The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.1093  Friday, 15 December 2006

From: 		Al Magary <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
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 
Ephesian twins.

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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