Romeo & Bernadette

A.R.T./New York Theatres Mezzanine Theatre, Manhattan

What would The Bard think of this comedic sequel to his famous tragic love story?

By Andrew Andrews

Anna Kostakis and Nikita Burshteyn star as Bernadette and Romeo in AMAS Musical Theatre's production of Mark Saltzman's Romeo & Bernadette. Original photos by Russ Rowland.

It’s 1960, and a young man from Brooklyn tries to impress his “college girl” date with an alternative ending to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.

In his version of the story, Romeo has only taken a huge gulp of the Friar’s magic sleeping potion instead of poison, knocking him out for five hundred years.

When he awakens, he wanders out into modern Verona in search of his Juliet, and mistakes a tourist from Brooklyn named Bernadette for his one true love.

Bernadette is the daughter of a mob boss named Sal Penza, and is engaged to marry a domineering young thug named Tito, who has eyes not only for Bernadette, but for a place in the family business as well.

After following her back to the States, Romeo befriends Dino, the son of a competing mob boss named Don Del Canto, and is adopted by the father before learning of the feud between the families.

The ensuing musical comedy finds Romeo once again in the role of a star-crossed lover, caught between loyalty to his adopted father and devotion to a young woman who has mixed feelings about his dedication.

Bernadette’s mother, Camille (Judy McLane) discusses wedding dresses with “The Coco Chanel of Bensonhurst” (Troy Valjean Rucker).

If you like musicals, you like comedy and you like Shakespeare, you’ll love this show.

The script has been carefully crafted to draw as much inspiration as possible from The Bard’s timeless play, with all of the shallow infatuation and interfamilial conflict of the source.

Experts say the original tragedy was intended to portray a caricature of young love, and it just feels right for playwright Mark Saltzman to continue the story as a comedy instead of a drama.

Some of the casting for this production is, shall I say, far-fetched, and one actor in particular has been tasked with no fewer than eight small parts. As long-time subscribers know, I generally consider this a turn-off, but as the story progressed and the roles became increasingly absurd, I really appreciated the ridiculousness of all of the apparent miscastings.

Most of the songs are catchy if a bit short, which is perfect for the genre. As with my recent review of Jagged Little Pill, some of the vocals here could have been stronger, but the exceptional performance by Judy McLane deserves a “Brava!

In the Shakespearian tradition, the set is sparse and depends mostly on props to convey the setting of each scene. The live orchestra is perfect enough to be mistaken for a recording, and the actors deliver their roles with comedic expertise.

I can’t imagine a more appropriate modern-day sequel to Romeo & Juliet, and AMAS Musical Theatre’s production of Romeo & Bernadette couldn’t be easier to enjoy.

Andrew Andrews attended Romeo & Bernadette at A.R.T./New York Theatres Mezzanine Theatre in Manhattan on Sunday, January 19, 2020 @ 3:00pm to write this review.