Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami and Paper Mill: The State Theatre of New Jersey are teaming up to co-produce a new musical, Romeo and Bernadette, a mix of Shakespearean conflict and Brooklyn comedy.
The characters are "subway-crossed lovers," according to Coconut Grove, which announced a Jan. 7-Feb. 2, 2003 staging. A February-March 2003 run at Paper Mill in Millburn, NJ, will follow. Robert Johanson, who leaves his post as Paper Mill artistic director July 31, will direct. Paper Mill previously sponsored a staged reading of the piece.
Mark Saltzman (Tin Pan Alley Rag) wrote the book and lyrics. The score is billed as "classic Italian music" — Neapolitan tunes — with new lyrics. "It's 'The Sopranos' meets Romeo and Juliet," a Paper Mill spokesman told Playbill On-Line. A happy ending is promised. Coconut Grove likens the show to an Italian Guys and Dolls.
What's the plot? Here's how librettist lyricist Saltzman puts it: "It starts with an actual production of Romeo and Juliet, an extremely stodgy, overly-reverent production, and our guy who's watching it has brought a girl on a first date to see it. She's so overcome with tears with Romeo dying that he can't get anywhere with her. So he starts spinning out his own version of it, in which Romeo doesn't actually die from drinking poison, it was just more of the sleeping potion that Juliet took. He wakes up a few hundred years later and he's in modern-day Verona, and sees a girl who looks remarkably like Juliet (she'll be played by the same actress) and Romeo sizes her up and decides Juliet is somehow still alive and follows her back home from Italy to Brooklyn, where it turns out she's the daughter of a Mafia don and he gets involved with the wrong family. But this time it works out! This is spun out by our narrator, who is basically trying to impress his date with his knowledge and his humor."
Saltzman says the music is comic and romantic and rich. "Being that Romeo and Juliet is an Italian story, I used Italian music — Neapolitan songs, and higher grade songs: Italian art songs I guess they're called. They were pop songs of their day. Even the big opera composers, like Bellini, wrote their pop tunes too. I'm using some of these. Some are kind of familiar and some are pretty obscure. I had to dig into the back of the Bellini book. I wrote lyrics to these tunes. Some of them are pure, throwing-your-heart-at-the-moon romantic songs. Some of them are kind of 'gondolier tunes' that are extremely romantic and appropriate for this." The two not-for-profits co-produced I'm Not Rappaport with Ford's Theater in the 2001-2002 season.
Mark Saltzman wrote the CBS television production "Mrs. Santa Claus" starring Angela Lansbury, with songs by Jerry Herman. For the movies, he wrote "The Adventures of Milo and Otis" and screenplays for Disney and Tri-Star. In New York theatre, he was a co-writer of the musical revue, A...My Name Is Alice and, as a musical composer, scored several plays at the Soho Rep. For many years he wrote songs and scripts for "Sesame Street," where he earned seven Emmy Awards. The Tin Pan Alley Rag, which received an L.A. Ovation Award nomination for Best Musical, is Saltzman's first full-length work for the stage.
The Tin Pan Alley Rag is a musical play about Irving Berlin and Scott Joplin. The story chronicles the meeting of the two musical giants of the 20th century in New York City in 1915 when 28th Street was known as "Tin Pan Alley," the music publishing capital of the world. The Wilma Theater offered the Philadelphia premiere in fall 1999.