2/17/2017

Disney's "Newsies": Hey, Youse Guys, Carpe Diem!

Kara Lindsay & The Cast of "Newsies"
(photo: Disney Theatrical Productions)
 
Extra, extra, read all about it! Stop whatever you're doing and go reserve tickets to one of the two remaining showings of the absolutely thrilling production of Newsies. Recent Fathom Events HD broadcasts of Broadway shows (the fabulous She Loves Me and surprisingly moving Allegiance) have given theater buffs hope for a secure future for this kind of hybrid. On a vastly superior level, Newsies, a collaboration from Fathom Events and Disney Theatrical Productions (hopefully the first of many such events) is a recorded-live musical right from the stage of the venerable Pantages Theater in Hollywood. Based on the 1992 Disney musical film about the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899, this 2011 live stage version premiered at Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey (where a stage version of Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame also premiered). It transferred to Broadway in 2012, where it was nominated for eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, and won two, for Score and for Choreography. That Broadway version ran for just over a thousand performances. It was a very unlikely concept for film or stage, written for the screen as it was by two theatrical neophytes, Bob Taudiker and Noni White, featuring a cast of kids in a period piece. Thanks to a star turn by relative newcomer Jeremy Jordan, a creative director in Jeff Calhoun, and the especially breathtaking genius of Choreographer Christopher Gattelli, this was astonishingly wonderful theater, an unqualified hit.


The Cast of "Newsies"
(photo: Disney Theatrical Productions)

Well, maybe a somewhat qualified hit, as the Book by Harvey Fierstein, as the “newsies” might put it, ain't poifect; occasionally somewhat sentimental and simplistic, but then, it is what it was. It begins up on a New York City tenement roof, as paperboy Jack Kelly (Jordan) sings to his disabled buddy (also a newsboy), Crutchie (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) that he hopes to leave New York someday for Santa Fe. Newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) announces he's upping the cost of newspapers to the “newsies”, forcing them to sell more papers just to get by. This rouses Jack to plan to rebel, but he's trying to avoid a run-in with the crooked Snyder (James Judy), who runs The Refuge, a juvenile jail from which Jack formerly escaped after being caught stealing food. Meanwhile, he's busy painting scenery for his friend performer Medda Larkin (a true Meadow Lark in Aisha De Haas), the proprietress of a vaudeville theater, but notices news reporter Katherine (the spunky Kara Lindsay) reviewing the show, and flirts with her, to no avail. Since Jack isn't comfortable with public speaking, fellow newsie Davey (Ben Fankhauser) rallies the troops to strike and Seize the Day. Crutchie is beaten, captured by Snyder, and sent to The Refuge. Jack, again on the tenement roof, feels guilty yet reprises his dream-of-escape anthem, Santa Fe.

Act II finds Kathryn cheering up the newsies with the front page article she wrote about their strike. They break into song imagining wealth (King of New York), and convince Jack to take the risk of freeing Crutchie. He confronts Pulitzer, who tells Jack he knows about his criminal record, but promises he will ensure Jack's safety from prosecution if he ends the strike, also revealing that he is Katherine's father. Meanwhile, Spot Conlon (Tommy Bracco), the head of the Brooklyn newsies, declares they're in support of Jack's newsies. Jack tries to get them to agree to a compromise by Pulitzer, but they turn their backs on him. He and Katherine declare their mutual trust and love (Something to Believe In), which convinces Jack to reveal Pulitzer's blackmail attempt. With the paper effectively shut down, Pulitzer ultimately agrees to buy back all the papers from the newsies at a profit for them, Crutchie is freed, The Refuge is shut down, and the strike is ended. Jack is offered a job by Pulitzer as a political cartoonist, initially turning down the offer and deciding finally to head for Santa Fe. When Katherine says wherever he goes she will go, he changes his mind, decides she may be in his future, and takes the job as cartoonist. The newsies declare they are now truly Kings of New York.


