San Diego, CA---If you’re looking for Shakespeare pure and simple, you’ll not find it in “The Last Goodbye”, the Old Globe’s latest “Romeo & Juliet” look alike, new rock musical shout out with songs by the late singer song-writer Jeff Buckley and conceived and adapted by Michel Kimmel and choreographed by Sonya Tayeh with direction by an ambitious Alex Timbers (“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”).
It’s BIG, it’s loud, (Ken Travis designed the sound), Christopher Barrec’s set is a gynormous two a story mass of humongous walls to be scaled, arches and tunnels to be navigated and lots of room for sword fights by both the Montague’s and followers and the Capulet’s and their followers.
Justin Townsend’s lighting is just annoying enough to blind anyone in its path when shining back atcha yet subtle enough to focus on the more intimate scenes between Romeo and Juliet.
There are eight live musicians on stage, (orchestrations and arrangements by Kris Kukul who is also Musical Director), most of the cast have New York /Broadway credits and the usual ‘suits’ spotted on the Red Carpet and elsewhere on opening night are signals worth noting for a possible and future Broadway transfer.
Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” did it sans Shakespeare’s text but the star-crossed lover’s story played itself out with Maria and Tony much the same as our two young and impulsive teens in this production do. Jay Armstrong Johnson’s Romeo, (whose falsetto voice seems at odds with all the roughshod goings on outside the bedroom chambers), and Talisa Friedman’s innocent and naïve Juliet, rev up the sex quotient a bit more than anything you will see in "West Side Story".
Buckley’s score and lyrics, that for all intents and purposes are meaningful to the story but yet so loud that they are nearly impossible to understand, do ultimately coalesce into making this, the definitive post Bernstein star crossed lovers story of the future. Some tweaking will be needed to resolve Shakespeare's text or lack thereof and the score.
That said the show is packed in with dancing, crotch holding, (a new phenomenon) questionable hooded figures circling for whatever reason, love scenes too hot to handle, music that morphs from rock to ballads and back to dialogue so swiftly that if you’ve ever see a true to the bones production of “Romeo And Juliet” you’ll know that huge swaths of Shakespeare are on the cutting room floor for this edition.
No one said it was Shakespeare pure and simple, but it is based on the same Romeo and Juliet lovers, their friends and family with tidbits of text thrown in leaving us with the impression that we are watching yet another “Romeo and Juliet” roll out.
Oh yes, the young lovers die in the end with a twist and a turn, secret notes don’t get passed in time, poison potions are involved, both sets of parents carry out their vengeance against one another’s families with a vengeance and the usual suspects are still to be seen; go between Friar Laurence (Stephen Bogardus is captivating and on target), Lady Montague (Nancy Snow Carr is relatively off in the shadows), Lady Capulet (Shannon Cochran is too shrill) and Juliet’s Nurse (Tonye Patano is a standout). Brandon Gill is excellent and in full voice as Romeo’s friend Benvolio.
Somewhere lurking in the shadows, Shakespeare has to be rolling his eyes.
Managing the fusing of Buckley’s sixteen or so musical numbers, ending with the haunting “Hallelujah”, Leonard Cohen’s composition recorded by Buckley, with the essence of Shakespeare’s tragedy to satisfy audiences longing for a bit of verse from Romeo, Kimmel allows just enough of the original dialogue to make it work. Along the way there is some pretty crafty stagecraft going on all around and all the time.
“The Last Goodbye is busy, energetic, innovative, contradictory and at times captivating. Overall the cast shines, not a weak link could be heard. First seen in 2010 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival it has been reworked, rethought and has a series of major improvements; so much so that over the course of following two years “The Last Goodbye” is now hailed as ‘new’. No doubt some of the new, new will be improved but for now, listen up to your Jeff Buckley, brush up your Shakespeare and head to Balboa Park where the new and innovative can be seen, heard and judged. Enjoy!
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Nov. 3rd
Organization: The old Globe
Production Type: Rock Musical
Where: Balboa Park at 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego, CA 92103
Ticket Prices: Start at $29.00
Venue: Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage