Two Gentlemen of Verona | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Two Gentlemen of Verona

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Two Gentlemen of Verona, at ImprovOlympic. Although it won a Tony in 1971, this rock-musical adaptation of Shakespeare's early comedy, about two hapless brothers in search of true love, hasn't been revived in 20 years. And with ample reason: John Guare, Mel Shapiro, and Galt MacDermot's bland musical is not only a relic of the Vietnam-free love era, it's riddled with problems. Though Guare and Shapiro preserve much of the original's broad humor and appealing bawdiness, their sloppy, fragmented adaptation, which draws heavily on Shakespeare, drains all the power and resonance from his clever dialogue. And none of MacDermot's 30 grossly underdeveloped musical numbers begins to approach even the weakest songs in his best-known work, Hair.

What's astonishing is how seriously director Frank Farrell and producer Rick Redondo take their own efforts. As if the musical's mix of Elizabethan English and hopelessly dated 70s hippie speak weren't ridiculous enough, Farrell and Redondo add a variety of gratuitous 90s references. Fortunately Ellyzabeth Stanke's dynamic choreography provides welcome relief from Farrell's flat, static staging. The ensemble, led by Christa Burke as Julia and Maura Pheney as Lucetta, are generally strong, and their energy and intensity help compensate for the script's gaping deficiencies. The real saving grace, however, is the festive finale, which includes acrobatics, break dancing, and an actress on a pogo stick. It's a joy, but the rest of the production would benefit greatly from a dose of irony. --Nick Green

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