Kara Lindsay & Jeremy Jordan in "Newsies"
(photo: Disney Theatrical Productions)
 
This recorded-live production boasts five principal roles played by the folks who originated them on Broadway: Jack, Katherine, Crutchie, Spot Conlon, and Les (Ethan Steiner, in a terrific turn that belies his young age). As a matter of historical interest, Jordan, after seeing the original film version at age nine dreamed that he would someday play the role of Jack (now at the ripe old age of thirty-two); he also appeared as one of the leads in the musical Bonnie and Clyde, as well as Finding Neverland and the television series Smash. This production features a much augmented ensemble cast from the Broadway and National Touring Companies, making the Tony-winning Choreography by Gattelli better than ever, and that's saying a lot: the dancing on newsprint number has to be seen to be believed. The rousing score features Music by Alan Menken and Lyrics by Jack Feldman, with terrific creative team contributions including the Scenic Design by Tobin Ost, Costume Design by Jess Goldstein, Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter, Sound Design by Ken Travis, Original Projection Design by Sven Ortel with Projection Adaptation by Daniel Brodie, Music Direction by James Dodgson and Orchestrations by Danny Troob. It should be noted that the theatrical version added six songs never heard in the film version (which at first failed to catch fire, but became a cult hit on DVD); the present production also includes a touching song written for the National Tour, Letter from The Refuge, sung by the character of Crutchie, and Keenan-Bolger delivers it with tremendous heart. Mention should also be made of the performance by Fankhauser with his memorable voice. But, in the end, it's Jordan as Jack and the Choreographer Gattelli who make this production soar.

The story of Newsies is a timeless one. It has more energy and excitement than a dozen musicals, and seeing it up close and personal, with every line of dialogue clear as glass and every facial expression captured, makes this a must. By all means see it and you too will become a “fansie”, as its numerous followers self-describe their devotion. As the newsies themselves might put it, Carpe Diem. Hey, and that ain't even English, that there's Latin.

Fathom Events will repeat “Newsies” Sat. Feb.18th at 12:55pm & Weds. Feb.22nd at 7:00pm.



2/08/2017

PPAC's "Curious Incident": It All Adds Up

Adam Langdon in "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time"
(photo: Joan Marcus)

As its title suggests, the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time promises to be an unusual experience. What piques our curiosity is not just the strangeness of the title but the equally strange journey it suggests. Based on the popular 2003 novel by Mark Haddon, its West End premiere took place in 2012, subsequently brought to Broadway in 2014. It became the longest running Broadway play in the past decade, winning five Tony Awards including Best Play and Best Direction of a Play (for Marianne Elliott, who helmed the London version as well as this touring one). Light years ahead of any theatrical production with its technical brilliance (and no fewer than 373 lighting cues), here are a few stunning facts about just how complex and complicated those tech elements are in this National Touring Company. Starting with five tons of steel in the floor and walls, there are fourteen one-ton chain hoists for the lighting rigging and motor to accommodate thirty-one variations of stage heights and rakes. There are 234 sound cues, consisting of some 2,593 differing elements. Its use of six projectors produces ten and a half million pixels across the stage. The results are absolutely mesmerizing (especially a harrowing subway scene). It's no wonder that sound, lighting and set design all won 2013 Olivier Awards in London, and lighting and scenic design for the 2015 Tony Awards. In the present production, Scenic and Costume Design are by Bunny Christie, with Lighting Design by Paule Constable, Video Design by Finn Ross, and Sound Design by Ian Dickinson, all impeccable and all repeating their London contributions.

