Wednesday, May 5, 2021


Diana Davila, Raul Julia.(Photos: Friedman-Abeles)

TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA [Musical/Romance/Youth] AD: John Guare and Mel Shapiro; M: Galt McDermott; LY: John Guare; SC: Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona; D: Mel Shapiro; CH: Jean Erdman; S: Ming Cho Lee; C: Theoni V. Aldredge; L: Lawrence Metzler; P: New York Shakespeare Festival; T: Delacorte Theatre (OB); 7/22/71-8/8/71 (14); St. James Theatre; 12/1/71-5/20/73 (613): total: 627

Jonelle Allen, Norman Matlock, Frank O'Brien.

Clive Barnes, on seeing the Central Park production of this rock musical adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser plays, let rip a barrage of bubbling phrases to describe it. “It is a jeu d’esprit, a midsummer night’s jest, a merriment of lovers, a gallimaufry of styles, and a gas. It takes off.” Not every critic was as elated as Barnes by this anachronistic blend of barrio brassiness and Elizabethan exhilaration, but enough agreed with Barnes to help turn the Broadway transfer into a sizzlingly hot ticket for over 600 performances.

Shakespeare’s Italianate lovers Julio (Carla Pinza: Central Park/Diana Davila: Broadway) and Valentine (Clifton Davis), were transmogrified into Puerto Rican and Black ghetto hipsters, and the characters around them represented other spicy ingredient in the melting pot of urban America. One unfortunate loss the show encountered when it moved to Broadway was Jerry Stiller’s Yiddish-accented Launce (John Bottoms replaced him—sans accent). There were also some speeches in Spanish and others in heavy Black dialect. Sir Eglamour was played by Chinese-American actor Alvin Lum, prompting John Simon to quip, “What restraint kept his adaptors from calling him Sir Eggfooyong?” Try that crack today, critics, and you’ll end up with protests outside your door.

Signa Joy, Alix Elias, Diana Davila.

Critical disagreements arose over whether the Broadway version had bettered its summertime original (half a year had elapsed and many revisions had been made). Still, all who liked it agreed that the show was hit material. It had “energy, wit and originality while being musical entirely” raved Martin Gottfried, who added, “the evening remains very true to the original in both spirit and style” despite colloquial and anachronistic insertions. Guare and Shapiro had left a considerable amount of the Bard intact, with Guare’s excellent lyrics only occasionally failing to blend with the original’s words.

Clifton Davis, Jonelle Allen.

Sexuality and energetic youthfulness were rampant in the “wild, hilarious, sexy and brazenly high-handed adaptation,” reported Walter Kerr. With its men clothed in high boots, tight pants, and flowery blouses, and the women in colorful maxi-dresses, the show’s look conveyed the essence of both Renaissance dynamism and hippie flower-populism. Galt McDermott’s score was lithe and eclectic, if not as memorable as the one he wrote for Hair, both musically and in its ethnic variations. As Kerr declared, McDermott supplied “the lovelorn of two cities with rhythms ranging (without clash) from rock to bluesy jazz to square-as-you-can-be.”

Jose Perez, John Bottoms, Raul Julia, Clifton Davis.

The fervent performances of every actor gave Harold Clurman the sense that “the kids in his ‘Verona’ love lovingly. Shakespeare did it in his constantly bubbling, sweet-scented, ever vigorous verse; the Guare-Shapiro adaptation does it in horseplay redeemed of coarseness by candid cordiality.”

Phineas, John Bottoms.
Naturally, there were middle of the roaders and outright deniers. Simon straddled the fence by calling the show “all tolerable fun, though John Guare’s lyrics are cleverish rather than clever, McDermott’s music is shorn of its former glories, and Shapiro’s staging is inconsistent. . . .” T.E. Kalem thought the show a work of “cultural vandalism,” though, and Julius Novick questioned the mixed ethnic casting and much of everything else.

Raul Julia, Carla Pinza, Jerry Stiller in the Central Park production.

Hosannas for the cast were boisterous, especially for the Latino Proteus of Raul Julia, “a swell clown as well as a superb actor. He can do more with a pair of steel-rimmed glasses than most actors can do with four years of acting lessons,” in Gottfried’s opinion. Also basking in acclaim were Clifton Davis as Valentine, Jonelle Allen as Sylvia, and (on Broadway) Diana Davila as Julia. Among the numerous supernumeraries milling about as Citizens of Verona and Milan in the Broadway production were a couple of aspiring thespians named Stockard Channing and Jeff Goldblum.

Producer Joseph Papp was quick to point out that the proceeds of the Broadway run would help subsidize the New York Shakespeare Festival, a practice he continued to follow with success for years. He said, “I believe this may be the first time in history when a non-profit organization is producing a Broadway play with all the profits to be returned to it for non-profit purposes.”

A touring version of the musical was produced in the summer of 1973 (7/3/73-8/26/73; 24 performances), with a new cast and under the direction of Kim Friedman. Produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival it played in a Mobile Theatre throughout the city’s parks and playgrounds.

Numerous awards and commendations were bestowed on Two Gentlemen of Verona, which won the Tony for Best Musical and the Drama Critics Circle Award for the same. Guare and Shapiro shared a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book Writers, and a Tony for Best Book. Guare won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics  as well as the Variety Poll for Best Lyricist. McDermott won the Drama Desk Outstanding Composer award, and, with Guare, was Tony-nominated for Best Score. McDermott also landed the Variety Poll for Best Composer. Shapiro snared the OBIE for Distinguished Direction, and a similar award from the Drama Desk. Jean Erdman’s choreography garnered a Drama Desk Award and a Tony nomination. Jonelle Allen was Tony-nominated for Best Actress, Musical, and won the Variety Poll for Feminine Lead, Musical, as well as the Theatre World Award and a Drama Desk Award. Clifton Davis was Tony-nominated for Best Actor, Musical, while Raul Julia won a Drama Desk Award. Theoni V. Aldredge’s costumes gained her a Tony nomination, a Drama Desk Award, a Variety Poll victory, and the Joseph Maharam Foundation Award.

Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened Off and on Broadway between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.

Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on by clicking here.

Next up: U.S.A.