Le Sigh – Romeo et Juliette at Pacific Northwest Ballet

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

Ok, so I went to the ballet on Friday night.  The classical ballet company here in Seattle, Pacific Northwest Ballet, to see the ballet version of one of my favorite stories of all time: Romeo and Juliet.  Although, when purchasing tickets, I was quite surprised to see the title written in a French version of Romeo et Juliette, and that should have been my first clue that this would not be the story I know and love.  But my dumbass ignored that sign, and went to McCaw Hall expecting to be taken on an emotion filled journey of love and tragedy as only the two young lovers conjured out of Shakespeare’s imagination could take me.  And oh, how disappointed I was.

This piece takes place in two acts, with one intermission and a pause halfway through the second act.  FYI, there will be spoiler alerts to both story and design, so if you plan to go see this monstrosity to form your own opinion and want to be surprised, then stop reading now.

Anyway, back to this show, so the first act started out all kinds of weird.  Friar Laurence, danced by Miles Pertl starts the show with two acolytes dancing with him and starts the show as if remembering the story of Romeo et Juliette, with odd, jarring choreography that didn’t sit well on Mr. Pertl’s body.  One of the acolytes danced much stronger than him, so the casting seemed off right out the gate.

Then we move in to the street scene to introduce our hero, his two buddies Mercutio and Benvolio, as well as the antagonist, Tybalt.  This scene followed the standard story with the Capulets and Montagues picking at each other and provoking each other.  Although, in the dance world this was shown mostly through sad, pathetic shoving of each other.  Whether it was women shoving women, or men shoving men, the force of the shoves was laughable, the overacting of the ones being shoved made my eyes roll every time they ‘fell’ or ‘stumbled’, and yes I’m using quotes because it was that poorly acted.  There were no weapons to be seen on any of the men, no daggers or swords, which given the amount of falling down from everyone, I get that choice, but definitely foreshadowed problems to come within the story.

Romeo, danced by James Moore is introduced straight away, and while a beautiful man and a stunning dancer, I didn’t really feel a connection between him and his mates, although he did a nice job fawning over Rosaline, danced by Kylee Kitchens.  Although, Mercutio also seemed besotted with her, which isn’t part of the story, so that was odd to see. There was lots of shoving to get her attention, including from Tybalt who also seemed to be both protective of Rosaline as well as wanting her.  The choreography was uninteresting, repeats of steps over and over, and the energy seemed low for an opening night.  Ugh, just boring.

Eventually all the girl slapping and play fighting in the street ends, and we land in Juliette’s bedchamber where the Nurse, delightfully danced by Margaret Mullin was draped in the ugliest costume I’ve ever seen!  Ms. Mullin had wonderful acting chops, so she was somehow able to tell the story through this mammoth dress she was wearing, so good on her for that!  Couldn’t have been easy.

Here we meet the one who is supposed to be the leading lady of this show, Juliette, danced by the lovely Noelani Pantastico, and the actual leading lady of this show, Lady Capulet, danced by Laura Tisserand.  Seriously, Ms. Pantastico danced mere minutes in this entire scene compared to Lady Capulet, who had solo after solo in the opening scene.  Mama C slinked and slithered her sexy self around the stage, and I’m telling you, girlfriend didn’t know this show ain’t about her!

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Clearly the choreographer didn’t either, because the phrases created by Jean-Christophe Maillot let Ms. Tisserand dance foreeeeever throughout this scene, so I think he thinks this show is about Lady C as well.  Ugh.  Perhaps if they called it Lady Capulet, instead of Romeo et Juliette, I’d have liked it more!

Moving on, we get to the ball, the young lovers see each other, fall instantly in love, and try to continue to spend time together while party goers twist and turn about the stage getting in their way.  Tybalt, danced by Seth Orza, constantly interrupting, Mercutio, danced by Jonathan Porretta, constantly interrupting, and Rosaline just always kind of there creates the tension.  And how do they interrupt?  More shoving of course.  Bored!  So friggin bored!  And it went on forever!

And just when you think ok, we’re about to move on, nope Mama C is back on stage working her program with another solo.

Additionally, there were a lot of comedic moments in the whole first act, and it’s like, um, this is not a comedy.  It’s a tragic love story.  But there was a lot of sexual humor, the Nurse got it the worst.  A lot of groping of her breasts by Mercutio and Benvolio that made absolutely no sense whatsoever.  There was similar behavior towards the women in the street scenes.  I didn’t get it, it just didn’t fit.

