DPO presents Romeo & Juliet Weekend: Ballet Music Meets Dramatic Script
@R_Montague: J-Babe! Can’t tweet/climb vines @ same time. ˄ in a sec!
The preceding conversation is part of the famous Balcony Scene from William Shakespeare’s tragic play Romeo and Juliet…in 2011-speak. Compared to the original, it lacks something, doesn’t it? Actually, it lacks a lot. In only 400-some years it has eroded to the former from this:
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
With love’s light wings did I o’er-perch these walls; For stony limits cannot hold love out.
Granted, taken out of context, the dialog seems stilted, archaic. But put it in its proper place in this story of extreme hatred offset by complete unselfishness, and you have the most ageless of love stories.
Barely in their teens, Romeo and Juliet see one another at a masked ball and fall completely and helplessly in love before they even know each other’s names. Then they learn they are cursed by their very birth: their families hate each other with a stab-on-sight mindset. What follows is their attempt to break through their parents’ hatred and to hope, no matter how naively, that their love for one another might be the cause of their families’ reconciliation.
Written sometime between 1591 and 1595, it is conceivable that the play could have taken Shakespeare as long as five years to complete. That’s a huge chunk of one’s life to devote to a project. But the tale is so compelling that not only have theaters around the world performed it again and again, but it also has found its way into other genres.
In 1968, Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli made an intensely and beautifully told film version extremely faithful to the original play (Romeo and Juliet). In 1957, West Side Story, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, opened on Broadway. A film version followed in 1961. Bernstein’s version is set in the 1950s in a Manhattan ghetto. The rival “families” were two gangs, the Jets and the Sharks; Maria (Juliet) belonged to the Sharks, and Tony (Romeo) was a Jet.
In 1996, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, hit movie theaters across the U.S. with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the title roles. The film was an updated and shortened reconstruction of Shakespeare’s play that retained the original Shakespearean dialogue. But then, the movie featured a novel twist: it was set in modern day. The Montagues and the Capulets were more like crime families, each owning big-dollar businesses at war and using guns instead of swords (the guns manufactured by Sword and Dagger rather than Glock or Smith & Wesson). The movie used some characters’ first, rather than last, names. And they all lived in the L.A.-esque city of Verona Beach.
In the 1930s, Romeo and Juliet was reborn in another media – ballet. Think ballet and ballet music, and the name Tchaikovsky usually comes to mind in connection with Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker. But in the 1930s another Russian composer, Sergei Prokofiev, wrote the musical score for the ballet Romeo and Juliet. Today, the score is generally recognized as a masterpiece. The ballet has four acts and ten scenes, and among its beautifully constructed musical score the love theme of Romeo and Juliet is at once the very soul of tenderness, longing, fervor, and refinement.
On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, October 13, 14, and 15, at 8pm in the Schuster Center Neal Gittleman and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will bring both William Shakespeare’s and Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet to life again. Actor Bruce Comer brings over thirty years’ experience to the task of injecting the narrated script of Shakespeare’s original play into Prokofiev’s music.
In structuring the words with the music, Cromer – Professor and Head of Acting for the Professional Actor Training Program at Wright State University and a Resident Artist with the Human Race Theatre – faced a daunting challenge.
“Using the Prokofiev score, Neal and I worked together to find which parts of the text worked best with the music,” Cromer states. “Knowing the script as I do, I could hear beautiful ‘underscoring’ moments for some of the scenes and speeches. Neal was able to brilliantly assemble the pieces of the puzzle with his conducting – leaving pauses, sustaining notes, cueing me, etc. The narration that I’ve added here and there is meant to fill in the gaps of the missing Shakespeare.”
And the challenges don’t end there. “Though I love transforming into characters, and have done a few one-person shows, it’s difficult to see myself as Juliet – a beautiful, fourteen-year-old girl, in the passion of her first (and tragically last) love. But that music can drag any sensitive actor fully into the story – it plunges you into the savage duels, the madness of Mercutio, the torchlit dance where Romeo is first entranced by Juliet.”
“Romeo And Juliet is perhaps the touchstone of True Love for western civilization; Prokofiev’s score captures the sweeping passion of love-at-first-sight, that breathless combination of sexual attraction and spiritual union, the feeling of ‘I know you – I’ve always known you, I cannot breathe without you!!!,’” Cromer notes. “Nothing’s more moving to Romantics than the notion that one cannot live without the beloved. Nothing’s more powerful than that first moment when you connected with another human being, when you first said, ‘I love you’ – and knew it was The Truth.”
Ain’t it, though?
This artistic tour-de-force finds Bruce Cromer, from Human Race Theatre Company, enacting roles and providing narration to Prokofiev’s suite based on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet! Working in close collaboration, Neal and Bruce have created an excing new combination of Shakespeare’s immortal words and Prokofiev’s immortal music.
Thursday, October 13 & Saturday, October 15 ~ 2011
Schuster Center, 8 pm
Take Note Talk, Mead Theatre, 7pm