Bada Bing! Bada Boom! Is it possible that lightning has struck twice in one week in the world of Off Broadway Musical Theater? Apparently. On Sunday evening, the silly but socially relevant musical Emojiland opened Off Broadway at the Duke Theater. Last night, the equally giddy and soulful Romeo and Bernadette opened at the Mezzanine Theatre of A.R.T./New York Theatres space.
AMAS Musical Theater has put a spiffy new coat of paint on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet-They’ve also taken great liberties with the original source material. Purists will surely shake their heads in dismay. The rest of us, however, will be treated to two hours of delightful fun that is sure to leave us smiling.
The scene is not necessarily Verona. It’s more like 1960s Brooklyn where a community theater production of the famous tragedy is being staged. After the final death scene, we learn that there’s more to the story. Suddenly, past and present collide. 16th century lover Romeo (Nikita Burshteyn) finds himself chasing after Bernadette Penza (Anna Kostakis) , the daughter of a mob boss who he met centuries ago in the Italian city.
Book writer and lyricist Mark Saltzman has adapted his score from classic Italian melodies. Giordani, Rossini, and Bellini are all represented with tunes that blend traditional opera with doo-wop flair and a splash of Gilbert and Sullivan. For the most part, his score is performed with great finesse. Burshteyn has a wide range and is perfect as our leading man. Stage veteran Judy McLane is also a stand-out as mob-wife, Camille Penza.
Fabio Toblini and Joseph Shrope have designed some visually stunning and period appropriate costumes. AMAS has also tapped two of Broadway’s finest tech stalwarts, Set designer Walt Spangler and Lighting Designer Ken Billington. Both transform the malleable Mezzanine Theater into an eye-popping playground of joy.
Much of the fun in this tuner comes from the fact that Director Justin Ross Cohen, Saltzman, and this fine cast never take the show that seriously. The jokes are often corny and the camp barometer is high. Yet they all lean into it, creating a full-hearted valentine with pistols and passion.
While Broadway continues to crank out uninspired musicals based on middling movies from the eighties and nineties, let’s take a moment to praise the ingenuity and cleverness of an original idea—presented with flair by AMAS Musical Theatre.
Romeo and Bernadette runs through February 16th in the Mezzanine Theatre at A.R.T./NY Theatres (502 West 53rd Street between 10th and 11th, NYC). For tickets and info, click here.