If you grew up listening to 1980s Top-40 radio, you remember the words to "Maneater," brought to life by that fabulous big-haired pop/R&B duo Hall & Oates. But I bet you never thought you'd hear it sung in a production of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. Troubadour Theater Company has hit upon something of an ingenious formula. As with Troubadour's 1999 hit Twelfth Dog Night, which combined Shakespeare with the music of '70s rock act Three Dog Night, Romeo Hall & Juliet Oates blends commedia dell'arte, Hall & Oates tunes, the Bard's timeless plot, and a whole lot of goofing around. Though it may not be the first time classical theatre has met classic pop, it may be the funniest.
Artistic director Matt Walker, who directs this madcap show as well as starring as Mercutio, has a tremendous knack for keeping the jokes fast, the energy levels sky high, and the entire production teetering delicately, tantalizingly, on the edge of utter chaos. Thanks to a gifted, risk-taking ensemble, lines can be spoken, skipped, or substituted, and the show bounces clownishly along, without any one actor tugging the show too far away from the story.
Rick Batalla is our blow-dried, mustachioed Romeo Hall. Skilled at pratfalls, sudden jokes, and singing, Batalla plays love scenes?set to such tunes as "One on One" or "You Make My Dreams"--while playing with his stick-on moustache or fluffing up Juliet's fake cotton legs. As Juliet Hall, Meleney Humphrey works slickly with the surprises Batalla throws her way, playing a hilarious, childish ingenue, and mastering stilt walking to boot. Michelle Anne Johnson plays her buxom Nurse, belting a mean version of "Rich Girl."
Between his sequined jumpsuit and his spot-on late Elvis impression, when Mike Teele emerges as "the King," it's difficult for Teele not to hilariously upstage anyone around. Beth Kennedy is a fine Lady Oates, a snooty aerobics fanatic in legwarmers and formal wear.
The trick that Troubadour performs time and time again is making what is written and what is spontaneously invented blend seamlessly into one wild ride. Between belly laughs and singing along, you might have difficulty breathing. Troubadour has again managed to be the most hilarious show going, backed by a wicked four-person band (that could use perhaps a few more tech rehearsals to help the sound engineer deal with the show's lightning-fast transitions and myriad microphones).