A new musical places Love's Labour's Lost in the Lone Star state.
You may think that Depression-era Texas has very little in common with the medieval Kingdom of Navarre — and you may be right. Still, that won't stop you from enjoying Loveless Texas, a new musical spin on William Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, now being presented by Boomerang Theatre Company at the Sheen Center. With a toe-tapping score by Henry Aronson and a clever libretto by director Cailín Heffernan, this show is a delicious, if overstuffed, puff pastry of a musical.
It's 1929 and Berowne Navarre (Joe Joseph) is the playboy of Texas, gallivanting around the world with his best bros, Duke (Colin Barkell, with a deep-voiced deadpan delivery) and Bubba (Brett Benowitz). Berowne's older brother, King (Darren Ritchie), tires of bankrolling the party. He threatens to cut off Berowne's trust fund unless the three young men promise to work for him and forswear drinking and womanizing for three years. He needs all the help he can get: He's recently struck oil on a plot of land that he had promised to cede to LaReine (Trisha Jeffrey), mistress of the Louisiana estate of Beausoleil. LaReine resides there in la grande maison with Kathy (Annette Navarro), Maria (Bligh Voth), Gwen (Kimberly Jajuan), and Rosaline (Amanda Lea LaVergne). When the Texas boys start courting the Louisiana girls, will love triumph over good business sense? Of course it will.
This isn't the first musical adaptation of Love's Labour's Lost. New York audiences may remember Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman's 2013 Shakespeare in the Park extravaganza, which lavishly featured an entire marching band onstage. Loveless is not nearly that decadent, but it more successfully gets to the heart of Shakespeare's story, which is a play about a border dispute masquerading as a rom-com.
By setting Loveless in Texas and Louisiana, Heffernan is able to emphasize the differences between the Navarre men and the Beausoleil women, with the disputed oil claim standing in for Aquitaine. Heffernan peppers her script with courtly New World French, with Chase Kamata's Jacquenetta convincingly speaking Cajun. In his score, Aronson employs country, blues, and ranchera to tell the story of a diverse array of people singing their songs in East Texas, sometimes in beautiful harmony, and other times discord. By occupying the cultural borderland that it does, Loveless Texas joyfully exposes the truth that there's no such thing as a homogeneous American culture, and there never has been.
It doesn't hurt that the music is easy on the ears. Aronson, who has frequently worked as a music director on Broadway, clearly knows how to write a catchy melody. He weaves them together in thrilling counterpoint, mastering the music like a rodeo star would a bucking bronco. However, roping so many songs into 2 hours and 40 minutes, does make the show feel overwritten, chock-full of tunes that don't always drive the plot forward.
Still, you cannot blame the cast for underselling the material. Big, rich voices abound: Chief among them are LaVergne's powerful belt and Ritchie's sad cowboy wail. Joseph also regularly steals the show with a voice as animated as his cartoonish facial expressions. All of the actors give energetic, committed performances.
Unfortunately, the charming melodies and gorgeous voices are often marred by Ian Wehrle's spotty sound design. The body mics gurgle and hiss, sometimes producing a sound reminiscent of a slurp.
The other design elements fare better: Evan Hill's set is evocative of the time and place without getting in the way of Heffernan's uninspired (and too often unsynchronized) choreography. Cheryl McCarron's costumes feature Stetson hats and slightly bulky suits, telling the story of cowboys who have recently come into a whole lot of dough.
Heffernan's serviceable staging doesn't always compensate for a book that tends to drag, making us feel a bit too relieved to see the curtain call. Still, we get a sense that Loveless Texas could be a truly excellent musical with a bit more editing and some creative choreography. As it stands, Loveless is a highly listenable musical romp, perfect for a night when you're looking to kill a few hours in the Shakespearean south.