I just got back from this evening's performance of Searching For Romeo, and I have to say...I was utterly charmed.
Searching For Romeo is a comedic backstory musical for the Bard's Romeo and Juliet...think of what Gregory Maguire/Stephen Schwartz's Wicked does for L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It's kind of like that. Our protagonist is high school student Roz, who has just been unceremoniously dumped by her jerky boyfriend Tony (potential West Side Story ref?). Her girlfriends try to pep her up at the start of English class, as does the Boy-Next-Door type fellow Perry. In the midst of a class reading of Romeo and Juliet, Roz finds herself transported to Verona. She has assumed the role of Romeo's jilted lover Rosaline; Jerk Boyfriend Tony is Romeo, Jerk Boyfriend's new girlfriend is Juliet, and Boy-Next-Door Perry is Paris. Roz's English teacher, her friends, and classmates fill a variety of roles including Friar Laurence, Mercutio, Tybalt, the Nurse, and Lady Avare (Paris's scheming rich mother). Despite frantically searching for Romeo at the Capulet's party, she keeps running into and finds herself strangely attracted to Juliet's recent fiance Paris. Needless to say, hijinks ensue all around the play's famous scenes as we follow Roz/Rosaline and Paris, hoping that they will get a happy ending as opposed to the star-crossed lovers' tale of woe.
On the whole, this show (Book, Music and Lyrics by Brian Sutton) worked very well. The music was retro-poppy, toe-tapping, and delightful. I found myself humming a good number of the tunes as I walked out the door, particularly "Give Me Love" and "Come and Get Me, Here I Am." (I would personally love to add some of Roz's songs to my book, so I'm hoping this show grabs some investors for its post-NYMF life.) The book was cheeky with tons of Shakespeare and musical theatre references as well as moments that undermine musical theatre's conventions. Roz, more than once, stops Paris from breaking into song, and it's funny pretty much every time. There were a few rough moments in the show's structure mainly in the second act...Roz's trial scene (before the songs start) could use a little smoothing out. But, as I said, it all worked very well for the most part.
Justine Magnusson (Roz) gave a wonderful performance. The songs put her belt/mix on display for all to be wowed, and her balanced, likable portrayal of the protagonist struck a good balance in the midst of a vaudevillian, hyperbolic supporting cast.
MAJOR props go to Dan Drew, who assumed the other main role of Paris on opening night. Director Laura Josepher gave a curtain announcement that the Paris's original actor Zal Owen fell hospital-worthy sick the day of the first performance. Drew originally worked as Assistant to the Director. He gave a strong performance despite needing script in hand. It was clear that he knew the songs cold though, and that's what impressed me the most. Despite the score's poppy feel, there were some tricky melodic moments and harmonies interlaced throughout, and Drew nailed them.
I had mixed reactions to the performances by Natalie Newman and Sam Tebaldi, who played Lady Avare and Juliet, respectively. Newman has an impressive set of pipes on her (talk about "Whoa" in "Thankless Child"), and both are clearly very talented. For much of the first act, though, I was hoping for a few more timbre changes in their dialogue. It very well could have been director's choice for their voices. Tebaldi, as Juliet, is supposed to be ditzy and over-the-top. Newman's dialogue delivery reminded me quite a bit of Ashley Clements' portrayal of Catherine de Bourgh in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries...but that's just me being my random self.
With regards to other performances, Greg Horton's performance of the Friar was extremely funny. He had great comedic timing, especially with lines that put an irreverent twist on Shakespeare's originals. Josh Tolle was totally the guy you love to hate as Jerky Boyfriend Tony and Romeo. I also loved Sean Mcintyre when his bass range was wonderfully displayed in "I Hate Love/I Love Hate."
One of best things about the show is that, in all its cheekiness and irreverence, it makes you think twice about the love stories that we tend to revere. By deconstructing the epic/tragic/foolish love of Romeo and Juliet, Searching for Romeo suggests that, perhaps, that sort of story shouldn't be our ideal. Perhaps you should look for a partner who may (on first look) be a bit "ordinary" but who will love and respect you.
There's only one show remaining (tomorrow, July 13 at noon). I highly recommend you hit it up if you are free. This really is a charming show.
(Pearl Theatre Company, Student Rush - $11.50, General Admission)