Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Two Gentlemen of Verona
And so am I. My "man crush" on leading man Zachary Allen Farmer also continues unabated. Could he be the funniest actor/singer in the Midwest? Yes, he could. Should a show like this be on stage at the mammoth Municipal Opera, which seats about twenty times more people in its oceanic audience? Yes, it should. Because, except for the jazzy, delightful interracial couplings on stage (and the wry anti-war message delivered by Tom Conway as an LBJ-type Duke), these Gentlemen would delight even the sourest right-wing millionaire, in his sherbet-colored sport coats, sitting up front in the "legacy seats" at the giant outdoor theater in Forest Park.
So, it has a tiny bit of an edge, but it's the kind that cuts through our natural complacency to make its way gently and freshly into our hearts, with lovers like Mr. Farmer and the adorable Jeanitta Perkins. Eeyan Richardson co-stars as Valentine, singing one great R&B-style song after another, as he goes to Verona to find his own love in the form of the unattainable fashionista, played by Taylor Pietz (as the daughter of the Duke). Mr. Farmer (as Proteus) follows him to the big city and Ms. Perkins sneaks along behind, to keep an eye on her wandering lover, while elaborately dressed as a "gentleman." Her lady's maid (the great Terrie Carolan, in full "Elvis" sideburns) tags along, and complications ensue. But no matter the guise, the personalities of all the characters shine through magnificently. And (as always) the New Line cast and chorus sing beautifully throughout. In fact, with all the wit and vocal precision in evidence, this show could easily remind you of a hippie-style Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, more than of the sometimes archaic William Shakespeare.
In fact, the musical re-write happens to be from the gentleman who struck it big with the rock opera Hair, Galt MacDermot, here in collaboration with John Guare (The House of Blue Leaves, Six Degrees of Separation). So there's a wonderful, soulful majesty to the music, and charming banter throughout, courtesy of bookwriter Mel Shapiro, in collaboration with Mr. Shakespeare. And the Shakespeare that remains is well chosen and very much to the point, by modern standards. In one Elizabethan exchange, Ms. Perkins and Ms. Carolan have a wonderful dialog about the true nature and sincere display of love, which vouchsafes the playful wisdom of the Bard.
There is a "title song" in Two Gentlemen, sung by Ms. Perkins and Ms. Carolan, about how women suffer for not being men, and it's just one of many highlights in the score. That song also leads the two ladies into their cross-dressing adventure, piling delight upon delight in a show with lots of heart and almost no mean irony at all.
Aaron Allen is hilarious as the Duke's prospective son-in-law, before Valentine comes along, and the whole cast keeps all of their oars in the water with great comic, harmonic finesse. Joel Hackbarth occupies a mid-level role but sings and dances like a star, and works well with Mike Dowdy as prancing cupids and goofy manservants throughout.
A show that deserves full houses, and quite possibly a full revival in a few years.
Through March 26, 2011, at the Washington University South Campus theater, in the former CBC prep school at 6501 Clayton Rd., just east of Big Bend Blvd. A parking lot is just outside the theater entrance, on the building's west side, on the north side of Clayton. For more information visit them on-line at www.NewLineTheatre.com or call Metrotix at (314) 534-1111.