So enter the famous balcony scene, and by balcony I mean ramp.  There was a ramp that they elevated one end to create the ‘balcony’.  I didn’t hate this choice, but Romeo could actually reach Juliette, so it definitely didn’t create the feel that moment is supposed to have.  And finally the tragedy of the show reveals itself in the chemistry between Mr. Moore and Ms. Pantastico.  They had none.  Zero. Zilch.  I mean, both danced the show beautifully but I didn’t buy the relationship at all and could not connect to their journey at all.  Juliette had more chemistry with the Friar during their pas de deux than she did with Romeo.  Also, there was a lot more push and pull with these two, and in order for them to even get to the first kiss Juliette had to grab Romeo’s face and plant one on him, and even then he pulls away at first.  It was just weird all around.

We need to get to the wedding, and I can’t remember if this next part happened before or after the wedding, but I think before, but anyway, some genius decided to toss a puppet show in the middle of the ballet.  So, all the dancers in the street take a seat and watch a puppet show that literally tells the entire story of Romeo and Juliette all the way to everyone being dead.  Why?  Why was this necessary?  Why take up about 10mins or more on this stupid puppet show.  By this point, I’m so irritated, I can’t even tell you.

We eventually get to the wedding, and the Friar and acolytes are back, and the lack of chemistry still abounds between the young lovers.  They marry secretly, end up in the finally going to have some sex scene, and again, rather than let the audience into an honest, innocent moment of passion and connection, right as the young lovers sit on the triangular platform this is to be their marriage bed, they both sit up straight stare out at the audience, gasp as if they can see us, and quickly pull the covers up over their heads like a pair of 6 year olds at a slumber party.  Kill me now.

So the wedding has happened, and the dance goes on, blah blah blah, and we come to the scene where Mercutio and Tybalt die.  I’m thinking, how is this going to happen because again, there are no weapons anywhere in sight. Is Tybalt going to shove Mercutio to death?  The puppet show had a blunt bat like object, but that has yet to appear.  And just like that, the cast starts moving slow motion.  A random Capulet tosses Tybalt a blunt bat like object, and he hits Mercutio on the side of the head, killing him instantly.  Mmmmmkay, yeah, tough to suspend my disbelief on that one.  We continue in slow motion.  Romeo collapses onto Mercutio, giving silent scream after silent scream.  Seriously, there’s more passion in those screams from Romeo as he cradles Mercutio in his arms than any kiss he gave Juliette, just sayin’.

Eventually the silent screaming stops, and Romeo rushes for Tybalt.  And by rushes I mean moves in slow motion to chase him across the stage and up the ramp that used to be Juliette’s balcony.  He catches him mid-ramp, and gets him on his back and as his hands wrap around Tybalt’s neck, everything speeds up to normal speed and Romeo chokes the life out of Tybalt.  This is the most brutal, violent slaying of Tybalt I’ve ever seen in any production of R&J I’ve ever seen either as a play or as a ballet.  It was raw and gruesome, and given how boring the rest of the show was up to this point, I was ecstatic!  I truly believed Mr. Moore in that moment of passionate rage.  It was well staged and beautifully acted by both men, and it was great.  It is also the last of my compliments.

Guess who arrives on the scene to have her own set of silent screams?  Yep, Mama C is back, stealing any spotlight possible, and she was so in her moment, that when the music stopped, and she’s being dragged away from Tybalt’s body, you could hear her wailing.  And people, I was in the first balcony and could hear her.  It’s a ballet, girl, everything is supposed to be silent.  I applaud being in the moment, but get it together!

Let’s fast forward through a bit: Juliet finds out about Tybalt’s death, she’s mad at Romeo, he gets banished blah blah blah, she goes to the Friar for help, yadda yadda yadda, Friar has a plan, should include poison, it doesn’t, just some magic flick of his wrist or something, I don’t know, and poof! Juliette is ‘dead’ in the tomb.  And by tomb I mean another triangle shaped platform that is black, and she’s lying on it with her feet towards the bottom point.

Funeral processions starts, and Mama C arrives for another friggin solo.  Whipping her hair back and forth, milking the beautiful choreography, kicking her long stunning legs all over the place, without much acknowledgement of her daughter until the end.  She finally exits, and Romeo enters thinking Juliette’s dead.

Now, what should happen next , if they followed the story, is that Juliette appears dead, Romeo drinks potion to join her in death not knowing she’s only faking.  She wakes up, finds his ass dead, takes his dagger and stabs herself to join him in death.  That. Is. Not. What. Happened. Next.

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Instead, after more silent screaming by Romeo (Mr. Moore is quite good at these by the way), he eventually slowly backs away from Juliette all the way to the very corner of the downstage right side of the stage.  He’s so far down, he’s standing in the dark.  The music stops, and I’m thinking, “What the fuck is he doing?”  And suddenly the timpani drums begin to beat and this boy, with all the grace of a gazelle takes off running towards Juliette’s platform grave and friggin slides, penguin style sliding into the point of the triangle of the platform and impales himself and dies instantly on impact.

