Can't get enough of cross-dressing in your musicals? Then A Naughty Knight is for you. The new musical, which opened last night at the Duke Theatre, has got plenty of it. Luckily, the show also has a fair amount of comedy and a few bouncy tunes to go along with it.
William Martin's book is loosely based on A Medieval Romance by Mark Twain and centers around the travails of Lady Constance. Constance, the daughter of Gerber, the brother to the King of Nottingnumb, dresses up as a man in order to take control of the King's throne. She meets the King's handsome servant, Jervis, and must fend off advances from his overeager daughter. Needless to say, mistaken identity, deceit, and even more transvestism are the order of the day.
Luckily, the direction (also by Martin) manages to keep most of these elements under check. The style of the production seems heavily influenced by commedia dell'arte, with a very simple but colorful set and costumes (both designed by Frank J. Boros), and outlandish - yet always entertaining - situations which are equally as strongly rooted in old-fashioned American musical comedy.
As such, the situations and characters are drawn in broad strokes - you may be able to see what's coming, but you might not know how. Though Martin's book generally handles its exposition cleanly and paces the rest of its story well, it tends to get off track during the second act, when it seems to have more story than it completely knows how to handle.
Chuck Strand's score, while attractive and fun, has a few more problems. Though he comes up with a large selection of numbers in a variety of styles, his songs do not always support the book evenly. The first number, "Lady Constance," which sets up the story, works very well, as do some of his character songs, especially late in the second act. Sometimes, though, his songs drive a point much further than it needs to go. Too many songs, though well integrated into the show, have a tendency to stop the show dead, or repeat what has already been covered in dialogue.
Regardless, the songs and scenes are performed well. Rebecca Kupka, as Lady Constance, has a lovely voice, and is capable of handling some of the more bizarre situations in the show with ease. Her love interest, Jervis (Christopher J. Hanke), uses his impressive singing range and sense of innocence to good effect. Rebecca Rich is quite funny as the Princess who unknowingly falls in love with Constance, and the three guards who function as the show's chorus (both Greek and singing), as played by Kurt Domoney, Paul Romero, and John Michael Coppola contribute significantly to the show.
As Constance's father, Mark Manley fails to make an impression for most of the show, making some of his character development hard to follow early on. When he is given more colorful opportunities in the second act, he rises to the occasion and becomes particularly entertaining. Gordon Joseph Weiss, as King Berger, has a tendency to overdo it, and frequently seems as if he is appearing in another play.
Though A Naughty Knight makes few new contributions to musical theatre or commedia dell'arte, it more than succeeds at providing laughs and a few good songs along the way. For this play, that's certainly more than enough.
The Jewish Repertory Theatre