Two Gentlemen of Verona (Shakespeare in Clark Park): The 70's Were Wild.
If you are a huge musical theatre nerd, and as obsessed with the Tony Awards as I am, there are certain shows that exist only in books and cast recordings. Such is the case for the 1972 Tony Winning Best Musical Two Gentlemen of Verona, a show that beat out two more frequently revived musicals (Follies and Grease) and is itself one of the least produced Tony Winners. The show, with music by Galt MacDermot, lyrics by John Guare, and a book by Guare and Mel Shapiro is firmly planted in the world of 1970's USA. The crew at Shakespeare in Clark Park try admirably to work with this in their concert production, but the script is a tough one to tackle.
Some Groovy Tunes
The music of this show is truly entrenched in the 1970s. It's interesting to note the musical styling, as well as the trends in musical theatre at that time to have several numbers of varying styles of music: there's disco, samba, traditional musical theatre, ballads, folksy hippie music, and anti-war music. The score feels a bit all over the place- with so many styles, there aren't many that feel well executed. However, there are some exceptions including: the absolute bop "Night Letter", the funny, whimsical "Pearls", the heartfelt ballad "Love's Revenge" and the striking "Land of Betrayal", to name a few. There are also a few songs that are so clearly written about very specific situations that were occurring when the show was written. This ultimately keeps the show trapped in a perpetual vibe of the 1970s. The score, at times felt a touch boring, which is a shame because of the talent that was assembled in this cast.
This show is extremely well cast, with all of the performers doing the most with a script that doesn't always support them. As Proteus and Valentine, Roberto Delgado and BRYANT respectively, serve as our shows protagonists. Both performers are instantly charming, have great chemistry with each other, and have wonderful voices. Delgado is dealt more of the patter song material, which he handles well, where BRYANT gets several big solos that truly showcase their dynamic vocals. Camille E. Young also shines as Sylvia, the woman who has stolen the hearts of several characters on stage. Her voice is clear, and precise, and she also seems to be having the most fun on the stage. The rest of the cast is pretty good as well, with not a weak singing voice in the cast, particular standouts include, Lexi Thammavong, Vanesa Gomez and Wyatt Flynn. There are varying levels of comfort with the Shakespearean text among the cast, but I chalk that up more to them having books in hand (it is a concert production after all) than any lack of skill.
A Not So Groovy Script
This particular adaptation is a bit of a struggle to get into. The script doesn't do a great job of really setting the scenes or introducing the characters and their various relationships. The brief interludes of Shakespeare's text don't really mesh well with the musical numbers, which leads to a bit of a sloppy feel. Director Shamus seems to understand the difficulty of the script and directs the performers to keep the energy up and moving, which is a bit jarring at first, but ultimately serves the material best. He directs in a way that allows the audience and performers to have fun, and with the help of choreographer Tiara Nock gives the audience some delightful, upbeat musical moments.
There is a choice towards the end of the show that is a strong departure from the scripted piece. While I understand the intention behind the choice, and think it works in this concert setting, I would be intrigued to see how they handle the situation in a full production. It does also raise the question of why produce this version at all; why not create your own version, since Shakespeare is public domain?
The technical aspects all support the script to the best of their abilities. The costumes by Anna Sorrentino and the sound design by Chris Sannino and Michael Morrongiello are standouts. The sound in particular is very crisp, and wonderfully executed in a large open air park. The costumes emit some classic 70's silhouettes without feeling too campy.
There is something wonderful about experiencing this show in a park, as the original production premiered as part of the Public Theatre's Shakespeare in the Park program. Another wonderful aspect of Shakespeare in Clark Park is that they do not charge a ticket price, which helps make this show accessible to all. There were many people there with picnic baskets and blankets, which helped bring the right ambiance for this show. Overall, this production is trying the most with a script that doesn't give them as much support. The cast is extremely talented and entertaining to watch, which make the evening worth it. The show, on the other hand, makes the case very clear as to why it is so rarely produced.
After watching this, I will forever be sitting with my #JusticeforFollies sign waiting for the boys downstairs.
Two Gentlemen of Verona runs as part of Shakespeare in Clark Park from now until July 30th, 2023.
Clark Park, 4398 Baltimore Ave, Philadelphia, PA.
Tickets are free, bring a blanket or chair!