The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.1093 Friday, 15 December 2006
From: Al Magary <
Date: Friday, 15 Dec 2006 00:53:08 -0800
Subject: Review: Shakespeare to Vaudeville to Broadway
_* Theater Review*_
Shakespeare to Vaudeville to Broadway
* At Center Stage, 'The Boys from Syracuse' traces a line back through the
history of theater*
By J. Wynn Rousuck
Sun theater critic
Baltimore Sunday, December 14, 2006
William Shakespeare wrote plays for the masses. So if he were alive today,
chances are he'd be writing Broadway musicals.
Composer Richard Rodgers, lyricist Lorenz Hart and playwright/director
George Abbott blazed the way in 1938 with the first Broadway musical based
on a Shakespeare play. Abbott adapted the script for The Boys from
Syracuse from Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, and Rodgers and Hart filled
it with such gems as "Falling in Love With Love" and "This Can't Be Love."
Under David Schweizer's direction, the production at Center Stage feels as
if it's part vaudeville and part A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the
Forum. Though there are sparkling moments, there are also some bold
experiments that don't always work.
The resemblance to Forum and vaudeville is well-justified. Shakespeare
adapted The Comedy of Errors from an ancient Roman play by Plautus, whose
comedies were also liberally plundered for Forum. In turn, the vaudeville
element, devised by Abbott, was appropriate to the period when The Boys
premiered and would have been instantly familiar to the musical's first
Schweizer accentuates the vaudeville element by including acrobats,
puppets and a juggler, as well as chorus girls strolling across the stage
with placards announcing the scenes. In addition, punch lines are punched
up by drumrolls and cymbal clashes from the orchestra pit, where music
director Wayne Barker has created orchestrations that sound almost as
witty as Hart's lyrics.
Then Schweizer takes a leap that doesn't quite succeed. The Boys from
Syracuse is about two pairs of twins -- identical brothers with identical
names, Antipholus for the two masters and Dromio for their servants.
Separated from their brothers as infants, Antipholus and Dromio of
Syracuse arrive in Ephesus searching for their siblings, and much
confusion ensues as the Syracusans are repeatedly mistaken for their
It's intentionally silly, which may be why Schweizer felt he could take
the humor one step further. His two "identical" Antipholuses and two
Dromios couldn't look more different. Manu Narayan, who plays Antipholus
of Syracuse, is Indian-American; Paolo Montalban, Antipholus of Ephesus,
is Filipino-American; Michael Winther, Dromio of Syracuse, is white; and
Kevin R. Free, Dromio of Ephesus, is black.
Instead of the now-customary practice of colorblind casting in which
differences are treated as if they didn't exist, Schweizer emphasizes
them. The occasional reference to color becomes a heightened gag, and,
besides looking nothing like his brother, Free and Winther display
culturally disparate body language.
I wish I could say the multiracial casting adds to the comedy here. But
while everybody on stage may get the twins mixed up, the audience has no
trouble whatsoever. Instead of evoking laughter, the cases of mistaken
identity are more apt to evoke an audience response of "Duh?!"
There are many pleasures in Center Stage's production, however. Led by the
sterling soprano of Charlotte Cohn, who plays Antipholus of Ephesus'
frustrated wife, Rona Figueroa and Charlie Parker trill as delectably as
songbirds in "Sing for Your Supper." And as a Keystone Cop-style sergeant
who arrests Montalban's Antipholus of Ephesus, big-voiced Stephen
Valahovic (gallantly performing with his arm in a sling) turns "Come With
Me (to Jail)" into a showstopper. Dan Knechtges' jaunty choreography -- in
this number, three ensemble members become Montalban's perambulating
prison cot -- adds to the fun throughout the evening.
Perhaps influenced by a subsequent Shakespeare-Broadway musical, Kiss Me,
Kate, director Schweizer turns this production into a kind of
show-within-a-show. At the start, actors talk on cell phones or chat with
the audience, and stagehands make appearances between scenes. The idea is
in keeping with the self-consciousness of Abbott's vaudeville approach,
which includes an emcee character (Chris Wells, here given a song borrowed
from the 1940 movie version). But the show-within-a-show device isn't
developed sufficiently to have much impact. (The production also
inexplicably replaces one of the score's cleverest numbers, "He and She,"
with "Ev'ry Thing I've Got," from By Jupiter.)
Kiss Me, Kate was hardly the only Shakespeare-Broadway musical to follow
The Boys from Syracuse's lead. Among the others are West Side Story and
Two Gentlemen of Verona (produced by Center Stage two seasons ago). Though
The Boys is hardly the best of this bunch, it has its delights, and many
of these still shine at Center Stage.
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