But technical achievements aside, what most distinguishes this theatrical treat is its amazingly involving storytelling, translated and transformed from page to stage by the playwright Simon Stephens. As they say about restaurants with dazzling design, you can't eat the d├ęcor. What you can take in and digest is the convoluted yet totally absorbing tale of a fifteen year old (presumably with autism or Aspergers Syndrome, but the play doesn't address diagnoses) who discovers the titular canine done in by a pitchfork and proceeds on a quest to solve the murder in true Holmes-ian fashion, appropriate since the title of the book and play reference a quote by the great fictional detective himself from Conan Doyle's short story Silver Blaze. But this is not a mystery in the deductive sense. What matters in the end is not the solution but the process of reasoning, primarily by Christopher John Francis Boone (Adam Langdon), and those with whom he intersects along the way, from his teacher Siobhan (Maria Elena Ramirez), to his father Ed (Gene Gillette) to a crucial discovery at the termination of his quest, Judy (Felicity Jones Latta). At some performances, given the demands of the role, Benjamin Wheelwright will play Christopher. But every member of this ensemble, including a dog (named Sandy) and a curious rat (named Toby), has been artfully chosen for maximum impact under Elliott's keen direction. The play also conveys a sense of humor, as when Christopher remarks that “the word 'metaphor' is a metaphor”, “acting is like lying”, or when the obvious is stated, “we're not exactly low maintenance, are we?”.

There is little one can describe that wouldn't negatively affect the unanticipated but real joy of discovery of the play's revelations, even for those familiar with the source novel. Nothing one has heard about its visual and auditory splendors could possibly prepare a theatergoer for the overall impact of this work. There were some sound difficulties related to the more intimate moments in the play being performed in such a large venue, but ultimately this is a mathematically ingenious piece that succeeds in presenting a multi-faceted, time-warping, mind-boggling and satisfying resolution. The level of astonishment is, well, immeasurable.

All for a piece that features the versatility of math. Go figure. As Christopher himself would no doubt put it: Q.E.D.

2/07/2017

New Rep's "Brecht on Brecht": Alien Nation

Matthew Stern (piano), Carla Martinez, Brad Daniel Peloquin, Jake Murphy, Christine Hamel
in "Brecht on Brecht"
(photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

The 1961 off-Broadway revue with music, Brecht on Brecht, translated and arranged by George Tabori, surely is ripe for a revival by New Rep's Artistic Director Jim Petosa. It's a worthy inclusion in its series of “Prophetic Portraits”, with its obvious resonance in today's political climate. Bertolt Brecht, pacifist playwright, poet and theatrical director renowned for his political and social activism, is also known for his body of work against oppression in all its guises. Thus this compilation couldn't have been more prophetic given the present pathetic state of the union. Brecht, who ultimately fled Hitler's regime, had developed in Berlin his concept of non-linear “Epic theater” that should alter an audience's consciousness about scientific, political, and social issues. It could now also be seen as epoch theater, that spoke then and continues to speak now. Ironically, he would subsequently flee America as well when the House Un-American Activities Committee evolved with its own brand of oppression, and returned back to Berlin in 1949 where he would found the Berliner Ensemble with his wife actress Helene Weigel. Much of his work forms the forbidding framework for Brecht on Brecht with some occasional music by his collaborators Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler.

For some idea of the parallel universes of two political administrations, Germany then and America now, consider the following excerpts: “from political ignorance is born...the worst thief of all, the bad politician, corrupted, and flunky of the national and multinational companies”; “things will improve for us...I don't ask when”; or “would it not be simpler if the government simply dissolved the people?”. He proposed some responses, illustrated here in excerpts from The Parable of the Burning House (“we should cultivate the art of non-tolerance”), Some Stories about Herr Kauner (“there is only one way to fight authority...outlive it”), To the Next Generation (“pay evil back with good...that is what wisdom is”) and Bad Times (“the revolt will be made by people who happen to be there”). There is also a (too-lengthy) scene from A Jewish Wife about saying goodbye to oblivious friends and family in which Brecht echoed a familiar Orwellian theme (from Animal Farm) that is particularly relevant today: “there are worthy people and less worthy people”. Equally chilling, from Arturo Ui: “If you could learn to look instead of gawking, you'd see the horror in the heart of farce...though the world stood up and stopped the bastard (Hitler), the bitch that bore him is in heat again”. And some solace in the Song of the Moldau: “the great won't stay great long; the small won't stay small...the night has twelve hours, then comes the day”.

