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Jun 19 2022
Romeo Must Vie: A Review Of ROMEO & BERNADETTE Comments (0)

Boyculture 2022 ROMEO & BERNADETTE Production Photo 20In the Brooklyn heights (Images by Russ Rowland)

You may think enough already with all the shows inspired by Romeo and Juliet, but that would mean you haven't seen Mark Saltzman's Romeo & Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona & Brooklyn, directed and choreographed by Justin Ross Cohen.

So let's make room for one more.

Boyculture 2022 ROMEO & BERNADETTE Production Photo 5Looking a bit Romeo & Romeo here

This West 42nd Street story (just extended for five weeks at Theater 555 at 555 W. 42nd St.) is spun by a horny high schooler (Michael Notardonato) in 1960 who's trying to get the college girl he's talked into a date (Ari Raskin) out of the funk she's in Boyculture 2022 ROMEO & BERNADETTE Production Photo 10after they take in a local production of Romeo & Juliet. Thinking she'd find him cultchahed for taking her to a play, he winds up scrambling to make it after — spoiler alert — Romeo and Juliet (Nikita Burshteyn and Anna Kostakis) don't make it. His only hope is to lighten the mood.

So begins his tale of what really happened to Romeo, who, come to find out, wasn't really dead, just asleep for 400 years. He wakes up in time to fall for a descendant of Juliet, the fair — but sailor-mouthed — Bernadette (also Kostakis), a mafia princess vacationing in Verona with her don dad (Carlos Lopez) and her aspirational mom (Judy McLane), the latter of whom has dragged the family to her ancestors' homeland as an escape from the nasty business that colors their lives back in Brooklyn.

The love story of Romeo and his Bernadette involves his hilariously earnest, anachronistic attempts to vie for her love, to convince her they're soulmates who belong together, even as she prepares for her imminent wedding to villainous mobster wannabe Tito (Zach Schanne), who has none of Romeo's romance, even if he's got hair and a body to die for. Maybe literally, if she's not careful, which is why she travels with a bodyguard who goes by Lips (Viet Vo).

Along the way, Romeo is assisted by Bernadette's father's mortal enemy, Don Del Canto (Michael Marotta) and his well-intentioned son Dino (Notardonato again), whose life he's saved, setting himself up for disappointment when Bernadette and her family discover their already unlikely love is as star-crossed as the love Romeo lost 400 years before.

The show is a lighthearted romance, but is never played as broadly as its plot would suggest, instead following the lead of Burshteyn's adorable Romeo, whose unselfconsciously cute, throwback speech and gestures call to mind Tom Hanks in Big. It's Romeo's job to charm Juliet and Burshteyn's job to charm the audience without descending into Tony n' Tina's Wedding-style farce.

Missions: accomplished.

Boyculture 2022 ROMEO & BERNADETTE Production Photo 12When even your second choice has those arms.

The cast is uniformly strong. Notardonato is note-perfect in his character's echo of Fabian and other '60s crooners, Schanne rips through “To Be Tito Titone” as adeptly as he then rips through his T-shirt and Kostakis makes for a more than pleasing Bernadette, one who sings like Connie Francis but exhibits the feistiness of Rita Moreno's Anita.

It must be mentioned that as engaging as the songs are — all based on classic Italian melodies — the quality of the singing is what elevates the entire production from a smile to a cheer, including operatic precision from Burshteyn, McLane and Marotta, in particular. When Burshteyn sang “When He Looked at Me That Way,” there wasn't a dry ... let's go with eye ... in the house.

Boyculture 2022 ROMEO & BERNADETTE Production Photo 8Hello, Muddah

McLane's part and performance are the show's secret weapons, in that her Camille's pretensions are at first amusingly eye-rolling, but develop into a touching insight into who she is, and into who she hopes her family can be.

Special kudos to Troy Valjean Rucker, who appears in a half dozen roles, expertly milking laughs as a maniacal, Martha Graham-trained dance instructor in one of the show's most bizarrely funny sequences,  then ably dialing it back and blending in as a priest. That's right — he blends.

Romeo & Bernadette is a joy-filled show, perhaps because the book and the songs suggest it was created with a genuine love for Shakespeare and for musical theater, but for sure because its actors expertly escort the audience via their own thrill for performing the material.


Boyculture 2022 ROMEO & BERNADETTE Production Photo 13Flower power

P.S. And if you're wondering if there's anything gay about this show since the review's on Boy Culture, I direct you to Rucker's Flip Wilson drag as jaded wedding planner Roz and his GBF (gay best florist), not to mention the fact that the guys doth teach the torches to burn bright. Real. Bright.

Tickets for Romeo & Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona & Brooklyn available here.