Back in 1971, Joseph Papp’s NY Shakespeare Festival’s Mobile Theatre Project produced a new Centerstage (of Baltimore) production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which included rock music, with a book by John Guare (who also did the lyrics) and Mel Shapiro, and music by Galt MacDermot. The initial concept was to edit down the Shakespeare text and add songs to help tell the story, but the production continued to grow until it became a 35-song full musical, entitled Two Gentlemen of Verona, one that opened on Broadway in December of 1971, won the Best Musical and Best Book Tony Awards (over both Grease and Sondheim’s Follies) in 1972, and finally closed in May of 1973, after more than 600 performances.
There are a number of plot changes made to the Shakespearean original:
- Cupid is now a character who takes an active role (via bow and arrow) in changing the affections of the characters
- Julia, now a local farm girl, becomes pregnant (which might explain her acceptance of the rogue Proteus back into her life)
- the Duke of Milan becomes a war-monger in search of re-election; Thurio gets the Duke’s blessing for the wooing of Silvia because of his campaign contributions
- Silvia is initially in love with Eglamour, who is sent off to war by the Duke
- Valentine, too, is sent off to war
- Silvia and Eglamour are reunited in the forest, but Eglamour is chased away by Proteus
- Thurio meets and falls in love with Lucetta
The original cast included Clifton Davis as Valentine and Raul Julia as Proteus (and in smaller ensemble roles, Stockard Channing and Jeff Goldblum). A soundtrack album was also released: here’s a link to the BSP Amazon Store’s soundtrack product page.
The soundtrack is pretty cool, if you like: Broadway cast albums, early 70’s pop, and lightweight throwaway production.
it’s twue, it’s twue, I do, I do…
Some of the standout tracks include Act One’s “Summer, Summer’ (a midtempo 70 theatrical funk… setting up the self-centric tone “spring reminds me of me…”), “I’d Like to Be a Rose” (a dialogue song that shows difference Valentine and Proteus), “Thou, Julia, Thou Hast Metamorphosed Me” (pulling actually lines from play), “Bring All the Boys Back Home” (sung by the Duke of Milan, the core of the 1971 anti-war sentiment), and “Night Letter” (a sexy uptempo song by Silvia). Act Two isn’t as strong, its highlight being “Love Me” another sexy song from Silvia).
The Public Theatre revived the play in 2005 as part of the Shakespeare in the Park series (with a limited run on Broadway), with a cast that included Rosario Dawson as Julia. Here are two YouTube videos taken from the 05 production.
Otherwise, the play is rarely produced (as the anti-war elements have not aged well).
I’d love to see this on-stage… it could be a blast!