For its fresh arrangements of classic Neapolitan pieces by Leoncavallo, Rossini, Tosti and others — with new musical comedy lyrics applied — the Mark Waldrop-directed musical earned enthusiastic reviews in the Sunshine State at Coconut Grove Playhouse, where it played Jan. 7-Feb. 2. The Jersey run opens Feb. 21 and continues to March 23. The staging is a co-production between Coconut Grove and Paper Mill. The show is subtitled "A Brooklyn Musical."
Adam Monley and Natalie Hill are the comic, star-crossed title lovers in the 1960-set (and 1560-set) show that mixes Shakespeare and "Godfather"-worthy — though comic — Italian-Americans.
Mark Saltzman (Tin Pan Alley Rag, "Mrs. Santa Claus") cooked up the libretto and penned lyrics to existing, classic Neapolitan tunes. Saltzman said 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," he told Playbill On-Line in 2002. "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 company includes Andy Karl as Dino, Rosie De Candia as Donna, Charles Pistone (of Broadway's The Most Happy Fella) as Sal, Emily Zacharias as Camille, David Brummel as Don Del Canto, Vincent Trani as Lips, Andrew Varela as Tito Titone and John Paul Almon in multiple roles. The good reviews and small cast of ten make Romeo & Bernadette enticing to potential producers who may want to take the work beyond Paper Mill. This may be a show with "pastabilities," as the press notes quip.
What's the plot?
"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," Saltzman previously told Playbill On-Line. "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."
The not-for-profit Coconut Grove and Paper Mill co produced I'm Not Rappaport with Ford's Theater in the 2001-2002 season. The Ben Vereen-Judd Hirsch vehicle moved to Broadway for a brief summer 2002 run.
Writer 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, a musical play about Irving Berlin and Scott Joplin that received an L.A. Ovation Award nomination for Best Musical, was Saltzman's first full-length work for the stage.
Director Mark Waldrop served as production supervisor and contributed special material for Bette Midler's Divine Miss Millennium Tour and has continued to collaborate with Midler on her live performances. His Broadway work includes Bea Arthur: Just Between Friends, which was nominated for a 2002 Tony Award as a Special Theatrical Event. His Off-Broadway and Los Angeles credits include When Pigs Fly, for which he also provided book and lyrics, Pete ‘n Keely and Game Show. An award-winning lyricist and writer, he's working on several new projects for Radio City Music Hall.
Associate director is Patrick Parker. Louis Forestieri provides the orchestrations. Bruce W. Coyle is arranger and musical director.
Designers are Michael Anania (scenic), Miguel Huidor (costume), Mitch Dana (lighting) and Steve Shapiro (sound).
Tickets for Romeo & Bernadette at Paper Mill in Millburn, NJ, are $30-$62. For information, call (973) 376-4343 or visit www.papermill.org.