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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The Tempest -A Musical Adaptation
New Yorkers who partook of this free event got not only the "spirit" of the New York community but a large slice of the community itself! The groups making cameo appearances include (Take a deep breath, readers, as each group deserves mention and kudos): Children's Aid Society, Dream Yard, Fortune Society, Brownsville Recreation Center, Domestic Workers United, Ballet Tech, the CalPuli Mexican Dance Company, Generation X, Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Ensemble, Middle Church Jerriese Johnson Gospel Choir, New York City Taxi Workers Alliance, Raya Brass Band, and Stephen Duncan (he who creates those fabulous super-sized bubbles).
This Tempest dished up a kaleidoscope of talent that represents multi-races, religions, and social backgrounds across the city. With The Tempest's major themes including vengeance, forgiveness, and redemption, Shakespeare's late romance resonated strongly with all.
Though the community was at the heart of the event, there's also some Broadway stardust and theatrical savvy on board with six professional actors: Norm Lewis inhabited the magus Prospero. Laura Benanti materialized as Goddess, Almond winkingly played Ariel. Jeff Hiller and Jacob Ming-Trent teamed up, respectively, as clowns Trinculo and Stephano, and Carson Elrod dished out the curses and soot as island-native Caliban. The cast, at 200 strong was something to behold. The entire show hadthe authentic feel of a grass-roots theatrical experience.
Lewis' Prospero wasn't the only magician here. Director Lear Debessonet directed with much sleight-of-hand, fusing Shakespeare's text with Almond's music and lyrics. No stranger to developing large-scale shows (his Don Quixote in Philadelphia and The Odyssey in San Francisco were both well-received) his blocking of scenes is spot-on, striking a fine balance between a nearly bare stage and a fully populated one. He followed the Bard's narrative in broad strokes, dramatically punctuating its key scenes with musical numbers and dance interludes from the various troupes.
Instead of plumbing the psychological depths of characters and focusing on the dazzling rhetoric, Debessonet's version added a heaping portion of-to borrow a term from renowned Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt-"social energy." He was abetted by Matt Saunders's no-frills set, Paul Carey's scrumptious costumes, and Tyler Micoleau's clean lighting, and Chase Brock's sharp choreography, it works like a charm.
You gotta hand it to The Public Theater for continuing to find ways to launch new programs that forge meaningful connections between their institution and community partner organizations in all five boroughs. Indeed this show would make its founder Joseph Papp proud.