Imagine the marriage of Madonna and Boy George, musically that is, with Joan Jett and Foreigner, as well as MASH mating with The Muppets, with a few Ghostbusters thrown in for good measure. Sounds crazy, no, or just ingenious when it's the brain child of Annie DiMartino, Long Wharf Theatre's unique Director of Education. Oh, and I forgot the best part. All of the above are integral players in a comic tale by the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
From August 21-24, a group of mightily talented teens will produce, under the direction of Annie DiMartino, musical direction by Carol Taubl and stage manager Mallory Pellegrino, their own innovative version of "Much Ado About Nothing." These kids sing and dance and play musical instruments and, of course, act their bodkins and doublets off. In this case, it's the 1980's, not the 16th century, so their mode of dress is go-go boots and neon garb.
The action spirals around two sets of lovers, Benedick and Beatrice who delight in throwing witty barbs in a merry war of words at each other to prove how much they detest one another (methinks, they doth protest too much) and Claudio and Hero who fall instantly in love, so much so that they are speechless and can barely utter a word of affection.
Enter the princely Don Pedro, just home from war, an amiable fellow who has the burden of an illegitimate brother Don John, a sullen and bitter soul out to cause mischief and grief. Don John sets his sights on the idyllic courtship of Claudio and Hero and decides to disrupt their upcoming nuptials. Luckily his plot is overheard and the usual inept police led by Dogberry and Verges emerge victoriously over the perpetrators of doom Borachio and Conrad and Don John's plot is overthrown.
Meanwhile merry mischief is planned in a grand attempt to get Benedick and Beatrice to admit that they secretly love each other. A glorious double wedding ends in a joyous celebration.
What is all this you might question. It's the fifth summer of Shake-It-Up-Shakespeare where twenty-five high school and college students audition for and rehearse a full Shakespearian production, alternating tragedy and comedy, with the added enhancement of pop culture and music. Just a glimmer of an idea when Annie DiMartino, a teacher of musical theater at Educational Center for the Arts mentioned it to her class pianist Carol Taubl, it has blossomed into a much anticipated seasonal event.
Kids come from all over the state, many returning year after year until they graduate out. All teens from ages 15-21, they learn tools and techniques, character development, script analysis, how to scan Shakespeare's language of iambic pentameter, poetry and verse, as well as songs, dances, their lines and their instrumental parts, all in a brief but stuffed six weeks period.
For Rachel Skalka of Woodbridge, soon to be a junior at Boston College, who has been in the program for the third summer, "I think it is outstanding. I was skeptical at first about applying modern music to Shakespeare's text but it is seamless, not at all cut and paste. Even though it sounds campy, there is an emotional depth with the pop music. It's another lens to study the text through."
As Benedict's contrary frienemy (friend/enemy), Rachel plays Beatrice. "I've never played anyone similar to myself, a woman who says what's on her mind at all times, for the greater good. She's really cool and who I want to grow up to be...It's so soap opera dramatic."
It's clear Annie DiMartino loves Shakespeare, loves teaching children to love him too and loves putting a clever musical spin on her productions. Come see what she's accomplished with "Much Ado About Nothing." Performances are at Long Wharf Theatre's Stage II, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven on August 21-23 at 7 p.m. and August 24 at 2 p.m. For tickets, a mere pittance at $10, call 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org.
Come cheer on the rock stars of tomorrow today: Chrystina Bonelli of Guilford (Sexton); Morgan Campbell of Westbrook (Watch
1/Dance Captain); Katie Casablanca of Oxford (Chorus); Chloe Chappa of Oxford (Ursula); Megan Dykhouse of Fairfield (Chorus); Erica Gonsiewski of Hamden (Chorus); Lily Holmes of Sandy Hook (Margaret); Sara Jadbabaie of Woodbridge (Messenger); Natasha Kaluzynski of Bethany (Watch 3); Josie
Kulp (Dogberry/Balthazar); Oriana Mack of Woodbridge (Verges/Band Singer); Haley Maruca of North Haven (Leonata); Logan Mogle of Trumbull (Don John); Chad Parker (Friar Francis); Julia Raucci of West Haven (Chorus); Ryan Ronan of West Haven (Borachio); Rachel Skalka of Woodbridge (Beatrice); Mackenzie Stratton of Orange (Antonia); Stephanie Sutton of Woodbridge (Chorus); James Taubl of New Haven (Don Pedro); Jeremiah Taubl of New Haven (Claudio); Sam Taubl of New Haven (Benedick); Ashley Velleco of Ansonia (Conrad); Dawn Williams of Trumbull (Hero); and Mikayla Zeitlin of Guilford (Watch 2.)
Her message is don't miss the best moments of life due to distractions, like television and movies. Watch her students bring her novel theatrical and musical concepts to brilliant life...it's much ado about something special.