When the 2023-2024 Ahmanson season was announced, I saw the inclusion of Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet and thought: Ugh. Ballet. I had seen his Cinderella back in 2019, and had a very mixed reaction. About that Cinderella, I wrote: ” I found it difficult to get into the story of Cinderella, and I identify who the myriad of characters were. The dance itself was beautiful, and the dancers were highly skilled, and much emotion was conveyed. But what who did what? I wasn’t always sure. Which of the Pilot’s friends was Tom and which was Dick — I have absolutely no idea. In fact, other than seeing the characters as their “role” (pilot, stepmother, child), I couldn’t tell you who was which name. Although there was theatricality, the notion of conveying more than the gist of the story to the audience was lost.”
Given this experience, I went into the 2024 Romeo + Juliet very apprehensive. I’m not a ballet or dance fan, and Bourne didn’t work for me last time. I’m pleased to say that this time I was pleasantly surprised. The music had energy; the dancing was entertaining; and I roughly knew who people were. I say roughly, because unless you are really familiar with the characters in Shakespeare’s story, you would be hard-pressed to tell a Mercutio from a Balthasar, a Dorcas from a Lavinia, or a Sebastian from a Fabian. Romeo and Juliet, on the other hand, you can identify. So you just watch the dance.
So, setting aside identification of which ancillary character was which, the story was great. Bourne resets the action to some sort of Juvenile Hall or Facility in the future–seemingly some sort of prison with guards and such. But there does seem to be some way for parents to check their children into the facility, so perhaps it isn’t quiet a jail. It’s harder to identify the factions in the story. There is one clear bad guy (he’s the one in black with the tattoo), but the motives of the others in the facility are less clear. I’d say you can’t tell the families apart without a program, but the program doesn’t help here. So I think if you want to really understand the story being told, you would be best to brush up your Shakespeare before seeing the show; or lacking that, at least read the Cliff Notes.
The staging was interesting. The Juvie Hall was imagined as a white tiled facility, with a railing above, stairs on the side, and gated entrances for boys and girls. it was white. The costuming was white. The lights were white. This made the few characters who were not in white–the Reverend, the Senator, the Governor–really stand out. If you see this, I encourage you to watch the reflections and the shadows on the stage, which were as beautiful as the dancers themselves.
The dancing was energetic, with moves that were much more modern dance than traditional ballet. There was humor at times, and some of the dancers even smiled :-). Looking back without any notes, it is hard to recall any specific moves, only the overall visual effect. Suffice it to say it was unique enough to draw my interest and keep my interest. Rarely did I find myself looking elsewhere in the auditorium or getting drowsy.
In summary, this changed my opinion of ballet. I still find it hard to get into the story, and believe you need to really understand the story well beforehand to understand the dance. However, with the right music and staging, appreciating the beauty of the dance itself is easy. This show had the right music and staging to make the dance really enjoyable.
Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet continues at the Ahmanson through February 25, 2024. Tickets are available through the CTG website.
Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet . Directed and Choreographed by Matthew Bourne. Music by Terry Davies based on the original score by Sergei Prokofiew. Cast at this performance: Jackson Fisch Romeo ; Hannah Kremer Juliet; Adam Galbraith Tybalt; Cameron Flynn Mercutio; Leonardo McCorkindale Balthasar; Euan Garrett Benvolio; Daisy May Kemp Rev. Bernadette Laurence, Brie Montague, Nurse; Paris Fitzpatrick Senator Montague, Guard, Orderly; Anya Ferdinand Frenchie; Eleanor McGrath Dorcas; Tasha Chu Magdalen, Governor Escalus; Blue Makwana Lavinia; Kate Lyons Morgan; Kurumi Kamayachi Martha; Matthew Amos Edmund; Eve Ngbokota Lennox; Louis Harris Sebastian; Dylan Jones Fabian; Lyra Treglown Faith. Production and Creatives: Bryony Pennington Dance Captain; Lez Brotherston Set and Costume Design; Paule Constable Lighting Design; Paul Groothuis Sound Design; Terry Davies Orchestrator; Sergei Prokofiev Composer; Etta Murfitt New Adventures Assoc. Artistic Director; Arielle Smith Assoc. Choreographer; Neil Westmoreland New Adventures Resident Artistic Assoc.; Alan Vincent New Adventures Resident Director; Daisy May Kemp New Adventures Asst. Resident Director; Duncan Parker Stage Manager; Ian Wheatstone Company Manager.
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Administrivia: I am not a professional critic. I’m a cybersecurity professional, a roadgeek who does a highway site and a podcast about California Highways, and someone who loves live performance. I buy all my own tickets, unless explicitly noted otherwise. I do these writeups to share my thoughts on shows with my friends and the community. I encourage you to go to your local theatres and support them (ideally, by purchasing full price tickets, if you can afford to do so). We currently subscribe or have memberships at: Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre; Broadway in Hollywood/Pantages Theatre; Pasadena Playhouse; Geffen Playhouse (Mini-Subscription); 5-Star Theatricals. We’re looking for the right intimate theatre to subscribe at — it hasn’t been the same since Rep East died (it’s now The Main, and although it does a lot of theatre, it doesn’t have seasons or a resident company), and post-COVID, most 99-seaters aren’t back to doing seasons (or seasons we like). I used to do more detailed writeups; here’s my current approach.
Upcoming Theatre – Next 90ish Days:
- February: Marvelous Wonderettes – Dream On at Canyon Theatre Guild; The Wiz at Broadway in Hollywood/Pantages.
- March: One of the Good Ones at the Pasadena Playhouse; Million Dollar Quartet at 5-Star Theatricals; Chicago at Broadway in Hollywood/Pantages; Fat Ham at Geffen Playhouse.
- April: Funny Girl at CTG/Ahamanson Theatre; Renaissance Pleasure Faire; Xanadu (🎫 Pending) at Canyon Theatre Guild; Gordon Goodwin and the Big Phat Band at BofA/Kavli Theatre in Thousand Oaks; Spongebob Squarepants – The Musical at CSUN Theatre.
- May: Hands on a Hardbody at Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (🎫 Pending); Girl from the North Country at Broadway in Hollywood/Pantages; The Play That Goes Wrong at Canyon Theatre Guild (🎫 Pending); Jelly’s Last Jam at the Pasadena Playhouse.
On the Theatrical Horizon:
There are a few shows for which announcements have crossed my transom that may be of interest: The CSUN Theatre Department in Northridge will be doing the Spongebob Musical in April 2024. We really wanted to see this when it was on tour in 2020, but the tour was killed by COVID; we did drive up to Woodland CA to see a friend in a community theatre production of it. It is a great show about science and climate denial. Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse in Woodland Hills will be doing Hands on a Hardbody in May 2024. CSH announced this back in 2020, but it was killed by COVID; I’m glad to see it will be back (and with a friend in the cast, even). Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica has announced their Mainstage 2024 Season, and it includes Bat Boy the Musical running Sept 28 through October 18. We saw Bat Boy back when CSUN did it in 2014; it is a wonderful musical about how a society treats outsiders. Conundrum Theatre Company will be doing Urinetown The Musical in mid to late March 2024 at the Broadwater; this is a great musical, but we can’t fit it into the schedule (nor does my wife care to see it again). However, if you haven’t seen it, it is worth seeing. I also just learned about a theatre company in Fullerton, Maverick Theater. They are doing Evil Dead: The Musical , which is a hoot if you’ve never seen it (we’ve seen it twice). They also have some interesting other stuff on their season, and we might drive down for Santa Claus Vs The Martians in November.