The Carolina Arts Festival and the Town of Cary will present a full staged concert version of A Musical Romeo and Juliet Sept. 16-18 at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre at Regency Park in Cary, NC. Based on an original idea by Broadway star Terrence Mann (the original Javert in Les Misérables and the original Beast in Beauty and the Beast), this brand-new rock-and-roll version of 16th century Elizabethan dramatist William Shakespeare's timeless tale of star-crossed lovers, caught in the middle of a vicious feud between their families, will feature a fresh new concept and adaptation by Matt Bennett and hard-rocking music by Jerome Korman and Terrence Mann.
Matt Bennett and Terrence Mann will co-direct a cast of more than 50 kids from 17 area high schools; and Ken Clifton will serve as the show's musical director.
"Some of the finest student performers in the area will be featured, including John Arthur Green and Noah Putterman," writes Lou Anne Crumpler of the Carolina Arts Festival.
Co-director Matt Bennett, writing in the third person in response to a series of questions from Robert's Reviews, described the evolution of A Musical Romeo and Juliet as follows:
"In 1996, while bored, sitting in a lugubrious tech rehearsal for Broadway's Getting Away with Murder, Terrence Mann had an idea for a musical. 'What if I musicalized Romeo and Juliet?' Considering he was working with Stephen Sondheim at the time, who collaborated on West Side Story, he was met with a certain, let's say, critical condescension. Terrence Mann is not easily bullied, and he had his mind made up. He wasn't going to change the story, he was just going to use Shakespeare's text and set it to rock-and-roll music. Simple. The story for all time, set to music of today.
"He quickly enlisted long-time friend Jerome Korman as his writing partner. Terry was a 'rocker' who could really write a good hook, but Jerry was the well-trained jazz musician who actually knew how to scribe where the fingers landed on the keys.
"By 1998 they had developed an incredibly exciting 'sketch' of the piece, and they were invited to the Goodspeed (a high profile regional theater in Connecticut) to workshop a production. They enlisted Christopher d'Amboise to choreograph the show, knowing his remarkable experience in the ballet and modern dance worlds would lend a decidedly unique element to the collaboration.
"Though the piece was far from finished, the workshop was a huge hit, with New Yorkers clamoring for tickets. Immediately, the team was invited to the Ordway in St. Paul, Minnesota. At that point, Terry recast a few roles including the central figure of the Friar. He asked writer/actor Matt Bennett to play the part. They had wanted to work together for many years, and this seemed like a great fit. It was.
"The show was wildly successful from a musical standpoint, but there were some conceptual questions to be answered, as well as some budget issues. Terrence had created a gigantic show. It was then that they turned to Matt for literary guidance. Bennett took it and ran. He disappeared for a few months to Italy (come on, the story takes place in Verona), where he developed the present concept, giving the story a decided focus, and pairing down the budget requirements by about 75 percent.
"A Musical Romeo and Juliet has been subsequently invited to numerous festivals and universities. It is, as Terrence had the foresight to envision, a fresh look at Shakespeare's timeless language, for audiences of all ages.
"The challenges associated with directing this particular production at the Carolina Arts Festival are centered around creating a staged concert. When Matt first walked in the door and met the sea of kids from the Raleigh area, he had no idea what they would be able to handle. He and Terrence had talked about not staging anything and utilizing some sort of narrator. Then they agreed to 'drop in' a few of the show's trademark style images, including the breathtaking 'swordless swordfight.' Well, these kids have been nothing short of astonishing, and they have taken every single direction they've been given and run.
"Now, it's a fully staged concert, complete with highly professional performances by your kids. Some you've seen on stage before; some you haven't.
"One of the critical aspects to putting this on its feet here has been the education one. It's been of great interest to the team to see what would happen when high school age kids try to tackle this difficult material, but it's of greater interest to educate them to the process of approaching it.
"As educators and parents, Terrence, Jerome, and Matt get the greatest thrill from seeing young neophytes to the stage get 'turned on' by Shakespeare. And here they all are. A cast of 14-17 year old kids — in 1635 Verona, speaking in rhyming couplets, singing rock-and-roll, and having a blast. Just like their very proud directors."
The Carolina Arts Festival and the Town of Cary present A Musical Romeo and Juliet Thursday and Saturday, Sept. 16 and 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre at Regency Park, 8003 Regency Parkway, Cary, North Carolina. $10 ($5 students up to age 19). Note 1: There will be a special field-trip show for school groups Friday, Sept. 17 at 10:30 a.m. Note 2: Group rates are available for both evening performances. 919/462-2025. Carolina Arts Festival: http://www.carolinaartsfestival.com/. Town of Cary: http://www.townofcary.org/. Koka Booth Amphitheatre at Regency Park: http://www.amphitheatreatregencypark.com/.