Yep, you read that right, I’ll give you a second to reread it to make sure you weren’t hallucinating.  The boy impaled himself on the set, people!!  Penguin style slide suicide! On the corner of that triangle in the pic above!  It happened!  And it was so stupid!  WTF?!?!?

And when that happened I though to myself, “Self…if he died by triangle platform set piece, how the hell is she going to die?  Cuz boyfriend does not have a dagger for her to have her ‘oh, happy dagger’ moment.”  Careful what you ask.

This chick wakes up, sees Romeo there on his face, impaled on the platform, rolls him off of it, pulls a piece of red fabric from what i can only guess is his dance belt, and pulls it up and away from him only to go upstage of him on the triangle platform, and strangle herself with the red fabric that, where it’s strategically placed looks like she’s choking herself out with Romeo’s lower intestine.  And the curtain drops.

I can’t.

I don’t know what I saw, but it was not good.  I was not entertained.  I was confused most of the time.  I was irritated by the costumes, the hideous, god awful costumes.  The set was creative and I didn’t mind the simplicity of it, but when Romeo impaled himself, penguin style, on to it, I just lost all respect for the creative team with the liberties they took with a pretty straight forward, hauntingly beautiful story.

My +1 for the night, not my beloved Random, but another friend said “I thought Romeo and Juliet was supposed to be sad.  That was trying to be funny, and instead was just laughably bad.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Shakespeare’s masterpiece ends with this line:  Never was there a tale of more woe than that of Juliet and her Romeo.  Well, for this ballet, I rewrite to say: Never was there a bigger miss and lie than PNB’s Romeo et Juliette…Le Sigh.

I give this a don’t even bother unless you want to see the story of Lady Capulet’s fantastic kicks, and laugh at the ridiculousness of Romeo impaling himself on a set piece and Juliette strangling herself with his lower intestine.  Other than those three moments, it was a waste of my time.

Ciao for now,

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How to Succeed in Theatre: The 5th Avenue’s How to Succeed in Business Has What It Takes

Entertainment Review, Musical Theatre Review

It has been a very long time since I went to the theatre and smiled the entire time!  I’ve always been a fan of the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, but given its 1960s campy nature and goofy storyline, it can be a cheesy mess from the first note if not done well.  And people, the 5th Avenue not only did this show well, they knocked it out of the friggin park!

Let’s start with the music, shall we?  I’ve said in numerous of my reviews of musicals, if you’re going to do a musical, the music better be good, and the music in this show is impeccable!  The orchestra is so on point, I even loved the overture!  And I hate overtures!  And the cast, every voice up there on an even keel of excellence, I don’t even know where to start.

Oh yes, I do, let’s start with the show’s leading character, J. Pierrepont Finch played by the delightful and adorable Eric Ankrim.  This kid!  This ridiculously talented kid stole my heart right out the gate.  He brings to life the ambitious Finch in the most captivating way.  The protagonist in this story, Finch is a window washer hellbent on climbing his way up the corporate ladder by following the rules of a book called How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and the show follows his journey from the mailroom to the boardroom, and all the steps in between.  He’s cunning, calculating, creative, and downright charming all the way through.  You root for him whether you want to or not, whether he deserves it or not, you just want him to get everything he desires because he’s so damn likable!  Outstanding acting, the perfect tenor voice, and wonderful dancing, Mr. Ankrim is a triple threat, the likes of which I haven’t seen on a young male actor since I moved back to Seattle.  I loved him so much, that his performance alone has me already planning another trip to the 5th Avenue to see this again.  Bravo, Mr. Ankrim, I’m a huge fan of yours!  Bravo!

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Sarah Rose Davis and Eric Ankrin                                                                          Photo by Tracy Martin

The leading lady to our leading man is a lovely secretary named Rosemary Pilkington, played by the incomparable Sarah Rose Davis.  I’ve been watching Ms. David on stage since her Issaquah Kidstage days, and to this day she is my favorite Eponine I’ve ever seen live.  But I digress, Ms. Davis has blossomed into one hell of a performer, and everything she did on that stage blew me away!  Her voice, as angelic as ever, but with a grown up strength and professional finesse.  Her acting, perfectly on point with stupendous comedic timing, matching Mr. Ankrim beat for delicious beat.  Her dancing, delightful and playful, and also just downright likable.  You root for Rosemary as much as you root for Finch, and the emotional journey Ms. Davis takes us on through this show will have you giggling along with her, pining along with her, and hoping and praying she gets all that her heart desires.  There are actors, and then there are stars, and Ms. Davis is definitely a star.  Broadway better get ready, because I’ve no doubt that is where she is headed, and it will be so amazing to watch the journey.  Well done, young lady!  Bravo, and thank you for an amazing night of theatre!

