Think Fonzie from “Happy Days” and Rydell High School from “Grease.” Take sneakers, fifties songs and poodle skirts and mesh them with Shakespeare’s verse and you have the wonderful Shake-It-Up Shakespeare Youth Ensemble’s rendition of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that played for four sold-out performances on Stage II of New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre August 23-26.
Delightfully conceived by the theater’s Director of Education Annie DiMartino and musical director Carol Taubl, more than two dozen local teenagers ages 15-21 auditioned to take part in this amazing free six-week program.
Love hits a giant speed lump (that’s twice as big as a speed bump) when Egeus (Alex Carrasco), the father of Hermia, a vibrant Rachel Skalka, decrees that she must marry Demetrius, a dedicated but nerdy Jeremiah Taubl, instead of the man she adores, Lysander, a hunky heartthrob Henry Tobelman. Egeus kindly gives her three choices: do as he says or enter a convent or die.
Adding to the romantic confusion, Demetrius is the source of angst for Helena, Hermia’s best friend, who has given him her heart, whether he wants it or not. He doesn’t. Jane Logan’s Helena is an energetic bundle of talent who is the princess of physical comedy to Jeremiah Taubl’s prince.
The two pairs of lovers troop off to the woods, leaving Athens and the authority of their school principal (Matthew Johnson), the basketball coach (Celine Montaudy) and the choir director (Emily Walters) far behind them. There, in the forest, they come in contact with a magical world of fairies, led by the manipulative King Oberon, a masterful Sam Taubl and his lady fair, Queen Titania, a mysterious Nina Dicker, who are squabbling over a changling child (Gabriel DiMartino, age 8) they both desire.
When Oberon decides to participate in an episode of massive trickery, he employs his jester Puck, an obedient but confused Jack Taubl, to plant magic drops in the eyes of the forest visitors, including the Queen, with hilarious consequences. Puck becomes an unwitting Cupid, making his victims fall head over heels in love with whomever they see first when they awake. If you haven’t been paying attention, there are a quartet of Taubl brothers performing, all from New Haven.
To entertain the high school principal and his woman, the basketball coach, a troupe of inept actors led by Peter Quince (Ryan Ronan), put on a play about Pyramus and Thisbe. The group include Erik Van Eck, Ethan Pierson, Bowen Kirwood, Tommy Ordway and James Taubl, who as Nick Bottom, is graced with donkey ears and finds himself the inappropriate object of the Queen’s affections.
The Queen has an entourage of lovely fairies who attend her, including Dawn Williams, Kira Topalian, Lauren Buonasora, Maya Rose, Chloe Chappa and Alex Luft, who dance with spirit and style.
Throughout the production, songs from the 1950’s are interwoven with incredible joy, songs like “It’s Summertime,” “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “My Girl,” “Love Me Tender” and “Do You Believe in Magic?” To Annie DiMartino, “the language and poetry use music to really understand the heartbeat of the characters.”
What a terrific dream world these talented teens conjured up. Mark your calendars now for next summer’s Shake-It-Up Shakespeare.