THE SECOND CITY'S ROMEO AND JULIET MUSICAL: THE PEOPLE VS. FRIAR LAURENCE, THE MAN WHO KILLED ROMEO AND JULIET, Second City, at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Writer-director Ron West's work with Second City was always sharp but not necessarily groundbreaking. But in The Second City's Romeo and Juliet Musical, written with Phil Swann, West displays some of the fearlessness that eluded him on the main stage. This bawdy revisionist take on Romeo and Juliet--bit player Friar Laurence gets framed for the murders of every Capulet and Montague in Verona--offers a master class on satire. And West makes a variety of subtle references to Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, and, during a lengthy roll call, nearly every major player in the Shakespeare canon.
MADtv cast members Keegan-Michael Key and Nicole Parker have fabulous chemistry as the star-crossed lovers, taking the characters to their natural extreme as two spoiled teenagers. Chicago expat Bruce Green, who pulls double duty as Juliet's handmaid and the beleaguered friar, gently coaxes laughs with his assured, wry performances. A dreadful deus ex machina saps momentum near the end, and West and Swann's uproarious score is referential to a fault. Still, the production's flaws are not fatal: West remains eager as ever to please, and he's gathered actors with the chops to back up his vision.