We hope this review doesn’t cometh too late, as this year’s Shakespeare on the Common production is not to be missed. Luckily, there’s still time to get to a performance, as the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s 18th installment of the free, open-air production — this year “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” — runs through Sunday.
“I don’t think this is the original Shakespeare,” a girl sitting on an adjacent blanket whispered to her companion, as a recording of “Luck Be a Lady” filled the Common with the unmistakable, silky tones of Sinatra’s croon. And indeed, it is not. This is Shakespeare reimagined and reinvented, transplanted to a flashy, Vegas-style Milan and set to the nostalgic, swinging tunes of the Rat Pack era. This is Shakespeare that you have not seen before.
I couldn’t have picked a better night to catch a show. The oppressive heat wave that had many of us under self-imposed house arrest had just broken — a brief, light rain had passed through, leaving the Common glistening with dew in the setting sun — and people flocked to one of the last performances of the season in droves. My companions and I worried that we might not be able to see the stage from our vantage point behind the gazebo (for the record, I’d like to call a moratorium on high-backed beach chairs and fedoras, the man in my direct line of sight had come with both) but, luckily, this group of performers are fine enough actors to emote and entertain through dialogue and song alone.
And what songs! If the Bard as told through the music of Old Blue Eyes sounds like an unlikely marriage, it is. But it’s also a great one. “Two Gentlemen”’s soundtrack is a mix of Sinatra recordings and live renditions of classic Sinatra-era hits. The live numbers are performed with particular aplomb by Peter Cambor (as the scheming Proteus) and Ellen Adair (the glamorous Silvia, who has stolen the hearts of Proteus and his unwitting friend Valentine, played by Andrew Burnap).
It would be hard to pick a star of this show, as each each talented actor brings something unique to the stage. Jenna Augen as Julia, the love interest Proteus has cast aside in pursuit of Silvia, brings both brassy neurosis and endearing innocence to her role. Adair, meanwhile, is every inch the vixen, imbuing her blonde bombshell persona with believable sex appeal, largely through vocal innuendo. The breakout stars of this rollicking show, however, might be the four-legged ingenues — CommShakes has incorporated dogs into the show, a surprise that enchanted the entire audience.
Enchanting is the word, I think, for this year’s production. Perhaps it was a unique alchemy of the cast’s obvious enthusiasm for their craft, an audience ready to be wowed, and one beautiful midsummer’s eve, but this reviewer was swept up.