Review: In "Romeo & Bernadette", it's off to Brooklyn for This Tale of Joy

Crisscrossing Brooklyn 1960 in search of his Juliet, Romeo Montague is still as charming, with his courteous manners and his embroidered...


Crisscrossing Brooklyn 1960 in search of his Juliet, Romeo Montague is still as charming, with his courteous manners and his embroidered speech so different from the local patois.

He didn’t die at the end of Shakespeare’s play after all; he was simply asleep for 400 years. In “Romeo and Bernadette“, Romeo (Nikita Burshteyn), Mark Saltzman’s sweet and spooky musical, wakes up in the modern fairground of Verona and sees a young woman who is the very image of his lost beloved.

She is not Juliette Capulet but rather Bernadette Penza (Anna Kostakis), a tough Italian-American on vacation with her parents. He pursues her, she rebuffs him, he threatens to jump off a bridge—still just as dramatic, our Romeo—and she stops him, agreeing that she is, in fact, Juliet. When she returns home to Brooklyn and her rogue fiancĂ© (Zach Schanne), Romeo follows her.

In this romantic fish-out-of-water fantasy, money and passports are no obstacle for a man from the 1500s, though some of Romeo’s old problems appear in 20th-century guises. His new best friend, Dino (Michael Notardonato), is the son of a mob don (Michael Marotta) – and all three get caught up in a run-in with another mob boss, Bernadette’s father (Carlos Lopez).

“Once again my love suffers in a war between two families!” Romeo laments, but this time he intends to find a happy resolution.

Directed and choreographed by Justin Ross Cohen at Theater 555 and presented by Eric Krebs in association with Amas Musical Theatre, this is a top notch production of a show that could easily tip over the edge of corny. He revels in cartoon gangsters and doesn’t care about the hip at all – unlike, say, “& Juliet“, the West End jukebox musical that imagines a different fate for the beloved of Romeo, or”Fatty hamSalvaging James Ijames’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “Hamlet” at the Public Theater, both of which have a much higher glamor quotient.

With “music adapted from classic Italian melodies”, as the program credits put it (most tunes are by Francesco Paolo Tosti; musical direction is by Aaron Gandy) and witty period costumes (by Joseph Shrope), “Romeo & Bernadette” feels affectionate, familiar, escapist: theater as joyous comfort food. The appeal of this – especially in this time of relentless headlines – should not be underestimated.

The only real problem in the works is the framing device. The musical begins during a Brooklyn Community Players performance of “Romeo and Juliet,” whose corpse-strewn ending leaves an English major (Ari Raskin) in tears and his uneducated date (Notardonato) worried that his chance to score with it is doomed. He therefore tells the story of “Romeo and Bernadette” as the story of the “real Romeo”. His inventiveness might seem more plausible and less explicit, if we hadn’t seen him barely paying attention to the piece.

Yet within the story he weaves, Burshteyn makes Romeo an absolute darling, with an ingenuity that parents swoon over. It’s no spoiler to say that Bernadette finally recognizes him as a softer version of a man than her abusive fiancĂ© will ever be.

The protean Troy Valjean Rucker stands out in several roles, including a florist who delivers a Shakespearean pun. Judy McLane brings depth to the role of Camille, Bernadette’s mother, who yearns for the glory of her distinguished ancestry and, in the series’ most realistic scene, warns her daughter of the danger of entering the mafia life. . The beautiful cast is rounded out by Viet Vo as Lips, the Penza’s bodyguard.

Street violence, men and boys killing each other – these things are part of “Romeo and Juliet”. But in ancient Verona, knives are the weapons of choice. “Romeo & Bernadette” isn’t “West Side Story,” with onstage carnage; there are no deaths, and kindness prevails. But there are guns and the sound of gunfire, that’s when you can feel the brutal reality creeping in.

Welcome to America, Romeo.

Romeo and Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona and Brooklyn
Through June 26 at Theater 555, Manhattan; romeoandbernadette.com. Operating time: 2 hours.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: In "Romeo & Bernadette", it's off to Brooklyn for This Tale of Joy
Review: In "Romeo & Bernadette", it's off to Brooklyn for This Tale of Joy
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