CCM Takes Romeo and Juliet to the Next Level

Review by Shawn Maus of Romeo and Juliet: CCM Drama

ccmromeoThe College-Conservatory of Music bills their R&J as a “œsubversive retelling of the Bard“™s iconic story.“ Director Brant Russell has certainly disrupted the traditional telling and it“™s a good thing.

It took a moment to realize the cast was assembling for the performance and not walking aimlessly into a rehearsal. Scenic Designer Whitney Glover“™s set is part of the subversive setup for this production. The stage is wide open ““ you can see the fly system, lights, parts of the “œset to be or not to be“ in various stages of production with scaffolding used as the balcony and various apple boxes as seating for the players. In this set it“™s literally “œall the world“™s a stage“ while all the men and women are merely players.

So are you catching on that this isn“™t your high school English teacher“™s Shakespeare? As familiar as you may be with R&J you need to be a bit prepared for Russell“™s hybrid mix of Baz Luhrmann stylization with all the passion of the inevitable tragedy.  This is a fresh approach set in modern times.  The cast is a group of actors who “œfind“ an stage prepped for a production and proceed to “œplay“ the play.  It“™s as if this was a new play that had just been written.  The delivery of lines has a new spin that makes it seem as if “œstudents“ were improvising.  Humor plays a significant role in this production. It“™s a hidden gem in the text that Russell has uncovered and uses to great advantage.

For the most part the characters are those iconic members of the cast you remember from high school Lit class. However, Katie Langham breaks the mold on Nurse. She can range from the classic (that “œsail“ of a hat) to a Melissa McCarthy-style brashness.  Annie Grove“™s Mercutio is imposing, impulsive and somewhat sadistic. Grove brings a new perspective to the character, with Russell“™s guidance, that makes the character a definite player in today“™s world.  Romeo (Spencer Lackey) and Juliet (Katie McDonald) are everything you expect from our classic lovers.  Lackey makes his Romeo  a gangly, man bun hipster who suffers from love and a couple of tea-bagging pranks from his rogue“™s gallery.  But Lackey never lets us forget Romeo is a teenager smitten.  McDonald is sensitive and rueful and attuned to her fate in love. Russell has assembled a supporting cast who do their own part to bring a contemporary vibe to this production.  James Egbert“™s Friar Lawrence is a mix of Dr. Strangelove and Cheech and Chong philosopher. Music and sound is organic and never distracting.  The techno dance club music for the Capulet“™s party gives even more cosmic rhythm to star-crossed lovers pairing.

Speaking as a former high school theatre director, I will confess to experiencing some irritation at the start. But I found my resistance slowly but decisively crumbled, thanks to Mr. Russell“™s warm, yet chaotic creativity.

Romeo and Juliet runs September 28-October 2 . Tickets can be purchased online at

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