It would have been easy (and disastrous) to present this piece with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge approach that would have diminished its power by overdoing the obvious. Wisely, Director Petosa and his cast of four have held true to Brecht's view that “art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it”, and his adjunct belief: “In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.” Brecht, as mentioned in the program notes for the revue, felt that illusion is successful when partial, meaning it becomes recognizable as an illusion and, by revealing the elements of the stage and keeping actors slightly removed from their characters, creates Verfremdungseffekt , usually translated as an alienation effect, but perhaps better as “distancing effect”. The audience would lose their perspective if they were to completely suspend belief in the theatre, hence this production's breaking of the fourth wall and in-your-face acknowledgment of needing more lighting for a scene. Brecht's work is nothing if not a didactic polemic, but it's a good deal more than that in the capable hands of the Mature Woman (Christine Hamel), Mature Man (Brad Daniel Peloquin), Young Woman (Carla Martinez) and Young Man (Jake Murphy). Each gets her or his turn to shine in the spotlight. As do the Music Direction and piano accompaniment by Matthew Stern, simple Scenic Design by Ryan Bates, appropriately tattered Costume Design by Alyssa Korol and striking Lighting Design by Bridget K. Doyle.

This production will challenge theatergoers, in refreshing their memories of past encounters with Brecht, with the stark realization that, as Santayana warned, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. One of the countless roles of theater is the motivation not to repeal and replace that which is artful, but to rejuvenate and restore it. Brecht on Brecht is a timely and timeless reminder of why theater exists and persists.

1/29/2017

Nora Theatre's "Intimate Exchanges": You've Gotta Have a Gimmick

Sarah Elizabeth Bedard & Jade Ziane in"Intimate Exchanges"
(photo: Nora Theatre)

Convoluted plots are what one expects in any work by Alan Ayckbourn, one of Britain's most prolific playwrights since the Bard of Avon, author of no fewer than 81 plays thus far. One also typically anticipates an ingenious gimmick, such as simultaneous plays performed in separate theaters (as with House and Garden). This is especially true of his Intimate Exchanges, now being presented by Nora Theatre at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, a play which was completed in 1983 (his twenty-ninth play), in which Ayckbourn tells several of eight major stories after a single opening scene, depending on how the audience votes. It's rather like the concept with “Mystery of Edwin Drood” and “Shear Madness”, but on steroids. The mind boggles at the possible permutations and combinations that are permuted and combined, something like thirty-one possible scenes, sixteen hours, with ten characters all played by one female and one male actor. In this production, the options are more limited (the audience gets to vote solely for the final scene) but are nonetheless challenging for the cast of two, who are Jade Ziane and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, Directed by Olivia D'Ambrosio at primarily breakneck speed. It's about how the smallest, seemingly insignificant and even careless choices we make each day can lead to unexpected disastrous consequences.

The two options being produced by Nora Theatre are the stories titled Celia, after Celia Teasdale (a rather horny upper class matron), and Sylvie, after Sylvie Bell (love the name?), her part-time “help”, a lower class lass with hidden aspirations. The remaining characters are male, consisting of Celia's tippling husband Toby (headmaster of Bilbury Lodge Preparatory School, where he and Celia live, with shades of Martha and George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), their randy handyman and gardener Lionel, and his wheelchair-bound father Joe, the former gardener and decidedly amateur poet (in an uncomfortably tremor-filled turn). Before the performance begins, a ghost light (now a symbol of resistance from the arts community) illuminates the playing area and Ziane, setting the stage, urges us to “sit forward”. There follows a two-hour production once described by an actor as “an orgy of drama”. And a quick-change buffet of drama it is, with both actors getting and giving a real workout. Bedard and Ziane both look totally unlike the first characters they play (the upper class Teasdales) when they change garb and gab for their other characters on the lower rungs of the social ladder. They are also more audible and believable as the cockney types than as the more polished ones who speak as though their mouths were full of marbles (which, on second thought, might be their point). Their work, under D'Ambrosio's direction, is mostly delightful even when the dialogue becomes fairly banal, surprising for Ayckbourn. Of the two offerings, Celia and Sylvie, the latter is by far the more involving, ahead of its time with a definite feminist bent, very appropriate for Nora Theatre and for these productions, with contributions by the several female creative team members. The Scenic Design by Anne Sherer is geared for whatever choices are made, as are the Costume Design by Chelsea Kerl, Lighting Design by John R. Malinowski and Sound Design by Nathan Leigh, all of them cleverly adaptable. Mention should be made of the prominent role of the Properties Coordinator, Esme Allen, not to be divulged here.

