The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings




Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants









Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Berkshires Review

Romeo and Juliet

A plague on both your houses --- Benvolio
Cranwell Resort

Emmy Rossum & Austin Lysy
Emmy Rossum & Austin Lysy
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
There were moments during the first act of the latest new take on Shakespeare's timeless romance when I found myself tempted to shout "a plague on Will Frears' vision of Romeo and Juliet as a funky Latin-tinged punk-rock fantasia." Of course, newfangled interpretations of any of Shakespeare's plays have become de rigueur and fun. And this one, despite a first act that is clearly a case of a director bent on putting his own stamp on a much done play does shape up in the second act when it stops working quite so hard to be trendy.

Frears' "vision" is a case of trying to blend something old (the basic text) with a decidedly new look aimed at stepping up the Bard's appeal to that much sought-after young audience. Thus he scuttles the Prologue and has a high decibel opening number from the Los Mercedes del Fuego four-member band and vocalist Lisa Birnbaum set the scene. The first act also features some animated dancing along with this propulsive music. But Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins can rest easy in their graves. Michael Friedman's music and Tracy Bersley's choreography are unlikely to eclipse West Side Story, that most inventive of all Romeo and Juliet adaptations.

In keeping with the punk rock flavor, costume designer Jenny Mannis has seen to it that the look of the large cast of characters (no major character excisions as in some updates) runs the style gamut -- from East Village chic (tatoos, tight jeans and biker gear, a Mohawk hairdo for one Verona lad and foppishness translated into cross-gender dress and necklace for another) to upper East Side modish suits and gowns for the senior Capulets and Montagues. Nothing very Latinesque about any of this.

Since Shakespeare wrote to entertain I have no problem with this sort of trendiness; that is, if there's a point to it and it's handled with consistency. One of my favorite and quite extreme new/old productions of this play was R&J in which Joe Calarco, who so ably directed Barrington Stage's Burnt Part Boys (review) earlier this season, had four boarding school boys play all the parts. But by the time we get to the intermission of this R&J even Mr. Frears has more or less abandoned his Emperor's Clothes concept. The band is gone and a the actors are allowed to focus on the words and characters -- and with more satisfying results.

Typical of the eye-on-the-box office movie star casting trend, Williamstown has cast Emmy Rossum, a nineteen-year-old film star as Juliet. Rossum is lovely to look at but listening to her speak some of the Bard's most poetic lines, especially during the famous balcony scene, is another matter. Her Romeo, Austin Lysy, is a more seasoned stage actor. However, the usually excellent actor fails to project the particular sex appeal of an attractive, street-smart older guy for an innocent girl hardly into her teens. In fact, he initially comes across as so disengaged that it's easier to believe that he's slightly drugged than passionately in love. Though I recall a pill popping Romeo and the punk rock aura would make it believable for Lysy's Romeo to actually be high on something, I don't think it was either the actor's or the director's intent to give that impression.

Fortunately for the audience, the second act does find Rossum becoming a bit more more assured and Lysy appearing high strictly on the Bard's beautiful language. This improvement applies even more to some of the older members of cast. Daniel Oreskes, a frequent Shakespearian, gets to dig into the role of the authoritarian Capulet and Enid Graham has some good moments as his Lady. Kristine Nielsen adds a nice earthy touch to the role of the Nurse and Bill Camp stands out as Friar Laurence. The Montagues (Sandra Shipley and Paul O'Brien) are unfortunately underwhelming throughout.

Of the non-equity cast, Greg Hildreth deserves a hand for his colorful Benvolio. But, with the exception of Oreskes, Camp and Nielsen, the play's undisputed star is fight director Rick Sordelet and the most entertaining scenes are the bloody, grunt and groan filled fight scenes that dispose of Mercutio (Benjamin Walker), Tybalt (Auberjonois) and Paris (Joe Plummer). Even here, however, Frears introduces guns and switchblade knives for the sake of a new look, but ultimately relies on good old-fashioned sword play to carry those big fight scenes.

Like the second WTF main stage production, Romeo and Juliet is handsomely staged. Takeshi Kata's two level set features a circular staircase that's something of a challenge to the actors having to navigate it at one side and that all-important balcony at the other. A bare raised platform accommodates a variety of scenes, from the musical opening to the double death scene and the Capulet and Montague families' reconciliation-- a scene which, no matter what one's quibbles about concept and uneven performances, is an indestructibly moving finale.

After this big cast production , the WTF main stage season concludes with a two-hander, Double Double, a collaboration of artistic director Roger Rees and Rick (The Jersey Boys) Elice.

For more quotations from this and other Shakespeare works and links to reviews of other Romeo and Julio productions, check out our Shakespeare Page.

Romeo and Juliet
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Directed by Will Frears
Cast (in order of appearance):
Sampson / Nyambi Nyambi
Gregory / Ian Unterman
Abraham/ David Ross
Balthasar / Zachary SpencerShornick
Benvolio / Greg Hildreth
Tybalt / Remy Auberjonois
Capulet / Daniel Oreskes
Montague / Paul O'Brien
Lady Montague / Sandra Shipley
Prince Escalus / Ron Cephas Jones
Romeo/ Austin Lysy
Paris / Joe Plummer
Peter & Page/ Ezra Miller
Lady Capulet / Enid Graham
Nurse / Kristine Nielsen
Juliet / Emmy Rossum
Mercutio / Benjamin Walker
Friar Lawrence / Bill Camp
Apothecary Corey Jones
Friar John / Daniel Mefford
Dancing Girls/ Jenny Gammello, Abby Marsh Guards / Ryan Andreas, Nick DeVita, Jon Neidich
Capulets / Chris Imbrosciano, Kareem Lucas, Kevin Reed, Dan Reiss, Zachary Sniderman, Stephen Stocking
Set Design: Takeshi Kata
Costume Design: Jenny Mannis
Lighting Designer: Matthew Richards
Sound Design: David Thomas
Choreographer: Tracy Bersley
Composer: Michael Friedman Fight Direction: Rick Sordelet Los Mercedes Del Fuego (band): Evita Estrella Mercedes-vocals / Lisa Birnbaum; Ramon Manuel Mercedes-guitar/ Joe Tippett; Manuel Ramon Mercedes -bass / Nick Delaney; El Guapo Mercedes-drums / Ryan Nearhoff; Bob Mercedes-trumpet/ Evan Enderl
Williamstown Theatre Festival Main Stage
August 2 to 13, 2006
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on August 3rd performance

deb and harry's wonderful things -  crafts .  yarns

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

Berkshire Hikes Book Cover
Berkshire Hikes &

The Berkshire Book

metaphors dictionary cover
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from