‘Romeo and Bernadette’ at A.R.T./New York Theatres

By Blaise Buckley on 24 January 2020
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“Romeo and Bernadette,” which opened last night at A.R.T./ New York Theatres, is an updated edition of a production that had its premiere at Miami’s Coconut Grove Theater in 2003.  With a hilarious book and memorable lyrics by Marc Saltzman, spot on direction by Justin Ross Cohen, and wonderful mid-century costumes by Fabio Toblini and Joseph Schrope, it’s a definite must see for musical theater lovers and Shakespeare fans alike.

The musical score, arranged by Steve Orich, integrates classic Italian melodies including songs by Italian composers such as Enrico Cannio and new songs using music by Gioachino Rossini and Rudolfo Falvo.

Walt Spangler designed the sparse but versatile set that shifts setting from Verona to a small community theatre in Brooklyn and to destinations that include Lundy’s, the famed seafood restaurant.

At the theater that is home, in 1960, to the Brooklyn Community Players, a young man (Michael Notardonato) takes a young girl (Ari Raskin) on a date to see “Romeo and Juliet.” After the show and his failed attempt to have her join him at his place, due to her being too upset about the play’s ending to acquiesce, he devises a plan to seduce her by concocting a rather fantastical sequel to the tale: what they had seen wasn’t the entire story. Thus is born “Romeo and Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona and Brooklyn.”

The endearing and hilarious story follows Romeo (Nikita Burshteyn) as he wakes up, in 1960 Verona, from what was a sleeping potion he took 500 years earlier. He comes across Bernadette, a Brooklyn mobster’s daughter, whom he believes to be Juliet, and follows her and her parents back to Brooklyn. There he learns of her true identity and discovers that she’s about to be married. He doesn’t give up, even though he’s adopted by a rival Italian mobster family.

The cast includes Broadway alumni as well as some making their NYC debuts such as Anna Kostakis, who won the audience over with her beautiful voice and comedic skills worthy of a theatre veteran. The same could be said for the three handsome leading men, Burshteyn, Notardonato, and Zach Schanne, who plays Tito Titone, Bernadette’s erstwhile fiancé.

Judy McLane, as Bernadette’s married-to-the-mob mother, Camille, gives a superb operatic performance as she professes her love for her family’s homeland of Verona while giving her daughter advice on how to be happily married to a crime boss.  Michael Marotta as Don Del Canto, head of the opposing crime family, adds old-world elegance to the performance.

The scene-stealing Troy Valjean Rucker had the audience in hysterics as he seemingly switched characters in almost every scene from a theater usher to an opera singer to a florist to a dance teacher.

Make no mistake: with “Romeo and Bernadette,” you’re getting a Broadway-quality production in an off-Broadway house for an off-Broadway price.

In a Broadway season that has so far only presented jukebox musicals, this was a real joy that calls to mind the golden age of Broadway, something few new shows are capable of doing anymore.

THE DETAILS

Romeo and Bernadette
A.R.T./New York Theatres
502 West 53rd Street
New York, N.Y. 10019
Running time: 2 hrs. 15 min.
www.amasmusical.org/

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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