Sing Out, Shakespeare

Moonwork makes music mincing the bard’s words

What a pleasure to welcome the company Moonwork back to the off-off-Broadway scene. This creative and vibrant company has been MIA for the past three years, and they have been sorely missed. Their insightful and always creative productions of Shakespeare and other classics have always been long on intelligence and innovation.

The occasion of their return is the one-act, “Fools and Lovers,” which they bill as a “New Shakespeare One-Act Musical.” Gregory Sherman and Gregory Wolfe have apparently had a wonderful time cobbling together lines, whole speeches, and sonnets to create the story of a wedding gone somewhat awry between two people named Romeo and Juliet—not the Bard’s originals. They are joined by Hermia, Demetrius, and all sorts of other characters from Feste to Falstaff to Beatrice, Benedick, and Jacques; their famous speeches are put into the mouths of those attending the wedding. The show is a full on spoof/tribute that recalls a style of compendium shows that were all the rage off-off-Broadway some 30 years ago. It’s not as easy as it sounds and requires an encyclopedic knowledge of the Shakespeare canon, and a willingness to be irreverent when it comes to “history’s greatest playwright.” Sherman and Wolfe are smart and funny guys who are having a wonderful time with this piece and the result is a Shakespearean “Wedding Singer”—long on charm and fun if not always coherently plotted.

Andrew Sherman has written some smart songs that sometimes twist the traditional intentions of everyone from Hamlet to Helena, and sometimes celebrate some of the most romantic and heartfelt poetry of the theater. One of the party games for a Shakespeare fan that goes along with this particular wedding is trying to place the lines as they come at your fast and furious. Even if you’re not a die-hard Shakespeare lover, this is appealing fun—kind of like listening to a greatest hits album.

Wolfe has also served as director and keeps the pace going throughout. His trademark physical comedy is much in evidence, but what has always set this company apart has been the ability to find subtle meanings and unique expressions of the relationships between the characters—and he manages that here, even in the snippets of characters.

The cast is accomplished. In particular, Djola Branner as the Priest has a wonderful voice and a great presence. Lynn Lobban as the Mother of the Groom is quirky and charming, but handles some of the deeper stuff with grace—and her singing is terrific. David Del Grosso is fun as the Best Man/Demetrius, and Rick Cekovsky is very good as the Groom. Emily Shoolin is hilarious as Bride/Juliet, and has one of the best bits in the show when she has a neurotic breakdown reminiscent of Sondheim’s “Not Getting Married Today” from “Company;” it’s actually a setting of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy.

If the show is sometimes a little rough around the edges, it’s always fresh and good-natured. Combined with the smarts of putting it together, the amusement is infections—and appreciated.

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