Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Best of Both Worlds"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Carl A. Rossi


"BEST OF BOTH WORLDS"

book and lyrics by Randy Weiner
music by Diedre Murray
co-written and directed by Diane Paulus

Ezekiel … Gregg Baker
Serena, wife of Ezekiel / Daughter of Joy … Jeannette Bayardelle
Violetta, mother of Ezekiel / Daughter of Joy … Mary Bond Davis
Mamillius, son of Ezekiel and Serena … Sebastien Lucien
Rain, daughter of Ezekiel and Serena … Brianna Horne
Camillo, right hand man to Ezekiel / The Bear … Nikkieli DeMone
8-Ball, thug to Ezekiel / Tariq, son of Maurice … Lawrence Stallings
Maurice … Darius de Haas
Narrator / Sweet Daddy, a derelict … Cleavant Derricks

CHOIRS:

The Kingdom Sanctuary Choir
Glorious Voices

MUSICIANS:

Keyboard … Michael Mitchell
Guitar … James Peterson; Fred Woodard
Bass … Wesley Wirth
Drums … Yoron Israel

When I total them up, I’ve seen THE WINTER’S TALE more often than any other Shakespeare play. This late Romance of jealousy and forgiveness, of death and resurrection has caught fire for our own times and directors are forever challenged over how to join together the play’s distinct breaks between stark Tragedy and pastoral Comedy. A 2004 musicalization, BEST OF BOTH WORLDS, solves that problem by being sung throughout by an all-black ensemble who pour their hearts and plenty of soul into Randy Weiner and Diedre Murray’s rhythm-and-blues score complete with shouts, wails and honeyed falsettos. Their modern-day plot is even sillier than Shakespeare’s with Autolycus and Clown being eliminated altogether (and, surprisingly, not missed) and the famous Bear becomes a relentless street-creditor, but any purist-quibbles are swept away by the talent, the energy and the party-party atmosphere --- Happy Holidays from the A.R.T.! (Yes, the A.R.T.)

I attended the original New York production where my pleasure was severely compromised by over-amplification in a small theatre. Happily, the A.R.T. soundmen behave themselves, and the current cast is golden from top to bottom and from side to side and all have their turns to steal the show but the highlights still belong to Jeannette Bayardelie’s Serena (the sole New York member), first with the roiling anguish of “The Way I Love You” and then as the Statue coming to singing, forgiving life. Yet I didn’t enjoy BEST OF BOTH WORLDS as much, this time around: its urban smartness has been tinkered with (for example, the names of the two kings’ realms --- “Funktopia” and “Groovonia” --- have been dropped) --- and the A.R.T. has opened up its playing area to allow a flashy ensemble-entrance; after that, the nine performers have a lot of staging-filling to do --- Ms. Bayardelie now works the audience during her Big Number while Gregg Baker’s handsome, virile Ezekiel poses Scarpia-like, upstage. But don't let my reservations keep you from making your own (ticket-wise), for BEST OF BOTH WORLDS is far superior to the two WINTER’S TALEs that A.R.T. trotted out over the past decade: the former had three polar bears (Papa, Mama and Baby), a bizzaro Time-figure and a last-minute ending that instantly erased the play’s forgiveness; the latter (a student production) revolved around a playground swing. Enough said.

Five years ago, I expected a cast album of BEST OF BOTH WORLDS; correct me if I’m wrong but, so far, none has surfaced.

"Best of Both Worlds" (21 November - 3 January)
AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATRE
64 Brattle Street, CAMBRIDGE, MA
1 (617) 547-8300

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide

| MARQUEE | USHER | SEATS | INTERMISSION | CURTAIN |