I could gush about each individual cast member in this show, which would keep you reading forever, so let me just say that all around the cast was phenomenal.  Each character fully developed from the CEO to mailroom boy to the left and everyone in between, each dance step perfectly danced, each note right on pitch.  They all worked together beautifully to bring this world to life.  I had so much fun!  Bravo to the entire ensemble!

 

But before I move on to the design and direction, I do have to call out one other performance that blew my friggin mind!  Hedy LaRue played by Jessica Skerritt.  People!

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Jessica Skerritt (center  in green) as Hedy LaRue        Photo by Tracy Martin

People!  People!  This chick’s acting chops, I can’t!  I just can’t!  She’s soooooooooo friggin good!  And I apologize for not being more eloquent, but there aren’t words for how amazing she is in this role.  And having just seen Ms. Skerritt in the Sound of Music in December, well, seeing her go from an Austrian Baroness to a mistress-extraordinaire both played beautifully, the range on this superb actress is just astounding.  She’s a true chameleon, and she stole this show for me.  Good on her for taking the risks she took with this role, for her commitment to this wonderful character, and for making me long to be tall with legs for days!  I’m such a fan of Ms. Skerritt’s and will go see anything and everything she is in, cuz wow!  Just simply wow!

Now, on to the design…every element was as impeccable and perfect as the cast!  The How_to_Succeed_06_Sarah_Rose_Davis_Eric_Ankrim_and_Sarah_Rudinoff_credit_Tracy_Martin-600x400costumes, so period perfect, so wonderfully constructed, each new piece was better than the ones before.  The specifics that costumer Rose Pederson created in these pieces, from the specific color choices per character (Rosemary’s pink dresses were absolutely stunning), to the uniformity of the executives, to the flirtatious frocks of Ms. LaRue were absolutely dazzling.

The set design was a-maz-ing!  Color blocks of panels moving through the space as if choreographed along with the cast created a kaleidoscope of a world that kept me on the edge of my seat.  How would it move next?  Oh my god, that panel opens!?!?  What?  No it did not just slide that way!  Yeah, that’s how my brain went throughout this show overtime there was a scene shift.  I am so impressed with what scenic designers Tom Sturge and David Sumner pulled off for this show.  Bravo, fellas, bravo!

A show this big needs a solid director at the helm, and Mr. Bill Berry did a brilliant job with this show.  He cast it perfectly, staged it brilliantly, and clearly spent quite a bit of time on character development with each actor, because no matter if the stage only held Finch and Rosemary or if the entire cast was dancing and singing about the Brotherhood of Man, each actor on that stage was so clear in their intentions and character choices, that I was highly, highly impressed.  Mr. Berry’s concept for the show was crystal clear, he didn’t fudge with the script or try to make it something it wasn’t.  He embraced this Mad Men-esque world, and brought to life a fun-filled, lively show that anyone who sees it will leave with a smile on their face, and a song in their heart.  I know I was randomly just singing “Roooooooosemary” for at least a week afterwards.  Wonderful!  Outstanding!  Well done, Sir!

And much like Mr. Ankrim and Ms. Davis complimenting each other, so Mr. Berry’s perfect counterpart was music director Dan Pardo.  As stated above, Mr. Pardo’s music direction was fantastic!  Everything musical was perfect, every single note!

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How to Succeed in Business Ensemble                      Photo by Mark Kitaoka

And I save the best for last, because the choreography!  OH!  The wonderful, beautiful, fun, feisty, fantastic choreography done by Bob Richard!  I. LOVED. IT!  Mr. Richard did the one thing I’ve been yearning for in a show: a choreographer who uses the talent of his dancers to the best of their ability.  Were there tap sequences?  Yes! But only by the dancers who could tap his combinations.  Were there complicated jazz sequences? Yes! But the strong jazz dancers.  And when the whole cast was moving on the stage, the choreography was perfectly suited for every dancer up there!  My favorite numbers were both in Act II.  Cinderella, Darling and Brotherhood of Man took a tie for gold for the best in the show.  Thank you for a wonderful show, Mr. Richard!

This show had so many ups, and the few down weren’t really downs, but perhaps nerves at the top of the show that fizzled and died quickly as this highly skilled cast leaned into each other to pull off one of the best night’s of theatre I’ve seen in a very, very long time. Congratulations to the cast, crew, and creative team of How to Succeed!  You earned the rousing standing ovation you got the night I was there by the entire audience, and will enjoy, I’ve no doubt a standing ovation every night for the rest of the run.  Bravo!

I give this a thunderous applause and a very stern direction to all who read this to get thee1516_H2S_PageHeader_783x340 to the 5th Avenue Theatre and see this show before it closes on Feb 21!

Tickets and showtimes can be found on the 5th Avenue’s Website.

Ciao for now,

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