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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the March 5, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `Romeo and Bernadette’

Existing somewhere between parody and the puerile is

"Romeo and Bernadette," a new musical that futilely attempts

to cross the romantic heart of Shakespeare with the coarse sensibilities

of the Sopranos. Sharing credit for the score with a slew of classic

Neapolitan composers, whose melodic tunes have withstood the test

of time, is Mark Saltzman (no relation to this writer), whose lame

book and lyrics are unlikely to do the same. Saltzman’s conceit —

to forge an alliance between 1560 Verona, Italy, and 1960 Brooklyn,

New York — isn’t without a glimmer of potential, but under Mark

Waldrop’s unimaginative direction, and with some sorry acting, the

show is a fiasco.

There is the potential for comedy when the medieval Romeo awakens

in mob-controlled Brooklyn (think more positively about that reverse

time-traveler "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court")

and finds that his Juliet is a Mafia princess. But this co-production

by Miami’s Coconut Grove Playhouse and Paper Mill is neither original

nor funny.

Although Saltzman has written for the Muppets, and his "Sesame

Street" sketches and songs have earned him an Emmy, his contribution

to "Romeo and Bernadette" can only be summed up as childish.

If the show were directed with more style, and had the performers

been led down a more inventive path to pastiche, there might be some

hope that this could be a nice item for high schools and community

theaters. As it stands now, it reeks with amateurish theatrics that

only insults the professional market.

The show, however, boasts a tempting beginning that serves as a catalyst.

When Brooklyn lady’s man (Andy Karl) takes his hot date (Rose De Candia)

to see a production of "Romeo and Juliet," he finds that the

tragic ending has put a damper on her otherwise seductive nature.

In his attempt to break through her depression, he tells her that

the end was not the end, that "There’s more to the story."

Romeo, it seems, did not drink poison but rather a potent sleeping


The plot then picks up with Romeo (Adam Monley) in tights waking up

500 years later in Brooklyn. He no sooner hits the streets than he

is in hot pursuit of a girl whom he believes is his long-dead Juliet.

Unlike the demure bride he left in the crypt in old Verona, Bernadette

Penza (Natalie Hill) is a tough crude-talking dish, about to be married

to Tito (Andrew Varella), heir to mob boss Penza (Charles Pistone).

When Romeo saves the life of Dino Del Canto (played by Andy Karl),

he becomes embroiled in the feud between the ba-da-bing Penzas and

the ba-da-boom Del Cantos.

There is one excellent performance. It comes from Karl, as Dino, the

swaggering and disarming wolf of both centuries who acts with scene-stealing

panache and puts over his songs "Boom! In Love," and "That’s

Love II," with seductive exuberance. He gets his best support

from De Candia, as a street smart Brooklyn babe. Perhaps the comely

Monley’s tights have an adverse affect on his singing, but what excuse

is there when he is in dress slacks?

Key to the show’s failure is the lack of electricity generated by

Monley and Hill, the most unlikely lovers to ever have shared a duet.

Speaking of which, the show’s duets, trios, quartets, and sextet,

scavenged and stitched together from the musty musical treasures of

Falvo, Tosti, Gambardella, Cannio, Giordani, Leoncavallo, Costa, and

Rossini, are simply mistreated by Saltzman’s lyrics. There is one

funny line when Romeo hears he is in Brooklyn and says, "Brook-land…me

thinks of babbling brooks."

Emil Zacharias, as Bernadette’s high-styled, lowbrow mother, and Vince

Trani, as Lips, a pug-faced bodyguard, are merely stereotypical. But

John Paul Almon, in a series of cameos, including a fruity florist,

a shotgun toting dance instructor, and a gravel voiced (think Harvey

Fierstein) Bensonhurst couturier, is more lamentable than laughable.

Midway into the show, Karl apologizes to the audience for breaking

the fourth wall, i.e. speaking directly to the audience. He needn’t

apologize. Actors who seem only able to speak their lines when facing

the audience define Waldrop’s staging. Only Michael Anania’s simply

constructed two-tier setting has the sense to stay behind the fourth

wall. You might be well advised to stay at home behind your own four

walls and "fuh-ged-about-it".

— Simon Saltzman

Romeo & Bernadette, Paper Mill, Brookside Drive,

Millburn, 973-376-4343. World premiere by Mark Saltzman. Performances

to March 23. $30 to $62.

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