Fools and Lovers
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 28, 2006
Fools and Lovers reminded me of those "mini-musicals" they used to do on '70s TV variety shows. The concept is to build a short musical comedy around a collection of songs, providing amusing and/or unexpected contexts as an excuse for the cast to sing a dozen socko standards. The Carol Burnett Show perfected the idea, and then the hipper Sonny & Cher Show fooled around with it—remember their classic sketch in which every line and song was from a TV commercial?
Moonwork, Inc., is giving the Bard essentially the same treatment here: adaptors Gregory Sherman and Gregory Wolfe have fashioned an hour-long story from what amounts to a Shakespeare cut-up/mash-up, and their collaborator Andrew Sherman has set a good deal of it to music. They are by no means the first to do this kind of thing with Shakespeare, nor will they be the last. They've taken a pretty haphazard approach to their work, by which I mean that some of the songs are straightforward renderings of famous items (such as Portia's "the quality of mercy" speech from The Merchant of Venice or Sonnet 129), while others are comprised of familiar snippets strung together in sometimes witty ways. And in at least one case they've bowdlerized a speech rather broadly, turning Hamlet's most notable soliloquy into a ripoff of Sondheim's "Getting Married Today" ("To be—or not to be...married").
Wolfe and the Messrs. Sherman don't stick to a coherent style or format, and as a result Fools and Lovers doesn't seem to have much purpose beyond its surface gimmickry. Certainly the story being told here is as slight as can be: Romeo is about to be married to Juliet; maid of honor Helena is in love with Demetrius (the best man), but he only has eyes for Helena, a vixen in red. Romeo's mom (who recites Polonius's "Neither a borrower nor a lender be" speech to her son just before the wedding) and Juliet's dad seem to share some history and, perhaps, a future. Adding complications are a klutzy photographer who's enamored of Helena and a statuesque caterer who makes a play for Hermia.
Wolfe is the show's director and unfortunately some of the elements he's brought together here undermine the project: Oana Botez-Ban's costumes are unflattering and appear to be poorly constructed; the set by Kanae Heike, though nicely detailed, doesn't actually make much sense spatially (where is Romeo supposed to be when he's sitting on the edge of the stage—isn't this a church?); and, though each of the performers gets a moment to showcase his or her particular talent as actor, singer, or dancer, none seems adept at doing all three of those things. David DelGrosso is the standout handling the Bard's verse, and he gets opportunities to do a number of famous speeches that he likely wouldn't get elsewhere. Rick Cekovsky (Romeo) has the loosest limbs, though he doesn't get to hoof as much as we'd like, while Lynn Lobban, as his mother, has the finest singing voice. James Wolfe clowns admirably as the photographer.
In the end, even at just under an hour Fools and Lovers, feels like an exercise. The fun of playing "place the reference" fizzles away pretty quickly;the novelty of hearing speeches either sung or spoken by someone you don't usually expect to speak them also only goes so far. According to its website, Moonwork carries out its mission by wedding 400-year-old plays to modern contexts, and they've built a substantial reputation doing contemporary versions of a number of Shakespeare's works in the past. Here, though, they've bumped up against a fairly creaky concept. I suspect that sticking with the plays that Shakespeare actually wrote will better serve their artistic vision.