Sing for Your Shakespeare
Also see Fred's review of Love/Sick
Last year, New York City's 92nd Street Y, where Winer is artistic director, presented The Bard on Broadway which inspired the current Westport revue. With seven musicians situated behind the performing artists, the evening begins with that very famous line, "If music be the food of love, play on." The cabaret and/or ballroom setting, created by designer Riccardo Hernandez, includes verse from Shakespeare written upon a surrounding curtain, the theater archway, and elsewhere. In all, 27 numbers, ranging from familiar show tunes to lesser known songs to Shakespearean sonnets, are enacted with vivacity, warmth, and great enthusiasm.
"It Was a Lover and His Lass," finds Darius de Haas and Laurie Wells scat singing a bit. The recognizable "Falling in Love with Love" (from The Boys from Syracuse) is performed by cabaret star Karen Akers. Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers are sources for many of the selections and "Sing for Your Supper" benefits, as Akers and Wells join with Britney Coleman. Constantine Germanacos delivers "Sonnet 40" and this is a neat segue to "Sonnet to Hank Cinq," composed by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Those men also furnish "Star Crossed Lovers" which is followed by Frank Loesser's version of "Hamlet," with Stephen DeRosa leading the company. Next, de Haas and Germanacos perform "What a Piece of Work Is Man," and the full company is aboard for "Seven Ages of Man" drawn from The Bard's As You Like It.
Both The Tempest and The Taming of the Shrew come into play before the company, with choreographer Dan Knechtges' assistance, brings a charge with Cole Porter's "Too Darn Hot."
What would an evening, pivoting on Shakespeare's presence, be without West Side Story? Thus, we have a strong, suitable, lovely dose of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim through Germanacos' "Maria," Coleman/Germanacos with "Tonight," and the entire group performing "Somewhere." The performance concludes with, not a huge surprise, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" from Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate.
So, you, as a theatergoer, have had it with revues, huh? This one is delightfully different: the conceivers are top level creative artists who have collaborated intellectually, too. Bringing aboard poised, versatile actors who are adept with the language or musical theater, Shakespeare, and jazz encourages all to mix within a neatly seasoned musical stew. You can feel the energetic pulse and vibrancy of this company as they perform. The actors, physically, are dissimilar and this works to everyone's advantage.
Most people who attend a performance will come up with differing top ten or twelve lists if asked to designate favorites. Some might find humor within, for example, costumer's Candice Donnelly's get-up for actor Stephen DeRosa as an Elizabethan. Others will rightly appreciate the seven instrumentalists who accompany throughout; they are excellent.
Sing for Your Shakespeare is most fluent, innovative, and versatile. Its high degree of difficulty might very well be camouflaged. It has now been extended at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut, through June 28, 2014. For tickets, call (203) 227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.
- Fred Sokol