Romeo and Juliet, The Musical

Romeo and Juliet
Aaron Clifton Moten as Romeo and Louisa Jacobson as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet at The Old Globe in San Diego through Sept. 15, 2019. Photo by Jim Cox.

Director Barry Edelstein had a dream of people dressed in white and walking barefoot in a sandbox for The Old Globe production of Romeo and Juliet. For me, the oversized sandbox symbolized society not getting along. For Edelstein, we are told at the talk with the actors sans the director, after the show, that he thought the sandbox to be a place of playfulness and innocence. Another audience member thought maybe she over thought the sandbox as being a place for people to learn to get along. The young lady leading the talk says that Barry says it is open to interpretation.

What is clear is that Edelstein aims for a fun Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo (Aaron Clifton Moten) carries a guitar everywhere. Striding, he holds the instrument with the neck pointing away from himself as he loudly strums and sings “I am human and I need to be loved just like everybody else does,” by the Smiths. It’s his way of explaining his love for Rosaline to Benvolio (Morgan Taylor). I root for Benvolio and Romeo for their friendship to bloom as she laughs at everything he does. Yeah they’re cousins. Benvolio leaves and Romeo sings Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” With his guitar, dragging his knees through the sand, Romeo reverberates “Ha-lle-lu-lu-lu-jah-jah-jah.” He closes his eyes for added drama.

The favorite pastime of teenagers leads the funny Mercutio (Ben Chase), best friend Benvolio, and class clown Romeo to a Capulet party. As everyone dances at the masquerade, pianist Justin Gray plays on a black grand piano, off to the side on a higher stage, surrounded by candelabras. And he plays my favorite Tchaikovsky piece! Romeo sees Juliet (Louisa Jacobson). A beam of light shines on her as all goes still. “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright,” Romeo says.

A mini piano, bench, then microphone are set in the middle of the stage. Juliet sits and places her fingers on the keys. She hunches and leans into the mic and sings. The song is familiar but is sung slow and in emo-style. Once she gets to the chorus, the audience responds to the recognition of Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.” Juliet grabs the mic and dancing breaks out to the rest of the party.

Cast of Romeo and Juliet
The cast of Romeo and Juliet at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.

It’s all fun and games until Tybalt (Yadira Correa) is knifed. Innocence is lost.

Every time there is a fight weapons come out of the sand. Or Friar Laurence (Jesse J. Perez) digs out herbs for potions. There are metal pegs along the box to mark the hidden props the actors explain.

After the masquerade, the Nurse (Candy Buckley) is left alone and takes the mic then runs to the top of the rock at the corner of the sandbox and belts out a tune. She’s over-the-top and playful as she fights for Juliet. She seems to know Juliet better than her own mother Lady Capulet (Sofia Jean Gomez).

Lady Capulet and Lord Capulet (Cornell Womack) are parents who want what they think is best for their daughter. As Lord Capulet throws his voice at his daughter about who she will marry, I think he has dealt with teenagers before. A lady behind me whispers, “Nice guy,” as Lord Capulet walks off stage. A man sitting next to her whispers, “That’s daddy.”

I had been waiting to see Romeo and Juliet for a long time. The San Diego Opera put on a production about ten years ago, but I missed it, I tell the usher. She let’s me know The Old Globe production isn’t traditional. The family behind us seems a bit critical the show wasn’t word for word. The daughters joke how their mom brought a book of the play. I wonder if that is why I rarely see the play produced in SoCal? Everyone is familiar with the play and a critic.

Be prepared to be entertained.

Before the show night traffic isn’t too bad until we get to downtown San Diego. We decide to try a new restaurant near Balboa Park in the Gaslamp but parking is difficult. I park near the colorful Horton Plaza Mall. After deciding not to eat at the Thai place and not to walk to a Sushi place we head into the mall that has a good food court and if all fails there is a new Jimbo’s. All the stores are closed. The food court is dark. A questionable man passes by. Down the escalator through the automatic doors and past the security guard, we end up in Jimbo’s. Hardly anyone is in there. I ask the guy behind the bakery section what happened. He said the mall went downhill about two years ago after Jimbo’s moved in, but Jimbo’s is doing great. He blamed Amazon, I think, or maybe I was thinking that. He said tech businesses are coming in and some of the building will be used for housing. It is eerie sitting in the Jimbo’s café almost alone with piped in music. A ghost town in the middle of a city.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare directed by Barry Edelstein runs from August 11 – September 15, 2019 at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. (This is an open-air theatre so bring a sweater and blanket. Order your coffee and tea before the show and have it waiting for you at intermission.)

The Old Globe • 1363 Old Globe Way • San Diego • CA • 92101 • Phone (619) 231-1941.

Copyright 2019 Melissa Crismon


Dancer Tawny Chapman of Backhausdance. Photo by Tim Agler Photography.

The minimalist stage with a small square platform waits under the yellow light. The dancers of Backhausdance walk out with an air of maybe a little competition or feeling out the space.

