The show: 'Sing For Your Shakespeare' at Westport Country Playhouse
What makes it special?: World premiere of a musical revue.
First impressions: This bright, stylish and fine musical revue makes a lovely belated birthday present for William Shakespeare, 450 years old and still going strong. While the show really doesn't re-imagine any of the songs that various composers —- inspired by the Bard's plays and poetry —- have written, it's still a pleasant way to enjoy smart music, well-played and performed in a classy setting (with five —- count 'em — 5 chandeliers).
The show includes many familiar tunes from Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart and Bernstein/Sondheim, but also lesser-known work and a few real finds, too —- as well as some play excerpts from the old boy himself. It's an elegant, supper club-like affair and before the brief evening is over, audiences will be smiling with a ''hey and ho'' and ''hey nonny no.''
So no story?: It's a revue. And the theme of the show is the story. Director Mark Lamos and co-conceivers Wayne Barker and Deborah Grace Winer present it all in a straight-forward way, with just a dollop of dramaturgy.
There are some well-placed excerpts from the Bard's writings along the way but pretty much the show just lets the six performers — doing nearly two dozen solos, pairings and ensembles — sing, accompanied by fresh orchestrations by Barker and performed by a very hot, very cool band. (Six songs use the original orchestrations.)
And how are the numbers?: The program builds nicely to the last third that is made up of the most familiar material (songs from "Kiss Me Kate" and "West Side Story''). But some of the high points are in the less well-known songs: Constantine Germanacos is stunning in a wonderful discovery, "Ariel" (by Emil Adler and Julie Flanders) — he also scores in "West Side Story"'s "Maria" and "Tonight" (with Britney Coleman). Darius de Haas swings and scat sings Arthur Young's "It Was a Lover and His Lass" with Laurie Wells. Coleman brings new life to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's "Sonnet to Hank Cino." (Coleman also gets the best outfits. The other women are dressed unfortunately.)
Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash's "Speak Low" feels as if it were written for Karen Aker's low, lived-in voice and she sings it simply and well, leaning against the proscenium. She seems most comfortable in this stillness, especially after dealing with the raked stage and all the busy, sometimes silly choreography. She also gives a haunting jazz-tinged rendition of John Dankworth's "Winter." But her "Falling in Love with Love" has an odd, giddy presentation for a song that is essentially wry and sardonic.
Stephen DeRosa hits several homeruns, first with "Hamlet," a Frank Loesser jitterbug originally written for Betty Hutton. He returns as the Bard himself (an uncanny resemblance, too) for Richie Webb and David Cohen's "Shakespeare Song." DeRosa (so funny in "These Paper Bullets!" at Yale Rep) plays Will as a lounge singer and the number is hysterical.
The ensemble songs are a lot of fun too, but the pelvic thrusts from the male performers get tiresome very early on.
Who will like it?: Those who enjoy stylish singing, and Shakespeare.
Who won't?: Those who may have sought more surprising interpretations, but even these folks would probably feel well-entertained.
For the kids?: Some teens may appreciate the connections but the format says parents-night-out.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: Easy going, entertaining concert, elegantly presented. PBS on line one.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot: Revues are generally satisfying entertainments, even if they're not transcendent theatrical experiences. Billy Porter's "Being Alive" at Westport Playhouse a few years back also tapped into the Shakespeare-contemporary composer connection (focusing on Stephen Sondheim, and adding an African-American sensibility. It may have been one concept too many, but there were still plenty of pleasures.
Likewise "The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm," which Lamos staged at Hartford Stage in the late '90s and went on to Broadway for a brief run, also amounted to a fine night out. But once in a great while revues can rise far above the collective-itis of the numbers into theatrical heaven, such as "Ain't Misbehavin' " or the current Tony-nominated revue "After Midnight" with its dazzling choreography, staging and inventiveness.
The basics: The show's run is extended through June 28. The theater is located at 25 Powers Court off Route 1 in downtown Westport. The running time is 85 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 8 p.m., Wednesdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Information at 203- 227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529 and at www.westportplayhouse.org.
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