Sing For Your Shakespeare

By Marlene S. Gaylinn

For centuries, Shakespeare’s works have inspired artists in many fields. It was therefore inevitable that a team of creative, theatre people: Playwright, Deborah Grace Winer, Music Director, Wayne Barker and Westport Country Playhouse Director, Mark Lamos, would gather some examples of Shakespeare’s influence on song-writing into one musical review.

This lively, world premiere of “Sing For Your Shakespeare,” currently at Westport Country Playhouse (WCT), features a 7-piece orchestra that is situated center stage on a raised platform. The show’s Co-conceiver and Musical Director, Wayne Barker, leads the musicians as he plays the piano. Interestingly, Barker’s orchestra includes an accordion and a harp together with cello, bass, reeds and percussion. The combination allows him more freedom to add color to the program’s wide variety of styles. And, without a doubt, Barker’s musical arrangements play a vital part of this production.

Shakespeare’s famous sayings about music are diagonally scrolled on the flowing, white curtains behind the orchestra. His black on white, Old English phrases also frame the stage and the optical illusion, cleverly designed by Riccaardo Hernandez, makes the performance area look much larger than it is. In fact, Choreographer, Dan Knechtges, has ample space to add some dance interludes.

The show’s multi-talented, singing cast, under WBT’s Artistic Director, Mark Lamos, performs in the foreground.The polished, rich voices of: Karen Akers, Britney Coleman, Darius De Haas, Stephen DeRosa, Costantine Germanacos and Laurie Wells offer classical, jazz and rock styles.  Their stage presence, along with some acting and a little dancing, is great too!

We were especially touched by Britney’s soulful rendering of, “Willow, Willow,” written by George Forrest, William Shakespeare and Robert Craig Wright. The “Shakespeare Song” by Richie Webb and David Cohen, sung by Stephen, Britney, Karen and Laurie, will give you some real belly laughs. Stephan Derosa also appears as a very comical Shakespeare during the show.

In the excerpts from Cole Porter’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” tune into Stephan when he recites his particularly precise, “pitty, pitty, palace” phrase in “Where is the Life That Late I Led.” Along with his comical, co-horts, Darius and Constantine one cannot separate this sequence from any Broadway performance. The same, professional standard applies to Britney, Constantine and the rest of the company as they tenderly render the most popular songs from Leonard Bernstein’s and Stephen Sondheim’s “West Side Story,”

In 90, packed-full minutes, where can you hear a selection of lesser-known songs influenced by Shakespeare’s works, see the highlights of several hit shows that are based on his plays, enjoy a great orchestra and top singers, and all in one, convenient place? Before Press Night, ticket sales prompted the playhouse to extend the show through June 28. So I guess, that says something. FYI: Educators, students get 50% discounts and senior citizen same day rush tickets are 50%. Phone: 203-227-4177

This review appears in “On CT & NY Theatre” - June/2014

Posted June 9, 2014

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