Alex Timbers, Jay Armstrong Johnson and Talisa Friedman Talk Shakespeare and Song in Jeff Buckley Musical The Last Goodbye

By Evan Henerson
20 Sep 2013

Choreographer Sonya Tayeh and director Alex Timbers
Choreographer Sonya Tayeh and director Alex Timbers
Photo by David Gordon chats with the director and stars of The Last Goodbye, the new musical fusing Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet with music by Jeff Buckley.

Try, only try, to find a theatre type — creative or thespian — who doesn't possess some kind of connection to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It's harder than it looks, and not simply because the folks we're asking happen to be up to their eyeballs in Montagues and Capulets during this the season of high-profile productions of Romeo and Juliet.

Biting into the immortal lines of Act 2, scene 2 — AKA the "Balcony Scene" — during a final callback audition, Talisa Friedman came to a distressing realization and therefore made sure to take her time and get the most out of every syllable.

"I remember having this moment of knowing it was probably the last time I would get to say these words for at least a very long time," recalled Friedman. "So I remember taking my time and observing that experience because it was so special to me."

Was she an R and J devotee? Big time.

"I read it in 9th grade English which was the perfect time since I was Juliet's age," said Friedman. "It was an explosive experience, because I was going through lot of what she was going through, discovering myself as a person, and you've got your hormones and your sexual level and everything. I was just smitten with it. I saw every movie version and I saw a fantastic production at the Folger when I was 15. It's always been my dream part."

Not to worry. She got the part, although for this particular rendering of Juliet, Friedman would have to handle a ballad as dexterously as a couplet. The Last Goodbye, a musical mash-up of Shakespeare and the songs of Jeff Buckley, swaps out all that balcony banter for the duet of the unrecorded number "All Flowers in Time."

Talisa Friedman
photo by Matthew Murphy

Following a much buzzed-about production at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2010, this latest incarnation of The Last Goodbye, conceived and adapted by Michael Kimmell and directed by Alex Timbers, has its West Coast premiere at San Diego's The Old Globe, with previews beginning Sept. 22.

Friedman's hardly the only one in San Diego with a long-standing Romeo and Juliet itch.

Her Romeo, Jay Armstrong Johnson (Hands on a Hardbody), may have trained in musical theatre rather than the classics, but the tale and the role of Romeo has a resonance with him as well. As a 5th grader in Mr. Ingraham's class at Eagle Mountain Elementary School in Fort Worth, TX, young Johnson took on the role of Romeo for the first time and subsequently decided that the actor's life was for him.

"The role and the play keeps popping up into my life," said Johnson. "I did a student-run production in college and scene study when I was 14. (The Last Goodbye) feels like my biggest break so far."

Even Timbers has a Capulet vs. Montague in his dramatic past. At Yale University, Timbers appeared in an immersive production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Lucca Borghese, that had audiences following the action in and out of alleyways, over patios and across three floors of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life.


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