Monday, June 24, 2013

Romeo & Juliet

Romeo and Juliet, arguably Shakespeare's most seen, most popular play, is a sure crowd-pleaser. While it is not among my absolute favorite of Shakespeare's plays (it makes my second tier), you have to respect it as one of the upper echelon in the canon. Having seen the ASC Touring Troupe's version of Romeo and Juliet three years ago, I was looking forward to seeing how this version would differ. Jim Warren's version of Romeo and Juliet keeps it pretty traditional, with a somewhat Westside Story feel to shake things up a bit, but it's pretty well in line with the touring troupe version and most versions I have seen on stage.  The comedy and the dirtiness is played up more in this production than most I have seen- a welcome change for me.
Tracie Thomason as Juliet and Dylan Paul as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Michael Bailey.

The show features an emotional, powerful turn by Tracie Thomason as Juliet, in possibly her greatest performance on the Blackfriars stage. Her Romeo is played capably by the talented Dylan Paul. One big takeaway I had from the performance was an epic, nearly show-stealing performance by Alli Glenzer as Friar Lawrence. Glenzer portrays a conflicted, guilt-wracked Holy man, haunted by his bad deeds in aiding the star crossed lovers.

In other stand-out turns, Ben Curns' performance takes the role of the Nurse to a starring level. He is extremely convincing in the role and totally makes you forget the role is played by a man. Greg Phelps' is fantastic in the much favored role of Mercutio and John Harrell is at his best as the snide and sinister Prince of Cats, Tybalt. Chris Johnston's Benvolio is also a favorite of mine in this production.

The production is capped with outstanding costumes by Erin M. West. If you are a fan of R&J, the ASC,  or a Virginia high school student, you should definitely see this production.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Return to the Forbidden Planet

Benjamin Curns as Bosun Arras, Chris Johnston as Lt. Hotlix McShredalot, and Gregory Jon Phelps as Cookie in Return to the Forbidden Planet. Photo by Michael Bailey.
When I first heard that the ASC would be performing Return to the Forbidden Planet I thought the concept was kind of lame. Of course, anything the ASC does is worth seeing, so I was up for it. Also, with conversations I'd had with Ben Curns and others I was told this would be a popular and highly entertaining show. Such praise notwithstanding, I was unprepared for the riotous good time I had at both a dress rehearsal and the opening night performance (sitting on stage, adding to the rollicking trip that is this show). RUN, don't walk to Staunton to see this production-- it is one of the best two hours of entertainment you are likely to ever experience. 

Return to the Forbidden Planet was written in the mid-1980s by Bob Carlton. It is a jukebox musical based on Shakespeare's The Tempest and the 1956 film Forbidden Planet with some Star Trek and other SciFi movies thrown in. Many famous and not so famous lines from Shakespeare's plays also make an appearance.

Dylan Paul is magnificent in his performance as Captain Tempest- I am not exaggerating when I say this was a brilliant, if not perfect, bit of casting. His facial expressions, line delivery, physicality, audience interaction, and stage presence are amazing for this role. I've seen many great performances at the Blackfriars, and Paul's in this role ranks among the very top. 

Rene Thornton plays Prospero, a mad scientist, and he brings tremendous energy to the role. He shows off a great singing voice and plays well against Captain Tempest, the Science Officer (a great performance by Lee Fitzpatrick) and his innocent, if somewhat rebellious virginal daughter Miranda (a very convincing and entertaining Emily Brown). 

Other standout performances were turned in by Greg Phelps as the affable and lovesick Cookie; a roller skating robot named Ariel (the brilliant John Harrell), the all around good guy Bossun Arras (Ben Curns), and Chris Johnston who served as the musical director and played the role of Lt. Hotlix McShredalot. Special shout-outs should go to costume designer Erin M. West and dance choreographer Stephanie Holladay Earl.

I plan to see this production many times this year and already have several folks interested in seeing this as their first play at the Blackfriars.