R+J Forever

How do you take a centuries-old plot line which has lost none of its impact and appeal but appears fossilised in a language which young people mistakenly consider difficult and inapproachable, and make it appealing again?

A great job and a definite must-see this weekend- André Delicata

Answer. Give it a pop-rock makeover and get them to understand the raw power of those feelings which they once saw as too sentimental.

A musical version of Romeo and Juliet is not new – West Side Story is a classic in its own right, but Masquerade’s latest offering of the genre, R+J Forever, staged at MITP, was scripted cleverly by Malcolm Galea. His writing gets a fresh new facet with each project he gets involved in and this is a completely new and extremely fun adaptation.

It may not entirely follow the plot line to the letter, especially in the re-configured death scene, but is an excellent way of bring-ing Shakespeare to the contemporary youngster.

Wesley Ellul has a gift of working with young people as has been proved by his previous work on Spring Awakening, and this new mash-up musical is another notch in his directorial belt.

It’s a bit of a “glee-ification” of Shakespeare’s best loved tragedy, but does it lose any of its impact? I think not.

Musical director Roger Tirazona coached the performers to a near-professional level vocally, as did acting coach Marc Cabourdin.

Their enthusiasm rubbed off on the cast, all of whom are in their late teens and early 20s and eager to perform, while choreographer Colette Caruana created some great scenes filled with life and movement which contributed to this teen spirit and joie de vivre.

My favourite ensemble pieces were Uptown Crush on You and Lose Together from Act One and Get This White Wedding Started, Smells Like Seventeen Nation Army and the finale What’s Going On/Without The Way You Are from Act Two.

With very contemporary tunes to buoy up the morale, it was great to see Tina Rizzo as Cathy, Romeo’s sister and Vanessa Gatt’s Juliet in a softer, more soulful pairing in the duet Jar of Torn Hearts.

Ms Rizzo has been going from strength to strength in her career at Masquerade and really came into her own in this role, while Ms Gatt has an incredible voice which is already mature and easy to modulate for her age. Her other duet, Rolling in the Dreams with David Chircop’s Romeo made for great listening.

Mr Chircop is establishing himself as the leading man in musical roles – something he does with ease and style.

His dynamic with Justin Mamo’s Merco worked well and the latter proved an affable and approachable sidekick – Mr Mamo has improved greatly but must watch out for slight dips in projection.

Siblings from hell, Rosalind and T-Bolt were played by Bettina Paris and Bo White respectively.

Ms Paris is bubbly and self-assured, with a clear voice and a knack for doing great character parts, while Mr White is a newcomer to watch out for.

His rap with Ms Gatt’s Juliet, James Muscat’s DJ Spanner and Becky Camilleri’s Rosanna Di, Upside Down and Dirty introduced the world of debauched partying very appropriately.

Despite the inevitable death of the titular characters, R+J Forever is a great feel-good musical which clearly showcases the carefully cultivated talents of up-and-coming Masquerade performers and is indeed, as producer Anthony Bezzina put it, an ideal “platform to launch their theatrical careers”.

A great job and a definite must-see this weekend.

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