A much-needed good time can be had at Romeo & Bernadette, a lighthearted musical spin on Shakespeare’s tragic love story. At opening, a Brooklynite is attempting to get his date back in the mood for love after a performance of Romeo and Juliet leaves her teary eyed. He spins a tale of Romeo’s post-curtain exploits, weaving himself into the plot as Romeo’s newfound best friend, Dino Del Canto. In this new and evolving chapter, the young lover is propelled out of place and time to 1960s Brooklyn in search of Bernadette, a woman with whom he crossed paths in Verona. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to his deceased beloved, she stole his heart during their brief encounter. Upon arrival on Bernadette’s shores, Romeo learns that she is the daughter of famed mob boss Sal Penza. Now he once again finds himself torn between two warring families, this time with Dino at his side for guidance.
With a book and lyrics by Mark Saltzman, the piece is filled with the good natured sweetness you’d expect from someone who began his New York career with the Muppets. The script blends iambic pentameter, modern colloquialisms, and humor as broad as Interstate 278. The music, adapted from classic Italian melodies and wonderfully orchestrated by Steve Orich, is tuneful and uplifting. Story and song are delivered smoothly by the adept cast. Making his Off-Broadway debut as Romeo, Nikita Burshteyn hits both literal and figurative high notes. Recent college graduate Anna Kostakis manages to soar even while bringing a slightly nasal whine to Bernadette’s solos. And Michael Notardonato, also making his Off-Broadway debut, gives us plenty to wink and nod at as Dino and our narrator. Also doing double duty is newcomer Ari Raskin as Bernadette’s edgy BFF Donna and the Brooklyn Girl on a date observing the action. The more seasoned veterans in the company — Carlos Lopez, Michael Marotta, Judy McLane, Troy Valjean Rucker, Zach Schanne, and Viet Vo — are strong in their supporting roles. The story sags at the beginning of Act 2 with too many side bits allowing some of the good mood felt at intermission to dissipate. But just like its plucky heroine, the production pulls itself together to deliver a satisfying finish.
Currently running in the black box Mezzanine Theatre at A.R.T., the work is given plenty of room to breathe. The direction and dance moves provided by Justin Ross Cohen are energetic and appropriately playful. Walt Spangler’s striking all white set has several purposeful sections including a small second story that serves as additional rooms and (naturally) a balcony. Costumes designed by Fabio Toblini and Joseph Shrope capture the spirited mood of the 1960s and give key scenes their own color coding. Fabulous hairstyles top off each look.
Romeo & Bernadette: A Musical Tale of Verona and Brooklyn delivers on its implied promise of mixing styles to humorous effect. The limited engagement is scheduled through February 16 at the Mezzanine Theatre at A.R.T./NY Theatres (502 West 53rd Street between 10th and 11th.) Runtime is approximately 2 hours with one 10 minute intermission. Tickets are priced at $49-$69 and can be purchased online at www.amasmusical.org/romeo-bernadette or by calling (866) 811-4111.