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Yo, Romeo, Where You At? He's in Brooklyn in Romeo & Bernadette

A modern-day musical spoof of Shakespeare's tragic love story is running at A.R.T./New York Theatres.

Anna Kostakis and Nikita Burshteyn play the title roles in Romeo & Bernadette, directed by Justin Ross Cohen, at A.R.T./New York Theatres.
(© Russ Rowland)

If you're looking to add a little culture to your life or want to take your main squeeze out for a classy date night, Romeo & Bernadette ain't it. This new musical, with book and lyrics by Mark Saltzman, has about as much class as a kid playing hooky. But if you want a laugh-out-loud funny show that'll send you off smiling with a couple of tunes in your head, this is pretty good.

Nota bene: Saltzman's modern-day riff on Romeo and Juliet, now running at A.R.T./New York Theatres, makes use of just about every New World Italian stereotype you can think of. Fuhgeddaboudits, mob jokes, and accents thick as three-meat ragù all pepper the sauce of this kooky show. Do Saltzman and the cast lay it on a little heavy at times in the two hours' traffic of their stage? Yeah, they do. But given the excellent performances, which featured some full-on belting in a few of the songs, I found myself forgiving even the cringiest clichés.

Judy McLane as Camille Penza, Troy Valjean Rucker as opera singer Enzo Aliria, Carlos Lopez as Sal Penza, and Viet Vo as Lips in Romeo & Bernadette.
(© Russ Rowland)

Inspired by the Bard's tale of tragic young lovers, Saltzman moves Romeo out of the Verona of yore and into 21st-century Brooklyn by way of a framing story. After seeing a production of Romeo and Juliet, a young Brooklyn guy (Michael Notardonato) tells his date (Ari Raskin) that that's not how the story ends. He then proceeds to explain, in the song "There's More," how Romeo woke up in Verona centuries after his reported death and made his way, absurdly, to Bensonhurst.

Once there, Romeo (Nikita Burshteyn) finds himself in the middle of two warring crime families, the Del Cantos and the Penzas, both alike in indignity. Romeo, speaking like an Elizabethan courtier, becomes unlikely friends with tough-talking Dino Del Canto (Notardonato) and his father, the suave wiseguy Don Del Canto (Michael Marotta), but he falls for sassy brunette Bernadette Penza (Anna Kostakis). Her mother, Camille, (Judy McLane), being of Veronese descent, loves this fancy paesan, but Bernadette's fiancé, Tito Titone (Zach Schanne), has Romeo in his sights, literally. So does her papa, Sal Penza (Carlos Lopez), and his burly, opera-loving goon, Lips (Viet Vo). Will these star-crossed lovers bury the families' strife, or will someone end up sleeping with the fishes?

Michael Notardonato, Michael Marotta, and Nikita Burshteyn sing "A World Away" in Romeo & Bernadette.
(© Russ Rowland)

Steve Orich adapted the score from old Italian songs by the likes of Enrico Cannio, Rodolfo Falvo, Francesco Paolo Tosti, and others. Marotta, Burshteyn, and Notardonato show off their pipes in "A World Away," and Lopez, Schanne, and Vo get laughs with "Non La Famigl." McLane deserves special mention for her soaring soprano in several solos such as "Farewell, Verona," as does Troy Valjean Rucker, who plays several roles, for his operatic tenor. Raskin, who really nails the nasally Brooklyn accent, and Kostakis wow the crowd in "When He Looked at Me That Way." The company and the four-member band, led by music director Aaron Gandy, have a standout in "There's Moonlight Over Brooklyn," a song that makes a good argument for a cast recording.

Director and choreographer Justin Ross Cohen keeps the production no-frills, with a simple but versatile set designed by Walt Spangler: White scaffolding serves its purpose well enough for the balcony scene between Romeo and Bernadette ("O, for a Song"). Fabio Toblini and Joseph Shrope's costumes include lots of tank tops for the men and big Permasheen wigs for the women, and Ken Billington keeps the stage imbued with blues and oranges to highlight the Brooklyn skyline. Don't expect to brush up much on your Shakespeare with this one, but for a fun night out, grab your goombahs and say, "Andiamo!"

Judy McLane, Carlos Lopez, Michael Notardonato, Ari Raskin, Anna Kostakis, Nikita Burshteyn, Zach Schanne, and Viet Vo in Romeo & Bernadette.
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