Off Broadway theater is a medium where creative people devote their time, talents and passion, often with little or no recompense. It's a great disappointment when creative people with talent in abundance devote themselves to a show that is undeserving. If only that were the case of the show Romeo & Bernadette produced lavishly and professionally by AMAS Musical Theatre and Eric Krebs.
Romeo & Bernadette isn't just undeserving of the production it is currently receiving, it calls into question why it was chosen for development over what must be dozens, if not hundreds, if not thousands of more deserving shows.
Romeo & Bernadette is a musical comedy of little substance and few laughs. It's premise seems to be to take music from Italian songs and light opera and graft "modern" lyrics on to them. By modern I don't mean anything close to contemporary. The putative setting is Brooklyn, 1960. We know this because the word fuhgeddaboutit is a prime source of the show's humor.
You've probably already guessed that this tale places Shakespeare's Romeo in Bensonhurst where he pursues -- not Juliet, but Bernadette. If that premise makes you double up with laughter, than this is the show for you. To say the show's genre is cartoonish is to unfairly impugn cartoons. Instead of Montagues and Capulets there are two warring "mafia" families. Romeo speaks in a stilted version of flowery Elizabethan-speak but soon learns to speak as crudely as everyone else in the show, including the aforementioned
fuhgeddaboutit -- a joke that the show's writer never gets tired of repeating... and repeating. The frame of the show's premise (i.e. how does Romeo wind up in 1960 Brooklyn?) revolves around a Brooklyn "Guido's" attempt to get into his girlfriend's pants. Why? Don't ask.
And that's the biggest puzzlement here: Why? To create a new musical around old Italian melodies is, by definition, a study in being old-fashioned. Layering in unfunny Italian-American stereotypes with a third-grader's idea of Shakespeare's romantic tragedy and then playing it all for giggles (except for the songs which are floridly "romantic") is head-shaking.
To its credit AMAS has assembled a great deal of talent on the ART NY stage. The young lovers Romeo (Nikita Burshteyn) and Bernadette (Anna Kostakis) are making appealing NY stage debuts. They are winningly supported by their friends Dino (Michael Notardonato) and Donna (Ari Raskin). Much of the rest of the cast is made up of Broadway veterans including Carlos Lopez as crime boss Al Penza and the Drama Desk nominated Judy McLane who's Broadway credits include over 4000 performances of Momma Mia. The director Justin Ross Cohen has a raft of Broadway credits as a performer including the original Pippin and A Chorus Line. He has assembled a stellar design team including Tony Award winner Ken Billington (lights) and Broadway veteran Walt Spangler (scenery).
If only their talents were in service to something more deserving.