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Two Gentlemen of Verona

by Rich See

You can't love another without loving yourself...

Rodney Hicks (Valentine) and Ivan Hernandez (Proteus) in Irene Lewis' production of the MacDermot/Guare/Shapiro musical adaptation of Shakespeare's <I>Two Gentlemen of Verona</I.>  Photo by Richard Anderson.
R. Hicks and I. Hernandez (Photo: Richard Anderson)
High voltage, fun, and sassy! Baltimore's Centerstage creates a Latin-infused musical version of one of Shakespeare's early plays with their rock musical adaptation of Two Gentlemen of Verona. Adapted from the Bard's poetic writings by John Guare, Mel Shapiro, and Galt MacDermot, the musical first hit the streets (literally) in 1971 as part of the New York Shakespeare Festival's Mobile Theatre Project. Originally conceived to be a shortened version of the original -- with incidental music and occasional songs to help the audience follow the plot -- Two Gentlemen accidentally became a full-fledged musical, which eventually opened on Broadway and won the 1971 Tony Awards for best musical and best libretto. Its songs, music, and plot changes are still fresh, vibrant, and timeless. While its Vietnam era anti-war statement is a stark mirror to our current Iraq obsession and bloodshed.

How have Guare, Shapiro and MacDermot changed the Bard's story? With just a few simply alterations. Shakespeare's original is an ode to the fickleness and insanity that so often accompanies the young in love. The adaptors modernized this theme, eliminated a few characters, added some Spanish influences, brought the sex out into the open, created a pregnant Julia (to give more weight to her decision to take Proteus back), and put in an anti-war message in the form of the Duke of Milan. The end result is a 35 song musical that flows well and a story that engages and entertains. But it's set in Italy so why the Spanish influence? To keep with the whimsical farce aspect, Guare, Shapiro and MacDermot added a number of comedic points and since the original Julia was a Latina actress...

For those unfamiliar with the Two Gentlemen story line, here's a quick run through. Best friends Proteus and Valentine are young men, on the verge of adulthood, living in the rural, northern Italian town of Verona. While Proteus confesses that he is madly in love with Julia, Valentine professes that he wishes to become wealthy and powerful. Julia, meanwhile, is a local farm girl who is more interested in her fields than the boys who regularly profess their love for her. As Valentine chides Proteus on his weakness for the fair sex, Proteus writes an impassioned letter revealing his love to Julia. Valentine then sets off to make his fortune at the court of the Duke of Milan and Proteus' letter falls on deaf ears -- until the Vissi d'Amore (aka Cupid) shoots Julia with an arrow and she falls madly in love with the young Proteus. Once united, they swear their undying devotion to each other as Proteus is ordered by Antonio, his mobster-like father, to go to Milan and be of service to the Duke. When Julia's best friend Lucetta hears that Proteus has left town, she suggests to Julia that the two women don men's attire and follow Julia's lover to surprise him with the news that he is going to be a father. Once all have arrived in the metropolis of Milan, love becomes fickle as Valentine falls in love with Silvia (the Duke of Milan's daughter) while Silvia is in love with Eglamour (her lover who was sent off to the war). In the meantime, the Duke has sold Silvia off to the wealthy Thurio in order to finance his reelection campaign. Once Proteus sets eyes on Silvia, he falls for the lovely noblewoman and forgets Julia -- and his friendship to Valentine -- and begins to plot how to win the Duke's daughter. Poor pregnant Julia soon realizes that Proteus no longer loves her, yet becomes employed by him to assist in his attempts to woo Silvia. (She and Lucetta are still disguised as men.) The Duke drafts Valentine and -- just as he did with Eglamour -- sends the young man off to the war. Eglamour, now a suave commando, suddenly returns and frees Silvia from her tower prison and takes her deep into the forest. Enter a bear from stage left and madness ensues...

Director Irene Lewis has assembled a group of inspired designers and actors to create a joyous experience that's an ode to youthful love. She has infused Centerstage's Head Theatre with a raw energy that's equal parts Bard, Laugh-In, and Hair. The choreography is fun, the set is retro-mod, the costumes take their cues from across the "Me Decade." However, the play is firmly set in our own time period with references to Dell computers, Internet Cafes, cell phones and George W. Bush. This melding of yesterday and today becomes a wonderful campy farce that celebrates the silliness of love and the beauty of life, while remaining fresh and relevant.

Luis Perez' choreography melds seventies footwork into acrobatic pieces that at times include in-line skates, scaffolding, and forays into the audience's space. He's turned up the volume and the energy, so when the dancers move out into the audience, no one is sleeping. Scenic designer Christopher Barreca's color-filled staging is almost like an open set. Pieces move up, down, left and right. A portion of the orchestra floats around the stage, while mirrored cabinets become a forest, trap doors hand out potatoes, and metal stairs take on a variety of meanings. Cardboard clouds provide audience direction and primary colors abound with blues, greens, yellows, and pinks creating a very seventies feel.

Catherine Zuber's costumes run amuck in two distinct seventies time periods. In the Verona portions, aspects of the love child show up in free-flowing clothing -- flowery scarves, cowboy hats, ripped jeans, blowsy shirts, and peace signs. When the group arrives in Milan, the attire moves into Saturday Night Fever and Solid Gold dancer mode. Lighting designer Rui Rita goes for a very retro feel with blue and gold lights. as well as placing a long row of green/red/blue/yellow lights under the floating on-stage band that harken to seventies discotheques.

