The Bard’s Broadway makeover
“Fools and Lovers,” playing at the Connelly Theater until October 15th, sets Shakespeare’s scandalous love triangles to music, with a wild wedding serving as the backdrop for excerpts from the Bard’s plays and sonnets. With the help of composer Andrew Sherman, and co-adapter Gregory Sherman, director Gregory Wolfe invites viewers to kick up their heels and join the party. He spoke to Rachel Breitman last week about his inspiration for the play.
It seems like your theater company, Moonwork, hasn’t produced a major work of Shakespeare for a few years. What have you been doing?
Our last Shakespeare show was Julius Caesar in 2002. After that, we went through a regrouping. Two of our producers left. One went to do voiceover work, and one had a kid. Now we have two new people: Rhonda Musak, who is now our secretary and David Pixley, our treasurer. Both of them act in “Fools and Lovers.” They had worked together at Deepwater Productions in the past. We were so impressed with their organization, we merged together.
What was your inspiration for the play?
“Fools and Lovers” was originally commissioned by Saratoga Shakespeare for a First Night Celebration. They wanted a half hour of Shakespearian entertainment. I asked, ‘what’s the venue?’ They said, ‘it is a historical church on Main Street.’ What the hell am I going to do with Shakespeare in a church? A wedding, of course! So I put together a collage of all of Shakespeare’s ruminations on love. It’s “Tony and Tina’s Wedding” meets Shakespeare. This current production we lengthened into a musical.
So, how were you able to combine all these varied comedies and tragedies from “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “As You Like It,” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream” into a single play?
I took the original text from various plays and musical-ized the monologues. The opening number, “What it is to Love?” is from “As You Like It.” We took that text, put it in the mouth of the groom, who is basically Romeo. The best man, who is Demetrius, starts poking fun at the young Romeo. He starts singing text from “Hamlet” taken from Polonious’ speech about madness. The maid of honor, who is Helena, follows the best man around, but he likes someone else. Then the maid of honor runs at him and he shrieks, “get thee to a nunnery,” a line from “Hamlet.” Putting it in the context of this, it is a very funny line.
What is the thread that ties all of these pieces together?
Anything that can go wrong will go wrong at a wedding. There are love triangles, break-ups, fights, miscommunication. But love has the opportunity to transform us all. One line in one of Romeo’s songs is from “Troilus and Cressida.” He says, “Let thy song be love. This love will undo us all.” Basically that is the thesis of the piece in one line.
How did you become so well-versed in the Bard?
I came to New York City in 1998 to study at the National Shakespeare Conservatory and to be an actor, but I ended up being a director. From there my brother James and I worked at MTV with Colin Quinn and Ben Stiller as late-night veejays, and we also did some stuff with HBO. In the long run, I found it most rewarding to direct, though.
Moonwork is a nonprofit; how do you raise money for the plays?
Moonwork spends all year raising money to do one Shakespeare. We host evenings of original works, with comedians like Lewis Black from “The Daily Show.” He will do a piece of his own creation or we will have a Greenwich Village guitarist. We’ll charge $20, with all the beer you can drink. After 20 of them, I can buy wood for a set, rent lights, and get costumes, so there are a lot of unsuspecting patrons of the arts at those evenings.
What are some of your favorite Shakespeare productions?
I like the old ones, the Olivier versions. I liked Richard III. Every generation has their Olivier. Kenneth Branaugh was one. Max Reinhart’s version of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” with Mickey Rooney as Puck was one.
Have you seen a lot of bad Shakespeare?
Some of our worst experiences of Shakespeare can be traced back to school. But when I was young, I saw a really good production in a park in Albany of King Henry IV, Part I. It’s amazing the effect that good Shakespeare has on someone.
For tickets to “Fools and Lovers,” call 212-629-7323.