Two Gentlemen of Verona

I discovered Two Gentlemen of Verona when we did Hair the first time. Since the two shows share composer Galt MacDermot, one naturally led to the other -- along with less successful post-Hair projects, like Dude, Via Galactica, The Human Comedy, Jim Rado's Rainbow, and others. I had had the double-LP Two Gents cast album a long time but I don't think I had listened to it since college. When I rediscovered it in 2000, I fell in love with this score as quickly as I had fallen in love with Hair. But because the dialogue is Shakespeare, I never really seriously considered producing it. I thought Shakespeare would scare both our actors and maybe some of our audience.

And then we did Return to the Forbidden Planet in 2009 and we found out Shakespearean dialogue isn't really all that hard after all, and our audiences had no trouble understanding the dialogue, following the story, getting the jokes. I had underestimated all of us.

And really, I had been thinking for quite a while that I'd be good at directing Shakespeare. I've studied all the plays (with the world renowned expert Marjorie Garber), seen many of them, and love most of them. And from seeing the very best ones, I learned a lot, most notably that Shakespeare isn't highbrow or elitist or old-fashioned. His best plays are rowdy, playful, funny, sexy, dirty, powerful, dangerous, suspenseful, emotional, provocative -- all the things we want a good movie or show to be today. I think too much Shakespeare today is produced in pretentious quotation marks. There's an aura of importance and reverence and antiquity hanging over everything. Lesser actors try to deliver lines they clearly don't understand, or worse yet, try to impress us with their grasp of iambic pentameter. But they don't get our pulse pounding, they don't thrill us, they don't getting us cheering, crying, or bellowing with laughter. It's just kinda there. (A notable exception is The Rep, which kicks ass when it comes to Shakespeare.) I hate that, and I think I know how to avoid it.

So it only made sense that we should do Two Gents.

Though historians think this was a weak play -- it was his first, after all -- this musical version has fixed some of the more obvious problems and edited it down a bit as well. But we still get that amazing Shakespeare humor (Launce's scolding of his dog for its apathy is brilliant), gorgeous language about love and beauty and friendship, and of course plenty of mistaken identity, drag, politics, crazy coincidences, sex (for part of the show, Sylvia has four men trying to bed her), all the things we've come to expect from Will.

You can see Shakespeare trying out plot devices and exploring character psychology in Two Gents, in a way that would reach maturity later on with his best plays. He wasn't at the height of his powers yet, but he was already Will Shakespeare, and that's enough. What's cool for many of us is that Forbidden Planet was based on The Tempest, Shakespeare's last play and arguably one of his masterpieces. And now we get to work on his first piece. It gives us a cool glimpse into the arc of his theatre career.

The personal joy for me with this show is its kinship to Hair. The two share a composer, but they also share the same energy, mood, playfulness.

So rehearsals continue apace. We finished learning the Two Gents score last night, and goddamn, do we have fun with this music! We all have different favorite songs. Tomorrow, we have a night at the table, just to work our way through the script, make sure everyone understands everything, make sure everybody feels comfortable with the language. And then on Monday, we will read and sing through the entire show, getting a sense of the finished product for the first time.

What a great ride this is going to be!

Long Live the Musical!