From the moment one enters the intimate Lion Theatre and sees Joshua Warner’s irreverent Set: the giant, clip art, bulb-lit arrow and graphic pointing hand, a broken arc of stage bulbs, black and white cardboard cut-outs signifying Grecian columns and familiar blue and white Greek coffee shop signage, we know this is no traditional production of The Boys From Syracuse.
Director Jonathan Cerullo’s limber imagination shapes the tuneful 1938 show into a vaudeville meets musical romp cast entirely – but for one-of men! Just as during the Depression, we need what producer Mel Miller calls “a knock-about comedy.” With songs like “Falling In Love With Love,” “This Can’t Be Love,” and “Sing For Your Supper,” to carry one along, the experience is thoroughly enjoyable.
Matt Dengler and Ian Fairlee (Ephesus)
Successfully executing this kind of daft, precision humor in a matter of a mere three weeks is something of a marvel. Ethan Steimel’s scrupulous Lighting Design aides and abets freeze-frames and a waka-waka Harpo horn which punctuates ba-dump-dump moments – not one held too long. The small stage is artfully occupied from the band on a balcony, up and down various ladders, and onto the theater floor by a predominantly talented and entirely game company. Let the shindig begin!
The story, as you may recall, involves two sets of twins separated during a shipwreck seven years ago and mishaps that occur when they all unknowingly find themselves in the city of Ephesus. At the top of the show, the local Duke (Shavey Brown) condemns Aegeon (Jody Cook) to death for being a citizen of Syracuse unable to pay a tithe. Aegeon is father to one set of twins (the other set is their servants). He’s searching for his sons.
Matthew Fairlee and Josh Walden (Syracuse)
Twin Antipholus of Ephesus (Matt Dengler) long ago gave his parents up for dead. He and servant Dromio of Ephesus (Ian Fairlee) live well. The master has a loving wife – Adriana (Jonathan Hoover), and willing mistress, head courtesan of a neighboring brothel (Sam Given). Dromio is married to kitchen maid Luce (Adam B. Shapiro – an inspired piece of physical casting albeit with apparent talent quotient.) Also in their household is Adriana’s sister Luciana (Darrell Marris Jr.).
When Antipholus of Syracuse (Josh Walden) and his servant Dromio-of Syracuse (Matthew Fairlee – yes, the actor servants are real twins) arrive in town, the two are immediately mistaken for their doppelgangers by a tailor, a merchant, the head courtesan (Sam Given), local constabulary, and Antipholus of Ephesus’s household. The hapless Syracusians are even pressed into spending a night with their brothers’ spouses. Realizing it’s unsafe to remain, the visitors plan to return home when Antipholus of Syracuse falls in love with Luciana. Got all that? Believe me, it’s clear as you’re watching.
Matt Dengler, Jose Luaces, Shavey Brown holding Ian Fairlee
Both Antipholuses – Matt Dengler (Ephesus) and Josh Walden (Syracuse) are triple threats. They act, sing, and dance well. Both are adroit with comic timing. Whether planned or not Dengler’s more naturalistic acting beside Walden’s somewhat more broad, music hall delivery works wonderfully further distinguishing the two. (Walden could easily play Jolson.) Thespians worth following.
The Dromios, Ian Fairlee (Ephesus) and his brother Matthew Fairlee (Syracuse) are funny, credibly innocent, and physically adept.
Adam B. Shapiro is marvelous as Luce. The performer stakes claim to the stage without going over a prescribed top (mugging is skilled). A big man, he’s light on his feet, deft with a look, playful; in context – believable. And he sings!
Jonathan Hoover makes the most of Adriana with female bearing, movement, and reactions that serve the production admirably. Darrell Marris Jr.’s Luciana is palpably wide-eyed, soft, and besotted. Sam Given’s sinuous Courtesan is aptly sassy but pushes it to abrasive.
Creative Directorial moments include in part: the tale of the shipwreck told in puppet cut-outs, shadowplay, searching the audience for “an honest man,” an unexpected, hat and cane soft shoe, spoken sound effects, clever acknowledgement of lyrics ahead of their time, tongue-in-cheek, synchronized movement, well engineered fisticuffs… Jonathan Cerullo keeps his cast taut and quick, almost none of them self conscious about farce. Staging is aesthetically appealing and fluid, choreography fun; vivacious high spirits sustained.
A scene where courtesans show their “wares” seems less well thought out and the third reprise of a wonderful, harmonized rendition of “Sing For Your Supper” might ditch its blazers and fedoras.
Adam B. Shapiro, Darrell Marris Jr., Jonathan Hoover
Hope Salvan’s Costumes intentionally have that rummaged from trunks in an attic aspect. Antipholuses and Dromios look swell. Luce resembles a splendid, lavender-wigged Raggedy Anne. I can’t say I understand sporting jeans underneath dresses and courtesan drapery. Use footless leggings if you need cover. Being tentative with sexual designation works against the preposterous credence of the production.
Also featuring: Joseph Scott Holt, Jose Luaces, Elliott Mattox.
The production’s token and completely extraneous female, actress Madeline Hamlet, wears a “The Future Is Female” t-shirt and mostly speaks in irritating squeaks. I would encourage the role dropped in any revivals.
The Band: Cupid & The Arrows– Evan Rees—Conductor/keyboard, Michael Bagby-second keyboard, Matt Watson-drums/percussion, Joseph Scott Holt- cello/violin/percussion
This is Musicals Tonight’s 98th revival of an American musical. It deserves our support.
Photos by Milliron Studios Photography
Opening: The Company
Musicals Tonight! presents
An (almost) ALL MALE production of
The Boys From Syracuse
Adapted from Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors
Libretto- George Abbot
Music- Richard Rodgers; Lyrics- Lorenz Hart
Directed by Jonathan Cerullo
Music Director/Conductor- Evan Rees
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Through February 26, 2018
NEXT: Anything Goes- February 27-March 11, 2018