FRINGE 2017: 'Romeo + Juliet + Anybodys'

If you’ve seen "West Side Story," you might recall a tomboy who hangs around with the Jets: “Anybodys” is a minor character in the show inspired by "Romeo and Juliet."

If you’ve seen West Side Story, you might recall a tomboy who hangs around with the Jets: “Anybodys” is a minor character in the show inspired by Romeo and Juliet. (She has no counterpart in Shakespeare’s play; apparently she’s the creation of the show’s bookwriter Arthur Laurents.) The wannabe gang member is in and out of several scenes and has a few lines — no songs — but she is present at some of the story’s most important moments, especially when Tony is gunned down.

Functional Shoes, a New York-based artistic collective that puts together plays and music, has built a 40-minute show around the character who says, “I love shadows.” It’s a powerhouse production featuring six performers, led by playwright Genevieve Simon — who played Anybodys in her high school’s production of the musical. Now a grown-up writer and performer, she still has the slight physicality and nervous energy the role demands.

But there’s so much more to this “loudmouth rascal with a wicked roundhouse kick.” She asserts, “I got moves. I don’t quit. I don’t stop.” She also admits, “I don’t win.” With rapid momentum, Anybodys’ backstory of frustration unfolds: She could save the lovers, if only somebody would listen to her. In fact, Anybodys’ story is her own tale of longing and tragedy.

The show is a mash-up of musical and classic play. Simon’s castmates are not simply actors: They’re also talented singers and musicians. Marlena Mack is Juliet, pretty and feminine with auburn hair and a glassy-eyed romantic demeanor. She’s also the show’s co-composer with Zak Houston (who’s not a performer). Lanky Morgan Hollingsworth plays love-struck Romeo; he also plays the mandolin. Three gang members, “Buddy Boy” 1, 2 and 3, are macho Jets and perform the show’s Grunge/Folk score: Michael Amendola (electric bass), Galen Sato (electric guitar) and Joe Romanini (accordion).

This is a virtuoso cast in a smartly staged and thoroughly polished production. Mack and Houston’s original score — without a shred of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story melodies — grabs you by the ears and makes you listen, often with counterpointed lyrics and some lyrics in Spanish. As the doomed lovers, Mack and Hollingsworth occasionally slide into Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter — observed surreptitiously, hilariously and skeptically by Simon’s Anybodys, who cannot believe the naïve foolishness of the pair. Other issues bubble up, especially in a duet between Anybodys and Juliet about the “rules” of femininity: A litany of do’s and don’ts after a statement that there are no rules.

From its attention-grabbing musical opener to its finale with Anybodys’ triumphant declaration of who she is, this production never lets up. The 2017 Cincy Fringe has imposed a 60-minute limit on productions, and most of them push right up against it. Romeo + Juliet + Anybodys accomplishes more in two-thirds of that time than many other shows. It’s the epitome of Fringe creativity and energy.

The CINCINNATI FRINGE FESTIVAL continues through June 11. Find CityBeat reviews of 40-plus early performances here. For a full schedule and more info about Fringe, visit cincyfringe.com.

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