Pop star-crossed lovers meet in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Nicole Sliwka performs in Carroll Community College's production of "Romeo and Juliet" Wednesday.
Nicole Sliwka performs in Carroll Community College's production of "Romeo and Juliet" Wednesday. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

Can you imagine the train wreck of a romance that would be between Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus? The cast and crew of Carroll Community College's upcoming production of "Romeo and Juliet" will attempt to depict a similarly doomed relationship with their modernization of the classic Shakespeare play.

Bill Gillett, theater director at Carroll Community College, said the group will stage a hip-hop-inspired rendition of the play starting Thursday, May 1. Gillett said the show will take place in the modern day and tell the story of two pop idols who fall in love, much to the chagrin of their posses.

"I was looking for something that would be fun and help 'Romeo and Juliet' transcend time," Gillett said.

Modernizing Shakespeare's plays is nothing new. The late '90s and early 2000s saw a string of Shakespeare films set in the modern day, such as "O," "10 Things I Hate About You," "Tromeo and Juliet," Michael Almereyda's "Hamlet" and Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet."

The upcoming production has more in common with the latter two films, updating the play's staging, while retaining all of Shakespeare's original dialogue.

Matthew Iannone, of Sykesville, plays Romeo. He said the show, in addition to updating costumes and scenery, is going to feature hip-hop music, lighting effects and dancing. Several of the scenes where the Capulets and the Montagues face off in battle have been replaced with dance-offs as in "West Side Story."

"'Romeo and Juliet' has been done so many times, it's important to do something that's different," Iannone said. "We have to add our own vision to the story, and appeal to people it may not have grabbed before. It's kind of a challenge, but at the end of the day, I hope everyone enjoys it."

The change in characters' backgrounds also alters their personalities. Nicole Sliwka, of Manchester, plays Juliet. She said it's been difficult playing the character as more self-involved and spoiled.

"I've always wanted to play Juliet, so I'm excited I got the chance to play her in a theater show. I've grown up watching so many different versions," Sliwka said. "In my mind, the change helps because it gives me something new to work with outside of all the movies I've seen. I don't want to do it like Claire [Danes] or Olivia [Hussey]. It's easier to do something new when the show is so different."

Gillett said this particular rendition of Juliet allows the character to grow in interesting directions that aren't as present in the original work.

"Miley Cyrus is the latest of these Disney girls, who in order to come from the Disney world to the pop world feel like they have to sex it up to make that happen," Gillett said. "I'm playing with the idea that in order to be an adult, this Juliet character feels she has to be bad. That helps push forward these hormones and these passions that make the play happen."

On Friday, the show will be performed for two "sold-out" matinees of eighth-grade students. Gillett said since the Common Core dictates "Romeo and Juliet" be read in the eighth grade, this was an opportunity for them to become more engaged with the story. Students from Northwest, Sykesville and West Middle schools will be attending as well as students from the Montessori School of Westminster and Gerstell Academy.

"I think it's important to see that Shakespeare is not only awesome because of his poetic ability, and he's not just something that lives in an English class," Gillett said. "He lives on stage, and his work is alive and breathing, and it's something people today can still relate to."

Iannone said he has been a Shakespeare fan for as long as he can remember, and sometimes people forget that his plays were originally produced for their mass appeal.

"The idea is that Shakespeare wrote things originally for audiences of the day. He just didn't realize that his work would be around for so long," Iannone said. "Young love, lust, jealousy and anger are things that are prevalent in not just teenagers, but people of all ages. These themes and motifs have been around for hundreds of years because everyone has felt them."

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