Shakespeare meets Pat Benatar (with “a little love from Tina Turner”) as Rockwell Table And Stage presents their latest, Romeo & Juliet: Love Is A Battlefield, and Holy Bard Of Avon, what an electrifying evening of cabaret-meets-musical-theater alchemy it is!
Finding pop songs to match a well-known story is, of course, nothing new. The Troubies do it all the time to comedic effect, and The Old Globe put on their own pop-rock R&J set to the music of Jeff Buckley in 2013’s The Last Goodbye.
Rockwell rocks especially well by placing the emphasis on the music (with only snippets of Shakespeare here and there along the way), and since the whole shebang is taking place in Los Feliz’s trendiest supper club (where you can drink and dine before and during the show, as well as Tweet, Facebook, and Instagram to your heart’s content) and with performers here, there, and everywhere throughout, this Romeo & Juliet is unlike any you’ve seen before. It’s up close-and-personal and loud-and-proud and ultimately quite moving to boot.
Credit director Bradley Bredeweg (who co-conceived the production with co-director Kelley Parker) for the show’s ingenious use of a pair of stages, a runway, open space between tables and booths, and even the Rockwell bar.
Credit choreographer/fight choreographer Chris Downey and assistant choreographer Saraanne Fahey for some of the most thrilling dance-combat sequences I’ve seen since (perhaps not coincidentally) West Side Story, with the added challenge of asking Romeo, Tybalt, Paris, Mercutio, and Benvolia (not a misprint, he’s a she this time round) to perform them in the tightest of spaces without kick-punching anyone seated nearby.
Credit musical director Brad Hooks for leading the rockingest band in town (Hooks on piano, Sari Mellafe on guitar, Emily Rosenfeld on bass, and Mark Concuan on drums) and for arranging/orchestrating one (mostly) Pat Benatar hit after another, a dozen and a half in all.
Credit scenic designer Ben Soldate for some imaginative “club modification” to turn Rockwell into Capulets-vs.-Montagues land, lighting designer Michelle Stann for the show’s Vegas pizzazz, and a sound design that mixes voices and instruments to perfection.
Credit executive producers Kate Pazakis and Bredeweg for bringing Romeo & Juliet: Love Is A Battlefield to Rockwell in the first place.
Oh, and credit Pat Benatar for having created songs that remain every bit as stirring now as they were over three decades ago. “Heartbreaker,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Invincible,” “Love Is a Battlefield,” “Promises in the Dark,” “Shadows of the Night,” “Treat Me Right,” “We Belong,” and “We Live for Love,” they’re all here, along with some Benatar tracks you might not know so well: “Out Of The Ruins,” “One Love,” “Hell Is For Children,” “Too Long A Soldier,” and 2003’s “Brave.” Add to that Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero” and a bit of John Waite (“Missing You”) thrown in for good measure and you’ve got an evening of ‘80s music that would stand alone even without Shakespeare’s plot.
Above all, credit as spectacularly talented a cast as you’ll find on any L.A. or Broadway stage, beginning with captivating TV star Ashley Argota as Juliet and dynamic, sexy Rustin Cole Sailors, fresh from Deaf West’s Spring Awakening, as Romeo, the duo not only heating up the stage with plenty of boy-meets-girl chemistry (and a whole lotta makin’ out goin’ on) but igniting Rockwell with some darned thrilling vocal artistry.
And speaking of vocal artistry, Romeo & Juliet: Love Is A Battlefield proves a particularly fine showcase for the sensational girl duo of Jordan Kai Burnett as Benvolia and Nicci Claspell as Nurse. (The latter’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” is one of the evening’s most exciting highlights.)
Bybee (Mercutio), Andrew Pirozzi (Paris), and Jeffrey Christopher Todd (Tybalt) sing and dance to match the best Sharks and Jets around, with equally sensational support provided by Jameson Moss’s Friar, Peter Vogt’s Father Capulet, and Julie Garnye’s Mother Montague. (The latter two have an absolutely stunning duet, and when the entire cast join voices for an amped-but-a-cappella reprise of “We Belong,” the effect simply could not be more breathtaking.)
Daniel Segura is assistant musical director/stage manager, Robert Bradley is technical director, and Rebecca Dowdy is assistant stage manager. Bybee is assistant fight techician. Swings David Haverty, Keir Kirkegaard, and Anne Letscher are primed to fill in whenever needed.
The twice-weekly Romeo & Juliet: Love Is A Battlefield joins Rockwell Table And Stage’s regular lineup of one-night-only cabarets all this month, and if last night’s SRO Opening Night crowd’s cheers are any indication of what’s to come, Juliet and her Romeo’s “tale of woe” will be wowing audiences through the end of March if not beyond.
Rockwell Table & Stage, 1714 N. Vermont, Los Angeles.
February 27, 2015