This is far from Ayckbourn's best work, but intriguing enough for a rewarding visit. The two plays are best seen together, though Sylvie, as noted above, is the better written one, suggesting her role of an Eliza Doolittle type as first looking through a letter box on a door, then having the door opened for her. These productions offer welcome diversion for what Artistic Director Lee Mikeska Gardner notes in the program, namely from the future as we ourselves face an uncertain political landscape. Sit forward, indeed.

1/28/2017

H & H's "Mozart & Haydn": The Shock of Recognition

Aisslinn Nosky and the Handel & Haydn Society Orchestra
(photo: Kat Waterman)

This weekend's performances by Boston's Handel and Haydn Society are aptly titled Mozart and Haydn, as they are just that, a program devoted to the two composers, with a concerto by Mozart bookended by works of Haydn. It was an appropriate choice on the occasion of Mozart's birthday, which was noted by concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky in pre-performance remarks, after entering the hallowed walls of Symphony Hall attired in a brightly colored period waistcoat to complement her shock of red hair so familiar to the company's avid following. It was an indication of the excitement to come, first with Artistic Director Harry Christophers' crisp conducting of Haydn's Symphony #26 (Lamentatione), later his very brief Overture in D minor and Symphony #86. In between, Nosky led the thirty-five piece orchestra in Mozart's Violin Concerto #3 in G major as she displayed her supremely virtuosic violin skills.

This company, the oldest continuously performing classical music ensemble in the United States, has been providing superb offerings since its inception in 1815, just over two centuries ago. This program was no exception. With the strings standing, as was often the custom in the eighteenth century, throughout the almost two hour performance, Christophers conducted the Lamentatione with the precision one has come to expect, highlighting the classical pattern of establishing an idea, then moving away from it, ultimately returning to it, revealing the basic principle that came to guide typical classical movements. It reflected the Holy Week chants with their tune from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, from its opening drama to the countermelody between oboe and violin, to the somber minuet with its odd and unexpected emphasis of the last of triple meters. It was a thoroughly apt introduction to the central piece of the evening, the Mozart concerto.

The Violin Concerto #3 in G major is a showpiece for any able violinist, but became a truly mezmerizing one in the hands of Nosky. The audience, already quite familiar with the extraordinary physicality in her role of concertmaster, was wowed by her simultaneous playing and leading of the orchestra by means of her body language and obvious delight in the piece. Nosky has become a true superstar indispensable with her growing recognition as a force of nature with which to be reckoned, for a company that remains a remarkable repository for the music of the era. Her playing, especially in the cadenzas, coupled with her energetic leadership, made this easily the musical highlight of the program. She is always a delight to watch, and here was an absolute joy to hear. Her “whole body power” (to borrow from the nomenclature of oriental martial arts), while standing, was exceptional and exhausting (for both performer and audience).

After intermission, Christophers returned to conduct the two remaining works by Haydn. The
Overture in D major, part of a now-lost longer work, was short and sweet, with its interplay between the lower strings and the violins especially evident, and several surprises for the audience along the way. This was followed by the Symphony #86, one of the six “Paris” symphonies by Haydn. As it segued from the placid to the powerful, with his clever use of pauses and rests, it proved a lively conclusion to a well-thought-out program.

