This is not Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, it's Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini's The Capulets and the Montagues (with libretto by Felice Romani based on an Italian play). So the story is a little different than what we're familiar with, but we still have the warring houses and star-crossed lovers (and a few familiar speeches from Shakespeare). This adaptation of the opera (written by Denzel Belin) sets the story in modern times between two warring social media companies, with Juliet a "social media darling" and Romeo a "viral stunt sensation." But Juliet is tired of the performative life of clicks and likes, pretending to be excited about her arranged marriage to Tebaldo when she really loves Romeo. Romeo tries to run away with Juliet, and fights a duel with Tebaldo, but unfortunately this story has the same tragic ending as Shakespeare. This is perhaps a bit more sober of a story than these summer outdoor operas usually tell, but there's still plenty of fun and romance and music along the way to the inevitable conclusion.
And about that music. A three-piece band (usually led by Music Director Gary Ruschman, who was out for the preview performance I saw) plays this lovely Italian opera whilst the cast sings (unmiked, natch) in Italian. There are no word-for-word supertitles, but rather short and quippy phrases that summarize what's going on, displayed on a charming scroll (with which there were a few low-tech issues at the preview performance that I'm sure will be smoothed out). A few pop songs sung in English are interspersed throughout and well-placed in the story, including Fleetwood Mac's The Chain and Landslide, plus others of that era. And somehow, despite the disparate musical styles, it all works and flows together.
|the cast of Romeo and Juliet (photo courtesy of Mixed Precipitation)|
I saw the show in a lovely spot in Theodore Wirth Park at the Loppet Trailhead, just outside of the visitor center with snacks and bathrooms. Locations and amenities vary so be sure to check the website, but all locations are outdoors, so bring sunscreen and water and something to sit on. The backdrop is mini proscenium on a trailer, on which some scenes take place, but mostly they perform in an open area right in front of the audience. Set pieces are minimal, but the charmingly DIY props are pretty elaborate, including a pop-up diorama displaying a series of scenes between Romeo and his stunt rival, Juliet's brother (who dies in the most hilariously tragic way). The colorful costumes are a mix of modern and period. (Set design by Alex Hathaway, props design by Woody Timberheart, and costume design by Rhiannon Fiskradatz.)
Mixed Precipitation's summer outdoor opera theater has been a tradition since 2009. If you've seen them, you know why. If not, let this delightful new take on a familiar story be your introduction to the unique brand of fun and accessible opera/pop music mashups that Mixed Precipitation offers, and excels at. Pickup Truck Opera Volume 2: Romeo and Juliet continues at various locations in the Twin Cities and in Greater Minnesota through September 10 (click here for all the details).