'Romeo and Juliet' Ignites Summer Tradition
"In fair Verona...in fair Verona..." so goes the opening number from "Romeo and Juliet." It is Shakespeare on the Sound's latest splash in the puddle that is outdoor theater in Connecticut and the spark of a local tradition.
The show opened Tuesday night at Baldwin Park in Greenwich, CT for roughly 100 people--diverse in age and dinner choice, but unified as a community seated around a thrust stage in the middle of ripe greenery. In fact, the stage is set in such a way that allows for most audience members, either on self-provided blankets or beach chairs, to face each other and watch the action on stage simultaneously.
As the show begins and the crowd slowly quiets, the connection between actor and audience is highlighted. The first scene is brand-new, written only for artistic director Joanna Settle's interpretation, and includes the words of Stew (who also composed the show's music) not Shakespeare. The scene portrays a group of friends at a party, drinking, ready to read through a Shakespeare play on a beautiful summer's night.
Soon enough, with the help of Laura Jellinek’s set design, the similarity between audience and actor comes into sharp focus: two groups, enjoying some summer Shakespeare.
Settle says the Shakespeare on the Sound audience of previous seasons was her greatest inspiration while staging "Romeo and Juliet."
"This is my fourth season and every season people come with their food and everybody's chatty at the beginning of the play and we're out in broad daylight," she said recently in a phone interview. "And by the time we descend into the night and the stage lights have had a chance to take over and the children have quieted--as our evening proceeds, I've watched my audience go deeper and deeper into the story."
Included in Settle’s interpretation is approximately 10 musical numbers. The songs, written by the team that won a 2008 Tony for their work on “Passing Strange”: Stew and Heidi Rodewald, are peppered throughout the action. Settle says the music exists in the show to "take us for a moment outside of what we 'think' of Shakespeare. [Stew and Rodewald] allow us, in their riveting and thoughtful music, to let the story happen unto us."
Settle hopes people identify with “a kind of fearlessness” the production aims to inspire among the local community, and perhaps redefine the most famous of love stories.
“I think that we are asking our audience to enjoy the story, find themselves in the story and also consider what a night at the theater can be—and what happens when the imagination takes over,” Settle said.
“Romeo and Juliet” will be in Baldwin Park (Greenwich, CT) until July 8 at 7:30 p.m. The show starts up again on July 18 in Pinkney Park (Rowayton, CT) and closes July 29. Admission is free; no performances on Mondays.
Correction: In an earlier version, a quotation regarding the show's music was incorrectly understood. The misunderstanding has been resolved.