“Sing for Your Shakespeare” at Westport Country Playhouse

--Irene Backalenick

It’s not the first time Shakespeare has served as artistic inspiration, exploiting the famed playwright’s stories, characters, and noted passages. But why not? Shakespeare himself shamelessly appropriated plots and characters from earlier sources. It was what he did with those sources which counted—the character developments, the human passions, the sheer poetry of the lines.

This time around, Mark Lamos, Artistic Director of Westport Country Playhouse, and his colleagues have drawn on the Bard to create a musical revue. Shakespeare has been the source of many a Broadway hit, among them “West Sides Story” and “Kiss Me Kate.” But, this time around, the concept of a revue may indeed be fresh. “Sing for Your Shakespeare” is enjoying its premiere at the Westport Country Playhouse. Lamos, with Wayne Barker and Deborah Grace Winer, have cobbled together an evening of song, sonnets, and commentary -- all with a nod to Shakespeare.

On the whole, it is a delightful evening -- one that gets off the ground slowly but gathers strength as the show progresses. For starters Lamos (who directs the show) has assembled a first-class company -- namely, Karen Akers, Britney Coleman, Darius de Haas, Stephen DeRosa, Constantine Germanacos, and Laurie Wells. Lamos brings an impeccable professionalism to its staging, as he puts his performers through their paces. As an ensemble, they never miss a beat, sliding smoothly from one number to the next.

High praise also goes to the orchestra -- Wayne Barker, Rick Kissinger, Joshua Samuels, Mary Tokarski, Joseph Wallace, Lynette Wardle, and Melissa Westgate. These excellent instrumentalists bring an added richness to the evening.

Unfortunately, the early half of the show features little-known tunes from the Shakespeare-inspired shows. And there’s good reason why they are little-known. Initially, there’s a ho-hum quality to the themes, lyrics, and melodies.

But the second half more than compensates, with “Maria,” “Speak Low,” “Where is the Life That Late I Led?” and “Tonight.” And, ending on a joyous note, the entire company bursts into song with “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” Stephen DeRosa, who has metamorphed into Will Shakespeare (complete with goatee, wise twinkle and Elizabethan get-up) is absolutely delicious. DeRosa comes into his own, bringing down the house with this final number.

Lamos and company have certainly come up with a crowd-pleaser.

Posted 6.20.2014

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