A Bard Revue at Westport Playhouse
By Tom Holehan
The Westport Playhouse has come up with a crowd-pleasing musical revue with the world premiere of “Sing for Your Shakespeare” currently on the boards in an extended run through this weekend that has audiences tapping their toes. My feet, though, remained relatively still for what I found to be a rather standard, by-the-numbers offering especially considering the strong talent evident on stage and behind-the-scenes in Westport.
Conceived by Wayne Barker, Deborah Grace Winer and Mark Lamos with direction by Mr. Lamos, “Sing for Your Shakespeare” includes songs by Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Rodgers & Hart and lesser-known artists that were written as inspiration from the works of Shakespeare. These include everything from the little-known “Ariel” (from “The Tempest”) to “Maria” and “Tonight” from “West Side Story”. The revue is helped immeasurable by six attractive singers in front of Riccardo Hernandez’s vibrant tangerine and black scrim filled from corner to corner with Shakespearean quotes. It’s a striking backdrop that includes a top-notch orchestra led by Mr. Barker whose six musicians play like they were twenty.
The singers, who include Britney Coleman, Darius de Haas, Stephen DeRosa, Constantine Germanacos and cabaret legend Karen Akers do impress, but they seldom seem to coalesce truly as an ensemble. The camaraderie appears forced here and Miss Akers, in particular, seems to want to be anywhere but on the Westport stage. There is some banter between numbers, familiar observations about Shakespeare’s genius and bits of background about the songs, but it all comes off as perfunctory, rote and, in the end, just a little dull.
There are some highlights to be sure during the 90-minute evening, however. De Haas and Germanacos harmonize beautifully on “What A Piece of Work Is Man” from “Hair” and Germanacos has enough chemistry with Miss Coleman singing songs from “West Side Story” that one can easily imagine them in a revival of the musical. Late in the proceedings (much later!), Mr. DeRosa enlivens things considerably dressed in Shakespearean garb playing the Bard as a Vegas lounge act and, by finale, the company gives full vocal flavor to great songs like “Somewhere” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”.
The less said about Dan Knechtges’ amateurish choreography, the better, but there is some seriously distracting lighting by Robert Wierzel throughout the show that seemed determined to call attention at every opportunity. I kept wondering if the actors were aware of how many times they were upstaged by all the blinking busyness that occurred during their performances. All said, “Sing For Your Shakespeare” might do well as a casual evening at the Yale Summer Cabaret, but for this more upscale venue, it’s a familiar case of been-there, done-that and truly much ado about nothing.
“Sing for Your Shakespeare” continues at the Westport Playhouse through June 28th. For tickets call the theatre box office call 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.