Damon Daunno, left, as Romeo and Kelli Barrett as Juliet
My mind is blown.
Director Michael Kimmel and an incredibly talented cast of young singer/actors proved last night that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet works surprisingly well with the music of the late Jeff Buckley.
The place: Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in NYC’s East Village.
The time: 9:30 last night.
The event: The second of three concert readings of The Last Goodbye, billed as “an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet featuring music and musical compositions by Jeff Buckley.”
Strictly speaking, that description is not entirely accurate. All of the show’s music is certainly associated with Jeff, but two numbers that figure prominently in the new show, aren’t his tunes at all. But Jeff’s glorious versions of “Corpus Christi Carol” and Leonard Cohen‘s “Hallelujah,” that were included on Grace, the only album Buckley released before his death in 1997, introduced a generation of listeners to those songs.
Despite that small quibble, the show is remarkably strong.
The Last Goodbye got off to a slightly slow start, but picked up quickly. It was full of great singingand humorous, rapid-fire delivery of the Bard’s dialogue.
The cast, which was so big it could barely fit on the tiny Joe’s Pub stage, was consistently strong. Damon Daunno, as Romeo, acted and sang with great conviction. And while few, if any, singers could match Jeff’s otherworldly vocal style, Damon came closer than I ever would have expected. Kelli Barrett was delightful as Juliet. But Jo Lampert stole the spotlight when she stepped forward in her role as Mercutio, demanding attention with her sinuous physical comedy and stunningly powerful rock voice.
A rock quartet provides the instrumental underpinning, delivering Jeff’s music in arrangements that suffer from taking too many cues from Broadway’s Spring Awakening. Kimmel and Musical Director Kris Kukul, who did the arrangements, should set aside their Duncan Sheik crib sheets and revisit the arrangements with fresh ears.
There’s one performance left, at 9:30 p.m. next Monday. It’s sold out, but there’s a good chance there will be some seats available on standby, so don’t hesitate to stop by.
I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.