Theater Review: Ballet Has Never Been More Relatable Than Matthew Bourne’s Stunning “Romeo + Juliet”

Kevin Taft reviews the production of Romeo + Juliet from Matthew Bourne and his New/Adventures dance company, handled in a brilliant ballet format.
User Rating: 9

Matthew Bourne and his New/Adventures dance company have had a long, fruitful relationship with the Ahmanson Theater, bringing his best work and world premieres to the Downtown LA theater for the last few decades.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a brand new production from the award-winning choreographer, so it is a treat to witness the North American premiere of “Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet.”

To be fair, the story of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” has been fodder for hundreds of reimaginings, retellings, and flips on its classic script. Did we really need another? I’m happy to say, when it’s as original and inventive as this? Yes!

Bourne sets his tale of star-crossed love in the most unexpected of places: a mental hospital called the Verona Institute. With its white walls, heavy metal doors, and a courtyard surrounded by blinding perimeter lighting, it is a stark landscape for a love story. Add to that the dress code of mostly off-white clothing, and you can feel the patients aching for life.

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Credit: Johan Persson

And ache they do. But they also play, prank, joke, fight, and fall in love. Exactly what adolescents do, and when they eschew authority (especially those that take advantage of their station), they aren’t just causing problems (as their parents seem to think when dumping them off); they are reacting to the people and world around them. In fact, the patients at the facility are more grounded and human than most of the adults who claim to care.

Illustrating this is new patient Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick), whose parents leave him in the facility for undisclosed but clearly selfish reasons. He’s immediately harassed, then taken under the wings of three or the livelier boys who at first strip him down to initiate him but then find a companionship together.

But it is while he’s indisposed that he witnesses the beautiful Juliet (Monique Jonas) exhibiting her independence after dealing with the advances of the burly, leering security guard Tybalt (Adam Galbraith). The two discover each other and quickly fall in love.

This is enhanced during a soiree the institute holds, where the patients can dress in regular clothes and finally enjoy themselves. (Within reason, of course.) Various couplings arise (both straight and gay), and our lovebirds establish their connection to each other. It is followed by the famous balcony scene, beautifully choreographed and staged by Bourne.

Credit: Johan Persson

Bourne’s production follows the Bard’s story here and there but takes liberties with the narrative so that it never truly goes where you think it will. The tragic ending isn’t the normal switcheroo of lost messages and unfortunate timing. Here, it’s a more straightforward battle that results in dreadful consequences.

This is why this version of “Romeo + Juliet” is so effective. While we recognize characters and situations, it’s altered enough to keep you wondering where Bourne will go with it all. As a result, it is a gorgeous and emotional piece that effortlessly speaks to today’s audiences.

A blend of modern dance and traditional ballet, the wordless production is easily felt and understood so that those unfamiliar with the tropes of the art of ballet won’t have any problem getting lost in it.

Credit: Johan Persson

While all of the opening night performers were exemplary, the standouts included Cameron Flynn and Jackson Fisch as Mercurtio and Balthasar, respectively. Their love story proves to be one of the most compelling and timely of the show. Adam Galbraith, as Tybalt, is the villain of the piece, but his presence is never less than riveting.

Of course, Fitzpatrick as Romeo and Jonas as Juliet are stunning, never using their physicality to overshadow the heart and soul of the story. But instead, add to the magnificent beauty of it all.

Suffice it to say that Bourne’s New/Adventures has done it again, this time taking an oft-told tale and infusing it with a gorgeous new life well worth experiencing.

“Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet” runs through February 25th at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.
For more information and tickets, visit www.centertheatregroup.com.

9
Amazing
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Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

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