There remains one more opportunity to experience this program, again at Symphony Hall on Sunday January 29th at 3pm. The pre-performance commentary by Teresa M. Neff is highly recommended. Go and enjoy them both.

The remainder of the current season includes:

Glories of the Italian Baroque
-February 10 & 12 at Jordan Hall

McGegan & Mozart
-March 3 & 5 at Symphony Hall

Monteverdi Vespers
-April 7 & 9 at Jordan Hall/Sanders Theatre

Handel's Semele
-May 5 & 7 at Symphony Hall

1/26/2017

"Trans Scripts: Part I, The Women": Transcendent?


The Cast of "Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women" at ART
(photo: Gretjen Helene Photography)

There's an old saying about the need not only to comfort the afflicted but to afflict the comfortable. One was reminded of this when confronted (if that's the correct term) with the play Trans Scripts Part I: The Women, now at American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge. The work, taken verbatim from interviews with transgender women all over the world by Paul Lucas (a theatrical producer with his first full-length play), has as its purpose emphasizing what we share in common, not the differences between us, thus lowering our level of discomfort with the subject. After encounters with more than seventy-five transgender people in six countries over five years, Lucas transcribes the narratives from seven of these stories, now transposed into dramatic monologues and transported to their US premiere at ART after their favorable reception at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Directed here by Jo Bonney (who directed Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2 and 3 at ART), they are performances of journeys that are completely transferable to the stage. Performances are also followed by moderated discussions with experts in this area.

The gender of the cast, (unidentified in the program as transgender or not), is not immediately apparent. They include Josephine (Marlo Bernier), Zakia (Matthew Hancock), Sandra (Eden Lane), Tatiana (Bianca Leigh), Luna (M J Rodriguez), Eden (Rebecca Root) and Dr. Violet (Jack Wetherall). From the very beginning until its close some ninety minutes later, one is reminded of the scene from A Chorus Line when characters share their backstories, but here in considerably more depth. Consider just a few examples. Tatiana, a 45 year old actress: “There is no simple, universal narrative, no pithy, three-line explanation...but why should there be?”. Or Zakia, a 38-year-old social worker and beauty contest contestant: “You don't see other women walking down the street with their hoo-hahs hanging out to prove they're women”. Or Sandra, a 65-year-old former garage mechanic: “It's a human experience that one has by breaking through the door of gender, a quest to rebuild yourself in the way that you should have been built”. Or Violet, a 74-year-old gynecologist: “How long have I been going with my transition? Ten years? My mother still calls me Victor. The old bugger”. Later, Violet adds that those who dis her are at the same time recognizing and speaking directly to her, in which she finds validation. The stories aren't pity parties, but affirmations, in various ways, of how strong, powerful and responsive these various characters have become. While each has an individual tale to tell, there is a commonality to what they all have come to transmit and to share with the audience. And what they have to say is not transient, it perseveres, even if not always transparent. They are more translucent, in that they tell just enough to enlighten us and withhold just enough to make us more eager to learn. All seven performers are extraordinary (though one of them could speak a bit more slowly so as not to lose some dialogue). Under Bonney's superb direction, the creative team's contributions include perfectly chosen Costume Design by Daniel Tyler Mathews, minimalist Scenic Design by Myung Hee Cho, fine Lighting Design by Lap Chi Chu, effective Composition and Sound Design by John Gromada and essential Wig Design by Rachel Padula Shufelt.

Fine theater at its best often introduces us to worlds about which we are fairly ignorant, and for this, we should always be grateful. In the current milieu of political fear and anxiety, one could find some solace in experiencing, however briefly, the life stories of these incredibly resilient human beings who are more like us than they are unlike us. Their shared diversity speaks volumes, urging us to spread new understanding. One is likely to find that this work, with its unique view into a little-known community, is indeed transfixing, transforming, and, yes, transcendent.

