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Sunday, 06 March 2011 17:32

Gentlemen, start your engines!

Written by Steve Callahan
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Gentlemen, start your engines!

It's a happy romp! It's a silly, illogical, lovely tale! And it's a hit! It's New Line Theatre's immensely enjoyable new offering, the musical comedy version of Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Galt MacDermot, the composer, wrote the show in 1971—only four years after his smash hit, Hair. You'll sense musical similarities between the two shows. And Two Gents does have that gentle psychedelic/paisley/tie-dyed/bell-bottomed look to it. But now it seems so much less dated than Hair—less political, less intentionally shocking, less pretentious, and just more sheer fun.

Shakespeare's play is among his earliest and it's notoriously ill-made. Proteus and Valentine are best friends. Proteus loves Julia, but on an out of town trip he falls in love with Sylvia—who is the intended of his friend, Valentine. Proteus, the cad, betrays both his love for the faithful Julia and his friendship with Valentine. But in the end (though he really doesn't deserve it), he is forgiven all and the appropriate happy marriages occur

The New Line cast is uniformly fine. There simply isn't a weak spot. It's full of New Line veterans brimming with talent and with that special kind of family love that Scott Miller has magically fostered in his company over the years. They all perform with such joy and confidence and generosity of heart.

Zachary Farmer is capable of such variety. As Proteus he's vocally impressive and he's quite at home with all those lines from Shakespeare. Eeyan Richardson makes Valentine so "cool", yet earnest, and you'll love his ventures into gospel-infused blues. Jeanitta Perkins brings a tropical passion and intensity to Julia and Terrie Carolan, as her servant Lucetta, gives a bright and agile contrast. The scenes with them ludicrously disguised as men are achingly funny. Taylor Pietz makes a very sexy Sylvia, and can she ever dance!

Joel Hackbarth and Mike Dowdy are perfection as the servant clowns. Such a sense of comedy. And from time to time they flit on as two of the most precious, hilarious cupids you can imagine. Tom Conway has been absent from the New Line stage too long; he returns now to give us a very funny, very Nixon-esque Duke of Milan; he's the boisterous politician incarnate. And Aaron Allen gets a chance to flourish his many comic talents in a couple of roles. The supporting cast all deserve high praise: Kimi Short, Mara Bollini, Rahamses Galvan, Emily Ivy, Michelle Sauer and Michael Jones (such a dancer!)

The music covers a lovely spectrum: soft rock, pop, latin, blues, even calypso—and of course Broadway. It's mostly lively, lovely and listenable, and there's a comfortable, slightly nostalgic feel to it all. The band, under the direction of Justin Smolik, is excellent and it's beautifully balanced with the voices.

And the dancing! It's the best I've seen in a long while at New Line. Choreographer Robin Michelle Berger does wonders.

Set designer Todd Schaefer and costumer Thom Crain make this all a delightful comic, happy, Hippy world.

The show is far better structured than Shakespeare's original. It's not perfect; for instance, MacDermot and lyricist John Guare have made the finale the blandest number in the show. But as a whole package—the show, the cast, the band, the production values . . . it all makes New Line Theatre's Two Gentlemen of Verona the most purely enjoyable evening of theatre I've had in a long, long time.

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