Nobody could call this rock-ballet Romeo and Juliet a tragedy. Some might justifiably call it a travesty. I call it a lark – mostly. Tellingly, the only oldies featured here are Friar Laurence and the Nurse – no Lord and Lady Capulet or Montague – and this party-playlist version feels like something you could only get when the parents are away. It’s a sort of Romeo and Juliet: The High School Musical.
a highly athletic Disney princess with pointe shoes and Game of Thrones hair
Rasta Thomas headlines as company director but the choreography is by his wife, Adrienne Canterna, who also plays Juliet, and looks thrilled with the part, a kind of highly athletic Disney princess with pointe shoes and Game of Thrones hair. She falls somewhat implausibly in love with Preston Swovelin’s white-bread Romeo and, newly boyfriended, bounces round a bedroom back-projected with rosettes of unsheathed lipsticks and a pinkfest of heart-shaped balloons. Indeed, the lovers’ urgency to get married seems driven more by childish excitement at the idea (ooh, wedding!) than passion for each other.
Romeo’s happy-go-lucky sidekicks, a flop-haired Benvolio (Ivan Gomez) and a flamboyant Mercutio (Jarvis McKinley), look no match for the meaner gang of bad boy Tybalt (Ryan Carlson), who may be the smallest guy but has the hardest abs and the biggest sword. Eric Lehn’s Paris, by the way, is only interested in clothes.
The style is all high kicks, split jumps, somersaults and spins, choreographed in short-burst scenes and set to a bewildering montage of musical numbers: snippets of Vivaldi and Prokofiev intercut with Jay Z, the Police, Lady Gaga and the Righteous Brothers. The accompanying video backdrops have all the sequence of a YouTube shuffle: concrete jungle, fairytale castle, kung-fu academy, red-carpet gala, hippy beach party, the universe. Never mind stylistic continuity, dramatic depth or, to be honest, Romeo and Juliet, what you get are blasts of boisterous and sometimes infectious energy – blithe, mood-swingy, unpredictably effective and rather sweet, like youth itself.
Of course, once the plot turns to matters of murder, revenge and suicide, none of that works any more. It’s hard to take the anguish and flailings seriously when Mercutio milks his death scene to cartoonish effect (to be fair, Prokofiev’s music is asking for it here) and Paris looks as if he’s preparing for prom night.
Get past the sad loser stuff and you’re rewarded with an up-tempo death-march finale and a genuinely happy curtain call, which seems right, somehow.