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A CurtainUp Review
Broadway and the Bard

If music be the food of love, play on . . . .— Orsino
len carou
Len Cariou (Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg
Shakespeare in the key of Broadway? That's Len Cariou's new solo show Broadway and the Bard at Theatre Row's Lion Theatre) just in time for Valentine's Day.

Conceived by Cariou, Barry Kleinbort (who also directs) and Mark Janas, it is a delicious confection of Shakespeare and Broadway songs, served a la Cariou. And, say what you will about this musical mash-up, Cariou gets an A for straddling Broadway and the Bard and discovering the common romantic ground between them.

Accompanied by Janas at the piano, Cariou looks completely at home on stage. You first see him spotlighted at center stage, dressed in a black loose-fitting shirt and pants, his ear cocked to the piano music, and his eyes gazing out over the audience. As the music fades, he launches into a trimmed-down version of Orsino's opening speech from Twelfth Night: "If music be the food of love, play on. . ." The familiar verse is put to excellent use here, anchoring the show and allowing Cariou to seamlessly segue into two Broadway songs: "Love, I Hear" from Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and "Falling In Love With Love" from Rodgers and Hart's The Boys from Syracuse. Both terrifically echo Shakespeare's original poetic impulse in Orsino's love-riff as they add instant Broadway sizzle to the show.

Cariou, best known as an actor who has distinguished himself on both stage and screen, is also a natural raconteur. While Broadway and the Bard is, first and foremost, about interweaving Shakespeare's verse with the Great American Songbook, Cariou has sharply seasoned it with tidbits of theater lore culled from his own personal history on Broadway, and beyond.

The immensely likable actor's back-stage stories include how this solo show took root. The idea ignited decades ago during his first Broadway season when he performed as Henry V at ANTA (now the August Wilson) and Applause at the Palace Theatre. He's not afraid to poke fun at himself with a recollection of his early castings (think spear-carrier) and "three or four different roles, which you never get to play—except at understudy rehearsal." Also included in these recollections are big disappointments, like having the chance to play Macbeth at the Guthrie Theater suddenly fall through (He played Lear instead.) Cariou is anything but self-indulgent here. No boasting about the more storied aspects of his career that began at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, and led to the Great White Way.

Broadway and the Bard includes 14 Shakespeare selections and 25 musical numbers. At its best moments, it's a dynamic pas de deux. But not all of Shakespeare's verse can be shoehorned that easily into the iconic songs; for example, I had some difficulty, digesting Petruchio's he-that-knows-better-how to-tame-a shrew speech with the velvet –smooth tones of "How to Handle a Woman" from Lerner and Loewe's Camelot. However, Cariou's inventive pairings, if not always a perfect fit, clearly prove the remarkable elasticity of Shakespeare and the golden quality of Broadway songs.

It's understandable that Cariou, who has worked with Sondheim several times during his long career, copiously draws on the master's music and songs as a lens for Shakespeare's poetry. Though he doesn't reprise any of the razor-sharp songs from Sweeney Todd (Cariou won the 1979 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his turn as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street), he smartly uses the music from "A Barber and his Wife" to underscore his rendition of Prospero's ye-elves-of-hills speech from The Tempest. And, If that whets your appetite for Sondheim rhythms, Cariou serves up more of his music in "Fear No More" from The Frogs which we learn Sondheim took whole cloth from Act V of Cymbeline. This is a truly genuine "mating" of Shakespeare and Sondheim or, as Cariou aptly puts it: "The words are Will's. . . the music is unmistakably Steve's." And, when Cariou singsthe poignant dirge, he carves his own unique signature into it.

Cariou's voice is not as mellifluous as it was in years past, and he did need a line, or two, from Janas during Cole Porter's "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" from Kiss Me Kate, which wrapped up the show. However, Cariou more than makes up for this by his sheer charisma, stage presence the magic that can cast a powerful spell over an audience.

Broadway and the Bard, conceived by Len Cariou, Barry Kleinbort, and Mark Janas
Directed by Barry Kleinbort
Cast: Len Cariou.
 Sets:   Josh Iacovelli
Lighting and Sound:  Matt Berman
Stage Manager:  Karen Parlato
Music direction: Mark Janas
Amas Musical Theatre in association with Alan Siegel Entertainment
Theatre Row (at the Lion Theatre) at 410 West 42nd. Street. Tickets: $72.25. Phone 212/239-6200 or online at
From 1/31/16; opening 2/04/16; closing 3/06/16.
Tuesday @ 7pm; Wednesday through Saturday @ 8pm; Saturday matinees @ 2pm; Sunday matinees @ 3pm.
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 2/01/16
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