched in each scene. UGH. I am obsessed, so it’s going to be hard to write the rest of this review without just saying EVERYTHING IS AWESOME. However, after proclaiming my absolute love, devotion, and obsession right here, I am going to try to be as unbias as possible and review this show as I would any other. If I slip now and then, forgive me.
– At the top of the show, there is a lone voice, a man standing above the rest of the scene, rocking out. I heard his voice and gasped, because I knew it! Adam Cochran is one of my favorite voices ever. My first experience with him was seeing Hair at NYU many years ago. I thought, gosh, this guy is great, I bet he’s going to be big on Broadway some day! Well–he’s not, mostly because he went on to do a lot of experimental theatre. I have many times suggested that he go mainstream (via mutual friends), but not until now have I seen him in another fully realized production. If you ever have a chance to hear him sing, TAKE IT.
– If you don’t have to take a deep breath when thinking about Jay Armstrong Johnson, you’re doing it wrong. He’s a great Romeo for a million reasons, but we’ll start with his voice. From when he starts singing his first song (“Forget Her”) all the way through his last, I was captivated by him. I have had “Forget Her” and “All Flowers in Time” stuck in my head since I saw the show days ago. But it goes beyond that! People don’t realize how difficult Romeo is to act. It’s not a simple role, he goes through a million emotional ups and downs. He changes as a character half way through the show when (SPOILER ALERT) his best friend is killed and he commits a murder he never intended to commit. There is something about the timber and effortlessness of Jay’s voice that really tugs at your heart strings. He makes it very easy to fall head over heels in love with his Romeo. It also doesn’t hurt that his range is insane. The fact that he can pull off Jeff Buckley’s music the way he does it just…I can’t. Is this paragraph long enough yet?! Truly, Jay has always been good, I’ve never thought he wasn’t, but this isn’t just good, it’s otherworldly.
– I don’t have to tell you guys that Alex Timbers is a phenomenal director. It’s not as though he became a name in this industry by sitting around and doing nothing. No, he REALLY knows how to put a show together. When I see shows that have major problems, even if they’re actor based problems, I tend to blame the director. Usually because I wish they would smack their actors upside the head and tell them how bad they’re doing. In this production there is absolutely nothing Timbers could’ve done to make it better. It’s…it’s just everything.
– Off all the things I loved about Hale Appleman (Mercutio), it’s really his line readings that did it for me. They felt effortless, like he was born to live in a world where Shakespearean language is just another day at the beach. The words rolled off his tongue like nothing. On top of that, his choices were different. This isn’t the same Mercutio I’ve seen a hundred times over, it’s HALE APPLEMAN’S Mercutio. I loved that.
– I have to admit that I was insanely nervous about Talisa Friedman. I spent weeks wondering what her version of Juliet would be like. I was nervous for no reason. She’s a great new comer that we all need to look out for. She has a perfect blend of simple, realistic line readings which make her feel like the teenager she is supposed to be, but also she has the quiet sophistication that Shakespeare requires of Juliet by giving her the ideas he gives her. She also has a great look for this “rock” version of the show.
– KRIS. F-ING. KUKUL. His arrangements of Jeff’s songs will win him a Tony if this ever gets to Broadway. The way he re-orchestrated these solo songs to be sung by multiple voices is just perfection. I want his arrangements on my iPod right now. If this show isn’t given a cast recording there is something wrong in our world.
– I just happen to love Wallace Smith. Loved seeing him on stage again, so he goes here despite having a role much smaller than I would’ve liked.
– Christopher Barreca’s scenic design is just beautiful. It’s everything you could ever hope from a reimagined Romeo and Juliet set. I love it, but it did scare me a little when I could see pieces moving. Just a note lol
– Again, I absolutely loved Jennifer Moeller’s costume design. It just worked SO well. It felt like there was nothing else you could ever see them wearing.
– My favorite thing about every thing in this production is just how seamless it was. It didn’t feel like anything was trying too hard. Not the music, not the set, not the updated costumes, not the samurai swords, nothing.
– It’s not in New York? I only got to see it once?
– I actually didn’t like the changes they made to Lady Montague and I also was not a fan of Nancy Snow Carr’s portrayal of her. She was just eh in my opinion. I didn’t hate her portrayal, but it felt out of place to me.
– I am having a really difficult time trying to figure out what section to put Brandon Gill (Benvolio) in. The confusion for me is that half the time I absolutely adored his portrayal of Romeo’s cousin/best friend. The other half of the time I just found myself wondering why on earth they didn’t cast Wallace Smith as Benvolio instead.
– Daniel Oreskes is another one that I went back and forth on. Sometimes his line readings were fabulous. Other times I didn’t buy him. I also wasn’t really a fan of the way his voice sounded on Jeff’s music. Perhaps he has a great voice outside of this, but I can’t tell.
– Some of the line changes/cuts took me off guard. I’m not saying this is bad. It was necessary. The show would be a million years long if they didn’t cut things to fit the songs in, and I WANT THE SONGS IN! But, I just happen to know the whole show by heart, so it really made my brain go “huh?!” a couple times. BUT. You probably won’t be bothered, so ignore this point.
Overall, wow. Can I see it again tomorrow? No wait, it’s 3000 miles away. This is depressing. Thank you to this whole team for putting together an outstanding production. I truly believe that this is the type of adaptation that both Shakespeare and Jeff could be proud of.