1/22/2017

Fathom Events' Met Opera's "Romeo & Juliet": Death Becomes Them

Diana Damrau & Vittorio Grigolo in "Romeo et Juliette"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)

Romeo et Juliette, presented by the Metropolitan Opera, is a work that is regaining popularity with audiences after a period of benign neglect. With music by Charles Gounod (generally considered his finest work) and a libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre, the 1867 opera's story follows fairly faithfully the familiar Shakespearean tale of the two titular lovers. It is best known for four duets for its principal singers as well as Juliette's waltz song Je veux vivre.

The brief Prologue, sung by The Metropolitan Opera Chorus, introduces the story of the perennial feud between the Capulet and Montague families in Verona (updated from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century). The first act then takes place at a masked ball at the Capulet Palace where Tybalt (tenor Diego Silva) awaits the arrival of his cousin Juliette (soprano Diana Damrau), telling her potential suitor Paris (bass-baritone David Crawford) he'll be overwhelmed by her beauty. She is led in by her father Capulet (bass-baritone Laurent Naouri). Soon after the dancing begins, Romeo (tenor Vittorio Grigolo), a member of the Montague family, enters with his friends Mercutio (baritone Elliot Madore) and Benvolio (tenor Tony Stevenson). Romeo and Juliette fall in love at first sight. Tybalt recognizes Romeo as he leaves, though masked, but is restrained by Capulet and his servant Gregorio (bass-baritone Jeongcheol Cha) from following him. Later, in the courtyard beneath Juliette's balcony, Romeo declares his love for Juliette who returns the fervor. After a brief interruption by her servants, they vow to marry. Still later, in the cell of Frere Laurent (bass Mikhail Petrenko), Romeo, Juliette and her nurse Gertrude (mezzo Diana Montague) are told by the good friar that he will marry them, in hopes of ending the family feud. Soon after, in the street, Stephano (mezzo Virginie Verrez), Romeo's page, sings a mocking song that results in a swordfight in which Tybalt first kills Mercutio, after which Romeo stabs Tybalt and is banished by the Duke of Verona (bass Oren Gradus). Some time later, Romeo and Juliette spend their secret wedding night together, and she forgives him for killing one of her family. After Romeo leaves to go into exile, Capulet informs Juliette that she is to marry Paris immediately. Desperate, she swallows a sleeping potion (given her by Frere Laurent) which will make her appear dead. Romeo arrives at the tomb of the Capulets and, believing his beloved dead, drinks poison. She awakens and, to join him forever, stabs herself, as they both die praying for forgiveness.

The Production by Bartlett Sher, first presented at Salzburg in 2008, is a very theatrical one, befitting Sher's Broadway experience (his recent “Fiddler on the Roof” ended its run just as this operatic version premiered). His pairing of the matinee-idol handsome Grigolo and lovely Damrau, with their undeniable chemistry, was a definite plus as they literally sang themselves to death with consummate lyricism. Also, as Sher noted in an intermission interview, they both move very well. Damrau was every inch a teenager with childlike gestures and activism, and Grigolo was pure athleticism as he scaled the walls to Juliette's balcony. The rest of the cast was equally fine, notably Naouri and Montague as the adults in the room. Madore did gnaw on the scenery a bit, but it's a role that pretty much forgives this sort of thing.

The score was impressively Conducted by Gianandrea Noseda (his first time with this work), with Scenic Design by Michael Yeargan, lovely Costume Design by Catherine Zuber, Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton (too often way too dark to see the chorus) and Choreography by Chase Brock, with Chorus Master Donald Palumbo leading the always dependable Met Opera Chorus. The HD Host was Ailyn Perez and HD Director was Gary Halvorson.

It was a grand night (or afternoon) for singing, even if (spoiler here) all doesn't end well.
 
Fathom Events Encore HD presentation on Wednesday January 25 at 6:30pm at a theater near you.