On Thursday, Oct. 19, West Chester University’s Theatre and Dance program presented their version of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” in the Swope Music Building and the Performing Arts Center in front of a packed house. Directed by Charlie DelMarcelle, the cast and crew performed a rock’n’roll themed rendition of its original masterpiece.
As the crowd began to funnel in on opening night, the stage had already been set; the cast and crew were prepared. The ticket booth had posted a sign that read, “SOLD OUT.” The anticipation for West Chester’s fall production was finally coming to an end. Last minute tuning and wardrobe changes were made, and it was time to begin the show. The lights dimmed, the crowd hushed, the subtlety of drum and bass collided. Showtime.
Though it wasn’t the type of theatre performance you would expect, especially concerning Shakespeare, it was unquestionably valid and mesmerizing. The Department of Theatre and Dance outdid themselves in spectacular fashion. Their interpretation of “Romeo and Juliet” will be remembered for years to come. Nothing has ever been produced quite like this. The acting was sound, the story was engaging and the music was unique.
Romeo and Juliet were played by Cole Batzler and Taylor Mattes, talented students associated with West Chester’s theatre and dance. Their portrayal of two young, star-crossed lovers signified the romance Shakespeare would have hoped to capture if performed at the Globe Theatre. The intimate relationship that was shown on stage could have easily been real; it was powerful and moving, and the audience looked on with undeniable interest.
Unlike its predecessors, this version of the iconic tale was made modern for its current viewers. The costume design was relevant, having included button-up shirts, leather boots and the occasional pair of chinos complementing the feel of the show. “What I’m going to do, or at least what I’ve tried to do with this production, is subvert your expectations,” DelMarcelle said in his director’s note. According to DelMarcelle, the act of cutting the script was essential to relay Shakespeare’s message in a way that would appeal to a present audience.
The department’s depiction of “Romeo and Juliet” continued to impress with precise choreography shown in the fighting and dancing scenes throughout the play. Each element of movement was met with hard-hitting, musical sound, increasing the intense atmosphere on stage. “We started to identify key themes in the play that we wanted to highlight, but quickly shifted our thinking by asking what kind of experience we wanted to provide for an audience who, more than likely, would never choose to see a play by Shakespeare,” says DelMarcelle.
The most memorable feature of the show was the rock’n’roll music added to enlighten the tragedy Shakespeare had written, and it did just that. A large balcony fixed on the left side of stage acted as a platform and prop for the musicians and actors of the show. There, Marissa Brewer took lead vocals and acted as Lady Capulet, while Connor Watkins played drums and doubled as Lord Capulet. Lead guitar was played by Teagan Edsell, a theatre major who also played Lord Montague in the play, and his female counterpart, Cristina Duffey, took on keyboard. The music performed throughout the play was original student work, which brought out the originality and uniqueness in the artistry.
When asked about the influences in choosing such a theme for a Shakespeare play, DelMarcelle stated, “I think the things we chose to do, cutting the script, adding concert style lighting, focusing on fight choreography, playing amazing student-written music, really achieved both goals in supporting the elements of Shakespeare’s work while simultaneously entertaining an audience.”
Overall, the rock’n’roll factor made Shakespeare’s play livelier, keeping you on the edge of your seat throughout the performance. This weekend’s show answered the high hopes established by theatre lovers and proved to be a liable substitute for Shakespeare’s classic work. Their next play is “Exit the King,” “an absurdist exploration of ego and morality,” performed between Nov. 9 and 17.
Tom Spedding is a student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at MF845745@wcupa.edu.