Within the large cast there are many standouts. Ivan Hernandez is suave and smooth as the villainous Proteus. His "Calla Lily Lady" number is a fun surprise that feels like it was taken from an old Julio Iglesias album. Rodney Hicks shines in the role of Valentine, especially on the song "Love's Revenge."

Filling in for Lisa Datz, Toni Trucks adds a bit of latina brassiness to her role as Julia. Her comedic timing is on the mark as she pieces together the torn up love letter from Proteus. Silvia's Angela Robinson creates an interesting mix of sex kitten and Jo Ann Worley-like comedic presence that works very well.

Miguel Andres Cervantes as both the cowardly Thurio and the in-line skating Vissi d'Amore is quite funny. Kirsten Wyatt shows off an amazing voice as Lucetta. Sidekicks and faithful servants, Robert Dorfman and Andy Paterson (Launce and Speed respectively) bring a slapstick essence to the musical.

In smaller roles, so we unfortunately do not get to see enough of them, are: Lenny Daniel (churning out huge laughs as the gymnastic and egotistical Eglamour), Howard Kaye (creating quite an impression as the white-suited Antonio), and Kingsley Leggs (the Duke of Milan, who pines about war -- with tongue firmly planted in cheek). Filling out the ensemble are: Elizabeth Broadhurst, Enrique Cruz DeJesus, Demond Green, Melissa Menezes, Karina Michaels, Heather Spore, Eric Burton, Jake Riggs, Benjamin Royer, Cora Sellers, and Johnathan Smith.

Together director Irene Lewis, her designers, and the entire cast have plumbed this frenetic script for every ounce of humor and zest! The entire theatre seems to be having a good time, especially the audience. This isn't your father's Shakespeare. Rock on Will!

Two Gentlemen of Verona
by William Shakespeare
adapted by John Guare and Mel Shapiro
Lyrics by John Guare
Music by Galt MacDermot
Directed by Irene Lewis
with Elizabeth Broadhurst, Miguel Andres Cervantes, Lenny Daniel, Lisa Datz, Enrique Cruz DeJesus, Robert Dorfman, Demond Green, Ivan Hernandez, Rodney Hicks, Howard Kaye, Kingsley Leggs, Melissa Menezes, Karina Michaels, Andy Paterson, Angela Robinson, Heather Spore, Toni Trucks, Kirsten Wyatt, Eric Burton, Jake Riggs, Benjamin Royer, Cora Sellers, Johnathan Smith
Choreographer: Luis Perez
Musical Director/Conductor/Arranger: Eric Svejcar
Scenic Design: Christopher Barreca
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: Rui Rita
Sound Design: David Budries
Dialect Consultant: Gillian Lane-Plescia
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Centerstage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore
Telephone: 410-332-0033
TUE - SAT @8, SAT - SUN @2, SUN @7:30; $10 - $65
Opening 02/11/04, closing 03/27/05
Reviewed by Rich See based on 03/02/05 performance
Musical Numbers
Act I

Love, Is That You?/Vissi d'Amore
Summer, Summer/Ensemble
I Love My Father/Ensemble
That's A Very Interesting Question/Proteus, Valentine
I'd Like To Be A Rose/Proteus, Valentine, Ensemble
Thou Hast Metamorphosed Me/Proteus
Symphony/Proteus, Ensemble
I Am Not Interested In Love/Julia
Love, Is That You? (Reprise)/Vissi d'Amore & His Assistant
Thou Hast Metamorphosed Me (Reprise)/Julia, Ensemble
What Does A Lover Pack?/Julia, Proteus, Launce, Ensemble
I Love My Father (Reprise)/Proteus, Launce
Two Gentlemen Of Verona/Julia, Lucetta, Women
Follow The Rainbow/Valentine, Speed, Proteus, Launce, Lucetta, Julia
Where's North?/Valentine, Speed, Duke, Ensemble
Bring All The Boys Back Home/Duke, Ensemble
Who Is Silvia?/Valentine, Silvia
Love's Revenge/Valentine
To Whom It May Concern Me/Sylvia, Valentine
Night Letter/Silvia, Valentine
Love's Revenge (Reprise)/Valentine, Proteus, Launce, Speed
Calla Lily Lady/Proteus

Act II

We Come From The Land Of Betrayal/Lucetta
Thurio's Samba/Thurio, Duke, Ensemble
Hot Lover/Launce, Speed
What A Nice Idea/Julia, Ensemble
Who Is Silvia? (Reprise)/Proteus, Ensemble
Love Me/Silvia, Ensemble
Eglamour/Silvia, Eglamour
Kidnapped/Duke, Thurio, Proteus, Julia, Lucetta, Ensemble
Eglamour (Reprise)/Eglamour, Silvia
What's A Nice Girl Like Her?/Proteus
Don't Have The Baby/Lucetta, Speed, Launce, Julia
Love Is That You? (Reprise)/Thurio, Lucetta
Milkmaid/Milkmaid, Launce
Finale/Love Has Driven Me Sane/Company
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