The first dance is titled The Margin (2012). The dancers are David Bagley, Jenn Bassage Bonfil, Tawny Chapman, Kathy Duran, Joshua King and Amanda Kay White. The mood music by Steve Reich remixed by Coldcut and Howie B inspires the athletic choreography.

Immediately, from the way they walk out to the way they carry their body the choreography is modern dance inspired. Leaps, pointed feet, concave and converse torsos, angular arms, touching each other causing a reaction and using all the space and levels are the details of modern dance inspired by Martha Graham and Twyla Tharp. The dancers move around the small platform in unison then breakout into similar moves but in a round, where one starts moving and then the rest follow like dominoes. It’s beautiful like seeing a rose blossom in slow motion. The male dancer leaps over the platform. The discovery of the square encourages all the dancers to play and experiment. Five of the dancers jump off leaving one behind. They lift the platform and turn it with one dancer still standing. They lean the platform with one side touching the floor. Another dancer walks on the platform and wraps her arms around the dancer already on there. They jump off then four of them run and take turns running and jumping off the platform being held by two dancers. Their muscles are long and lean in athletic wear that Jennifer Backhaus designed. Delineated muscles pop through shiny, gray capris leggings with turquoise or hot pink bra tops under loose fitting tanks that expose the long, lean arm muscles. The platform is put back in the center of the stage. Four dancers stand on the prop moving around it only on the edges. They push and pull each other until they are four bodies lying on the small platform. One pushes one off and the next dancer pushes the next dancer until they are all standing. Tawny Chapman eyes the platform as they all walk with lifted chests and arms concave to their sides ready to vie for the square. Chapman runs toward the platform as all others jolt. She wins by standing on the platform with a grin, perhaps, Isadora Duncan inspired. The audience laughs.

A Little Duet(s) (2013) has a completely different feeling yet just as energetic. Costumes by Rhonda Earick will make you feel like you’re in the 1940s and Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland is about to play. Appropriately, folk songs play by Inara George and Van Dyke Parks with a female voice singing about love. Dancers David Bagley, Tawny Chapman, Kathy Duran, Joshua King and Amanda Kay White stand side by side reaching out to each other. One of the men lifts and swings a woman causing her peach, floral dress to fall and reveal the peach petticoat as she points her legs out to his side. Both men David Bagley and Joshua King pair off. Unexpectedly, the shorter man lifts the taller man. In the end, a woman and a man come back together. He takes off his shirt and turns it inside out. She helps him put his shirt back on. They dance then struggle with some slapping. She walks away.

The third dance is Untitled (2014). Jennifer Backhaus explains that we are the first to see this new choreography. Since, naming her dances is difficult she asks the audience to give it a title after seeing it and leave their thoughts on social media. First, the costumes are great again, this time designed by Katie Wilson. Shakespeare/Summerfest Orange County offers an outdoor theatre. The breeze blows through the thin flowing, sheath dresses. Dancers: Jenn Bassage Bonfil, Tawny Chapman, Kathy Duran, Kalynn Frome, Kaitlin Regan, Chihiro Sano and Amanda Kay White wear block colors. Some dancers wear magenta, some taupe and some orange, as I recall, inspired by today’s popular colors. (You’ll want to go home and redecorate.) They move as a group then chaos ensues responding to electro-pop composed by Fol Chen. Some hit their bodies in modern dance fashion creating a sound or causing their body to react by sinking. As one dancer breaks away from the group the others try to keep everyone together. The ending is very peaceful and calming. They all lie on the floor spaced a few feet from each other. They roll to their sides and slowly move their legs and arms in the air as if a new born baby. Maybe the title should be Rebirth. Or it could be Shake the Disease because they are almost zombie-like in the beginning then find a new self.

Backhausdance is a contemporary dance company based in Orange County, California. All dances are choreographed by Jennifer Backhaus who is also the artistic director. Backhaus is a dance professor at Chapman University. She founded Backhausdance in 2003, which has performed in many festivals like INBOUND Festival at Joyce SoHo in New York City, Laguna Dance Festival, the Celebrate Dance Festival at the Alex Theatre and venues, such as, Segerstrom Center of the Arts.

The dance company does not have a home. John Walcutt, Producing Artistic Director of Shakespeare/Summerfest Orange County, hopes to change that. He already has plans to incorporate Backhausdance into the next season.

It would be so great if Backhausdance made their home at Shakespeare/Summerfest Orange County in Garden Grove. It is unusual to be exposed to this kind of contemporary, modern dance. Take advantage of this opportunity.

Backhausdance, September 25-27, 2014 at Shakespeare/Summerfest Orange County, 12762 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA 92840. Box Office (714) 590-1575. All seats are $25. If you are at Disneyland and want to do something else nearby this would be the thing to do.

Photo by Tim Agler Photography

Copyright 2014 Melissa Crismon