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Freshly conceived 'Romeo and Juliet' opens at Kansas City Repertory Theatre

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Without a doubt the concept, production, costumes, and staging of Kansas City Repertory’s new version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet provide even the most fearful Shakespeare audiences to enjoy a beautiful production, complete with sword fighting and tragedy.

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Swordsmanship displays from the get-go as the opening appears to be a rehearsal and melds into the opening street scene of two bickering enemy families fighting for no apparent reason other than because of their names–Capulets and Montagues.

The hot-headed nature and evilness of Juliet’s beloved cousin Tybalt cannot stand the mockery of Romeo’s family, the Montagues, and trouble soon escalates into a sword fight to open the actual play.

Probably the best known and produced of Shakespeare’s tragedies, beloved and timeless, Romeo and Juliet opened Fri., Jan. 24 and runs through Jan. 29 at KC Rep in Spencer Theater on the UMKC campus, under the direction and creative concept of Eric Rosen.

In Rosen’s hands, the five act play, features some creative ideas and costuming as per Rosen’s concept of the play. Rosen chose to have all the characters appear in white until the masquerade ball to signify that without love, life has no color. As the masquerade opens and Romeo and Juliet first establish eye contact and instantaneous love blooms between them.

Star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, from the feuding families of the Capulets and Montagues fall hopelessly in love in a tangled tale of love, anger, revenge, tragedy, hate, and compassion.

Romeo, in this production portrayed by Jamie Default, presents a new and fresh characterization to audiences. Default’s Romeo shows the impetuous nature of youth. He plays the character as a teenager who falls in love quickly, deeply, and with reckless abandon. His passions run deep, but never get the chance to see if they stand the test of time. His love runs quickly and deeply. Default’s refreshing take on the character is a testament to his growing acting and collaboration with both director Rosen and assistant director Kyle Hatley.

As for his counterpoint, Juliet, Courtney Salvage, displays a more modern Juliet with flashes of fun and merriment in what traditionally plays as a tragic heroine. She brings fun and the excitement of youth to the character. Salvage, as Juliet, being less than 14 years old, displays the excitement of youth and the wonderment of first love. Her take on the youthful character of Juliet elicit humor and laughs from the audience with a characterization fresh and new to the classic.

Worthy of mention and attention, the three men who bring the excitement and tragedy to the love story, Paris, Tybalt and Mercutio all give very solid and strong performances. Of three, Mercutio played by Zachary Andrews stands out. He plays the part with gusto, fun, and laughs until his untimely death. Michael Pauley portrays the volatile Tybalt who would rather fight than risk any dishonor. His rage continues to stir the plot until his death which even deepens the plight of the Romeo and Juliet’s tragic love. The third member of the tragic trio, Paris, wants to marry the fair Juliet and has her parents’ blessing but dies as a result of the feuding families. Vincent Wagner plays Paris. Wagner shows the enthusiasm of youth and the anticipation of wedded bliss in a very charming performance.

The nurse and Lady Capulet come to life via Merle Moores as Nurse and Cheryl Weaver a Jacobs as Juliet’s mother. Moores plays a devoted yet comedic Nurse while Jacobs delivers a difficult portrayal of a distant mother who follows the lead of her strong-willed husband. As for Lord Capulet, the dominating father of Juliet, David Castellani, moves effortlessly between fatherly love for Juliet to anger and rage against his unruly daughter.

Assisting the Rep’s Artistic Director Rosen, Chase Brock choreographs the piece. Credit also needs to go to John Wilson who choreographed the sword fighting. And, not to mention the sumptuous costumes would be a travesty. Costume designer Lindsay W. Davis and his assistant, Lauren Gaston, created a beautiful motif for Romeo and Juliet. All of the Capulets dressed in purple, violet, lavender, etc., while the Montagues donned more reds and oranges. By doing such, the palette helps audiences identify and separate the families. What a great service to new audiences. The concept worked.

Most high school students read Romeo and Juliet, or have seen a movie of the play, so the story is familiar to most. In the midst of a bloody family feud, fragile love unfolds and two young lovers risk everything to be together.

“Rosen’s vision and dazzling direction enhance the lyrical beauty of this powerful story and brilliantly capture the enchantment of first love,” a spokesman for the Rep said.

Rosen is a writer, director and producer who has been Kansas City Rep’s artistic director since 2007. After the show he announced that Romeo and Juliet marked his first attempt at Shakespeare. He heaped credit on his assistant director, Kyle Hatley for his knowledge and help throughout the production.

Rosen’s next directing project at the Rep is Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning Broadway hit Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (March 14-April 6 at Spencer Theatre).

As Romeo, Jamie Default, a second year M.F.A. candidate at UMKC Department of Theatre makes his Rep debut and has appeared in UMKC Theatre’s productions of Almost, Maine; Big Love and King Lear. Courtney Salvage plays Juliet. Salvage is a third year M.F.A. candidate at UMKC who has previously appeared at the Rep in Death of a Salesman and her UMKC Theatre productions include The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, The Winter’s Tale and The Lady from the Sea.

The cast also includes Zachary Andrews as Mercutio; Michael Pauley as Tybalt; Rusty Sneary as Benvolio; Vincent Wagner as Paris; David Fritts as Lord Montague/Friar John; Laura Jacobs as Lady Montague; David Castellani as Lord Capulet; Cheryl Weaver as Lady Capulet; Merle Moores as Nurse; and Theodore Swetz as Friar Lawrence. Rounding out the cast are: Shanna Jones; Edwin Brown; Antonio Glass; Katie Hall and Frank Oakley III as Ensemble.

In addition to director Eric Rosen, the Romeo and Juliet design and production team includes the Rep’s Associate Artistic Director Kyle Hatley (Associate Director), Chase Brock (Choreography); Jack Magaw (Scenic Design); Lindsay W. Davis and Lauren Gaston (Costume Co-design); Victor En Yu Tan (Lighting Design); Tom Mardikes (Sound Design); Andre Pluess (Composer) and John Wilson (Fight Director). The Production Stage Manager is Mary R. Honour.

As part of the Rep’s education and community programs for area schools, Romeo and Juliet will have six matinee performances at Spencer Theatre. For information about the student matinee program, contact Melinda McCrary, Director of Education and Community Programs at 816-235-5708 or mccrarym@kcrep.org.

Romeo and Juliet runs Jan. 17-Feb. 9, at Spencer Theatre located in the James C. Olson Performing Arts Center at 49th and Cherry Streets on the UMKC campus in Kansas City, MO.

Ticket prices range from $20 for students to $29-$59 for adults. For ticket and performance information, call the Rep Box Office at 816-235-2700 or visit www.KCRep.org. For group ticket sales, call 816-235-6122.

Romeo and Juliet is appropriate for ages 11 and up.

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