Shakespeare on the Sound: Infamous Montague-Capulet rivalry comes to town

What light through yonder window breaks?

Could it be the sun setting over Roger Sherman Baldwin Park?

That might not quite be the exact words of William Shakespeare but this is a very appropriate change after Tuesday’s premiere for Shakespeare on the Sound’s annual visit to town. And this year it’s bringing maybe the greatest and most tragic love story of them all as performances of Romeo and Juliet, which began on June 26, will run through July 8 before moving on to Rowayton starting July 18. Shows begin every night promptly at 7:30 and the only nights the play won’t be performed in town are on July 2, since the production takes Mondays off, and July 4 for the holiday.

And whether you are Team Montague or Team Capulet, Shakespeare on the Sound director Joanna Settle and the rest of the cast and crew want to welcome you to this summer’s production.

As if the classic tale of star-crossed lovers wasn’t fraught with enough drama, this summer’s production opens with a group of friends getting together to do an annual play reading.

Fireworks ensue when the hostess of the get-together chooses another man to play Romeo to her Juliet.

“They have a big fight, and as they read, the play takes over,” Ms. Settle said.

“The thing about Romeo and Juliet is it is two people taking a run at love,” she said.

Settle describes the couple’s risk at breaking boundaries to pursue a relationship as brave.

“They die, and we still admire them in some way. That kind of fearlessness about love and passion is what keeps it ringing in hearts all over the world,” Ms. Settle said.

Just as the play takes over the group of friends, Ms. Settle said the audience can expect that same sort of transformation.

Ms. Settle, now in her fourth performance, said it happens to her with each play she directs.

“The city looks a little different, your thoughts are a little different, these plays, they elevate your life toward poetry,” she said.

“It will happen to our audience organically, just they watch daylight turn into night,” she said.

The play will also feature music by a live band.

Shakespeare on the Sound is a family event, and Ms. Settle said children are encouraged to attend. There is a 20-minute pre-show scheduled before every performance at both 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. that includes a synopsis of what will happen in the play and introduces the characters.

“Kids are at home in Shakespeare. My son is 7 and has be coming since he was 3. He saw Othello 16 times,” Ms. Settle said.

There are also crafts and coloring books provided for children. Ms. Settle said parents are encouraged to bring young children, even if they can’t stay for the whole thing. There is even an added draw to younger fans of Shakespeare this year with the new summer acting program for students ages 5 to 17 in town during the performance’s stay.

According to Shakespeare on the Sound’s Director of Youth Programs Claire Kelly, “We decided to expand our programs after the success of last year’s offering of a new camp for five- to eight-year-olds, called the Groundlings. We realized that the wonderful resources we bring to the community as a professional theater company would also make us a great provider of unique educational summer theater experiences. Each camp will be structured around the theme of opposition that we find in Romeo and Juliet.”

Ali Ahn and William Jackson Harper will share star-crossed nights in the Shakespeare on the Sound outdoor production of Romeo and Juliet.

Joining Ahn as Juliet and Harper as Romeo, are David Cale (Friar Lawrence), Matt Citron (Mercutio), Will Cohn (Benvolio), Rachael Holmes (Lady Capulet/Tybalt), Damian Lemar Hudson (Singer/Paris), Chinasa Ogbuagu (Nurse) and Tony Torn (Lord Capulet).

As previously reported, Passing Strange Tony winner Stew (full name Mark Stewart) and collaborator Heidi Rodewald will pen music and lyrics for Romeo and Juliet. Stew has also been commissioned to author two new scenes for the dinner party, which he will write and develop with the cast. The team previously worked on the Shakespeare on the Sound productions of Othello, Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Set design is by Laura Jellinek, costume design is by Tilly Grimes, lighting design is by Keith Parham, sound system design is by Jessica Paz, sound design is by Obadiah Eaves and choreography is by David Neumann.

Performances are free, but a donation of $20 for adults and $10 for students is suggested. While the immediate forecast for at least the first week of performances seems good, there are plans in case of rain. The shows are always scheduled to go on unless there’s a real heavy rain at the time of the 7:30 curtain raising. According to the producers, the show is not called off due to weather until the last possible minute. All Greenwich performances will be in Roger Sherman Baldwin Park and people are encouraged to bring their own seating or simply enjoy the comfortable ground. A limited number of reserved seats front and center are available for a $50 reservation by calling 203-299-1300.

Ms. Settle said many adults and children have obstacles when it comes to enjoying or understanding Shakespeare.

“They think it is something for people smarter than you, or richer than you, or just someone better than you,” Ms. Settle said.

She said no one should look at it that way, because Shakespeare belongs to everyone.

“I think this literature is the personal property of everyone who glances at it,” Ms. Settle said.

“Everyone working on this wants to make this the most valuable work of art from one of the greatest writers of the English language — and we give it away for free!” she added. “We’re going to have a very good time.”

More information is available online at shakespeareonthesound.org.

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