Saturday, August 20, 2011

FRINGE: Ampersand: A Romeo & Juliet Story

Between Romeo and Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending, The Bardy Bunch, and the musical Ampersand: A Romeo & Juliet Story by Mariah MacCarthy, there is a lot of Romeo and Juliet going on at Fringe. Add in the somewhat disappointing Royal Shakespeare Company production I saw in July and you'd think I'd be all Romeo and Juliet'ed out. But I never mind revisiting the story when a production is done well or offers a fresh take.

MacCarthy's new spin is that Romeo and Juliet are two young women living in Verona, Iowa. Juliet (Brigitte Choura) is a rich beauty queen engaged to marry Paris (Nic Grelli) and Romeo (Lauren Hennessy) is a wannabe rock star. Their mothers (both played by men--Jeremy Michael Lagunas as Claire Capulet and Matt Welsh as Evelyn Montague) are running against each other for mayor. But the Capulet/Montague rivalry is deeper than that. When Romeo came out in high school (this Romeo and Juliet, at 21, are a little older than Shakespeare's characters), she received threats from Juliet's cousin Tybalt (Craig Hanson). The election is in full swing and Claire Capulet decides to throw a masquerade party. Romeo dresses like a man, hoping to woo college student Rosaline, but ends up dancing with the masked Juliet. By the time each realizes who the other is, it's too late--they've already fallen for each other.

The show works largely because of Hennessy and Choura and their fantastic chemistry. Both women draw you in completely in scenes together and apart. They are supported by a strong ensemble cast, especially Jordan Tierny as comic relief Mercutio and Hanson as frat boy Tybalt.

The other reason this show is so memorable is Brian Kirchner's rock-folk-pop-Lady Gaga hybrid score. The songs start off humorous ("Hey Bitch") and become haunting ("Star-Crossed Lover" performed by the choir Diana Oh, Julie Ek, and Lauren Weinberg). Kudos to Emily Rupp, who juggles guitar, ukele, flute, and vocals.

Ampersand does need some tightening. The two-and-a-half hour show could be shortened as some of the scenes feel extraneous or repetitive. For example, the scenes between Juliet and her grandfather (Anna Savant) are sweet, but don't add much and there is an argument with Juliet and Romeo that goes on for too long. Even with these quibbles, this musical has the strongest potential for life after Fringe that I've seen this year.

Final performance is Sat 27 @ 7:45.

Photo credit: Kacey Stamats

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