Review: “Broadway and the Bard” at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row (Closed Sunday March 6, 2016)

February 16, 2016 | Off-Broadway | Tags: ,
Conceived by Len Cariou, Barry Kleinbort, and Mark Janas
Musical direction by Mark Janas
Directed by Barry Kleinbort
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is nothing better than listening to an actor deliver Shakespeare’s lines with unbridled passion and the natural “heartbeat” rhythms inherent in the Bard’s iambic pentameter. And that is precisely the way veteran actor Len Cariou delivers important scenes from “Twelfth Night,” Henry V,” Richard II,” “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” “Othello,” “Taming of the Shrew,” Much Ado About Nothing,” “Julius Caesar,” “King Lear,” “As You Like It,” and “The Tempest.” Mr. Cariou pairs Shakespeare with songs from Broadway composers that either resonate with Shakespeare’s texts or provide an interesting contrast with the thematic content of the lines from the plays.

Highlights of these pairings are Henry V’s soliloquy (“Henry V, Act III, Scene 1) with “Applause” (from “Applause,” Charles Strouse/Lee Adams); Richard II’s soliloquy (“Richard II,” Act III, Scene 2) with “If I Ruled the World” (from “Pickwick,” Cyril Ornadel/Leslie Bricusse); Benedick (“Much Ado About Nothing,” Act II, Scene 1) with “Nice Work If You Can Get It” and “How Long Has This Been Going On” (“Funny Face”), both songs by George and Ira Gershwin; and the fortuitous pairing of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 (“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”) with Leonard Bernstein’s “Middle C.”

Mr. Cariou and Mr. Janas are a successful team and have a genuinely good time working together. This authenticity and pure honesty translate to the audience in remarkable ways. This synergy is perhaps most evident in the stunning pairing of Jacque’s soliloquy from “As You Like It” (Act II, Scene 7 – All the world’s a stage) with “September Song” (Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson). The iconic stage actor and accompanist, in collaboration with director Barry Kleinbort, triumph in achieving Mr. Cariou’s idea of combining his two great loves – Shakespeare and the American Musical. The eighty-minute melding of superb soliloquy and memorable song could not be finer.

One wishes that the abovementioned pairing would have served as the fitting conclusion to the evening’s enchanting offerings. Instead, the team chooses to close with a more comedic pairing of Prospero’s soliloquy from “The Tempest” (Act IV, Scene 1) with Cole Porter’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from “Kiss Me Kate.” It might have been a “far, far better thing” (Dickens indeed!) to have placed that pairing earlier in the program. Fortunately, this does not detract from the overall effectiveness of the team’s clever convention.

“Broadway and the Bard” has a short run that is scheduled to close on March 6. It would be a good thing to secure tickets now.