New musical inspired by Shakespeare
Cast of "The Verona Project" | Photo by www.JustinBarbin.com.
‘The Verona Project’
Josephine Louis Theater, Northwestern University, 20 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston
Oct. 19 to Nov. 4
For tickets and show times, call (847) 491-7282 or visit www.VeronaNU.com
Updated: October 17, 2012 3:21PM
Updating Shakespeare presented a challenge for Amanda Dehnert.
She was asked to write music and a script for a new look at Shakespeare’s first comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” but there was that theme. “His play was all about choosing male friendship over romance,” said the associate professor of theater at Northwestern University. “My piece is not about that at all.”
Dehnert’s take is a musical titled “The Verona Project,” an indie-folk-rock piece mixing theater and live music for quite a different modern fable. The Midwest premiere of the show will have 13 performances at Northwestern in Evanston starting Oct. 19.
“Let’s say that I was inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Verona,’” Dehnert explained. “I love his characters and I love the theme of friendship. But my story is about using your talents, about making mistakes, sometimes massive ones, and still enduring and living and still being able to connect with each other.”
The Verona Project premiered in July 2011 at the California Shakespeare Theater an outdoor summer festival in Berkeley, where it ran for four weeks and garnered critical acclaim from the area press. “Amanda wrote it, composed the music and directed it,” said Josh Horvath, who has been with the show as sound designer and music producer since its inception.
Horvath, an adjunct professor at Northwestern, is impressed with the talent of the nine performers in the show, all but one being Northwestern students. Leading the cast is Jeff-nominated Chicago actor Chance Bone, known for his work with Steppenwolf, Lookinglass and other area theaters.
The student cast includes Patrick Budde, David Corlew, Lillie Cummings, Graham Duff, Michelle Schechter, Jeremy Shpizner, Zach Sorrow and Maddie Weinstein.
“They do it all,” Horvath said. “They sing, they play multiple instruments and they are actors as well.” Instruments include everything from electric guitar to rock violin.
According to Dehnert, between 60 and 70 young hopefuls from the departments of theater, music and/or performance studies auditioned for the handful of roles.
“They were given a song from the show,” she said. “Their musical sensibility mattered, because in this production they have to operate as a band.”
Dehnert retains the names of Shakespeare’s characters, including the two best friends, Proteus and Valentine, but Julia is now the only girl. Silvia, who was loved by both gentlemen of Verona, has become Silvio, who is no less an object of affection. “There’s also a twist, but I won’t reveal it,” she said. “It would ruin my story.”
The production is supported by the American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) and the Theatre and Interpretation Center at Northwestern. Both Horvath and Dehnert have worked on previous AMTP shows. Horvath came aboard on the very first show, “Was,” which referenced characters from “The Wizard of Oz.” He also worked on “The Boys Are Coming Home,” “Boy in the Bubble” and “Dangerous Beauty.”
Dehnert came to Northwestern in the fall of 2006 in time to work on “Asphalt Beach” and has continued to be involved with the American Musical Theatre Project in such shows as “Not Wanted on the Voyage.”
AMTP support will continue for “The Verona Project.” It will be presented next May at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California.
“This is a once-upon-a time fable,” said Dehnert. “It is about coming of age, finding out who you are. It speaks to everyone, plus it is surprisingly funny.”
“The themes in this show are universal,” Horvath added. “It’s about first love, and loss and how those things never change. They are as true today and they were in Shakespeare’s day.”