The show: "These Paper Bullets!", a Yale Repertory Theatre production at the University Theatre in New Haven.
What makes it special?: World premiere of Rolin Jones' "modish rip-off of William Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing,' " with new songs by Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong.
First impressions?: Taking the Bard's romantic comedy and setting it in London in the '60s and centering on a wildly popular rock band (think Beatles) may sound like an audacious idea and, well, it is. But it somehow, improbably, delightfully works in what is the most playful, exuberant show of the season.
Rolin Jones' witty, puckish mash-up of a script, Jackson Gay's giddy direction, Armstrong's terrific musical homage (and where do I get the record?), and the ever-buoyant cast of mods and rockers —- and did I mention the nifty costumes, sets, arrangements and a guest appearance by the Queen of England? It all adds up to the most fun I've had at the theater since —- the night, before when I reviewed another show brimming with sass and joy, "The Book of Mormon" at the Bushnell. What a way to welcome in spring.
Sounds like you liked it: I loved it.
What's the story?: A hot rocking band of cheeky Liverpool lads returns to London triumphantly after conquering America on tour. One of the bandmates, Claude (Bryan Fenkart) falls for a Twiggy-like fashion mode named Higgy (Ariana Venturi), while another bandmate Ben (David Wilson Barnes) who has "a merry war" with Mary Quant-like fashion designer named Bea (Jeanine Serralles).
A Peter Best-type musician named Don Best (Adam O'Byrne), who was dropped from the band before it hit big, seeks revenge by creating a phony photo of Higgy with another man before her wedding to Claude. The wedding is a p.r. disaster, Higgy is heartbroken, her father Leo (Stephen DeRosa) is disgraced and the group splits up, but a group of Scotland Yard cops, led by an ass of a detective named Berry (Greg Stuhr) saves the day and all's well that ends well as the band —- hell, everyone —- ends up the roof of the swank hotel getting their grove on.
But that's from the Beatles "Let It Be" period?: No matter. It's a smart and silly mash-up, mate, and that's where the fun comes from.
Sounds awfully complicated: It all comes together quite fluidly during the 2:45 running time, propelled at "A Hard Day's Night" pace, wonderful bits of comedy and all those Armstrong pastiche-plus tunes: some jangly, infectious pop songs ("Give It All to You,", "It Keeps Me Satisfied," among others) a woozy ballad ("Baby Blue") and one killer number ("Regretfully Yours") that combines the best of two rock worlds.
Does it match up with "Much Ado?": Remarkably well. And in more than one case (sorry, Will), improved. There are some combined characters, fanciful diversions, a more credible motivation of one character and a dropped plot resolution in favor of something that is much cooler.
And the cast?: Splendid, each with his or her own style and quirks, yet all fitting beautifully together. Barnes is delightfully striking in his low-key persona, so perfect for the above-it-all Ben; Serralles is sharp and commanding as Bea (and her eavesdropping scene is a hoot); Venturi is also a riot as the 'luded up, not-always-articulate bride, as is Fenkart's charming Claude who also nails the big 11 o'clock song. I loved Lucas Papaelias' deadpan Balth as much as I did Keira Naughton's hysterically funny, strung-out Ulcie.
Greg Stuhr's idiot detective is great fun as is Andrew Musselman's Boris and James Barry's Pedro. Quick shout-outs to Anthony Manna, Ceci Fernandez, Brian McManamon, Brad Heberlee, James Lloyd Reynolds, Liz Wisan, Jabari Brisport and especially Christopher Geary, who is the last word of a queen. Literally.
Production values?: The Rep, thanks to special funding, pulls out all the stops and, boy does it show. Michael Yeargan's set captures the slick, sleek spirit of the times and navigates the action well —- and when it doesn't allow for an amusing vaudeville turn by a thoroughly engaging DeRosa. Jessica Ford's costumes are absolutely fabulous and makes you long for the days when fashion was so much colorful and fun.
Who will like?: Fans of the Bard, the Beatles, Billie Joe Armstrong, Monty Python, John Cleese, Ab-Fab, James Bond, and the Ealing Studios.
Who won't?: Some Bard purists, but c'mon, loosen up, it's the '60s.
For the kids?: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Twitter review in 140 character or less: Fab fashion, music and words combine in happy mix that celebrates Shakespeare, Beatles and young crazy love.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: I wouldn't be surprised to see the show moving on to bigger stages. Why should New Haven have all the fun?
The basics: The show runs through April 5 at the University Theatre at 222 York St., New Haven. The running time is two hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets are $57 to $98. Information at 203-432-1234 and www.yalerep.org.
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