Brandi was born in a small town 30 miles outside of Seattle called Ravensville. Accompanied by her sister Tiffany and brother Jay, she enjoyed a childhood in the ancient rainforest of the northwest.
Surrounded by redwoods and ferns, they built forts, played tag and lived out a childhood that was illusive to most people born at the same time.
Will was born in a little town with a booming market just nine miles from Warwick called Stratford. His younger siblings Gilbert, Joan, Anne, Richard and Edmond could be found playing with him by the banks of the Avon River. Their childhood experiences were more typical for their time.
They both had something inside of them. A desire to tell stories. While Brandi found her way to music, Will took up theater. Their stories are not unusual. There have been numerous children born in small towns that find their way to the big cities to pursue the arts.
That's usually a pursuit that parents don't encourage. These two, however, had some support and both found their paths successful.
Will Shakespeare and Brandi Carlile never knew each other. Time and space kept them apart until now. At California Repertory Company's "Romeo & Juliet: Hard Way Home" opened last Friday night and brought their two voices together for the first time.
The star-crossed lovers of Will's creation find new exuberance when infused with the vibrance of Brandi's music. Rousing harmonies sung by a cast of strong vocalists mesh unexpectedly well with the youthful dialog Will wrote for Romeo and his friends more than 500 years ago. Dialogue that has been spoken countless times by countless actors finds new breath and a modern cadence when filtered through these fresh young actors.
I am sure it is with the skilled guidance of director Beth Lopes that Will's words flow easily across their lips. The simple scenic shifts created by designer Natalie Morales serve the rollicking pace of the show. Joyful at first, yet rolling quickly downhill towards the inevitable tragedy, the tone of the show is perfectly tuned.
Lighting designer David Zahacewski paints the tale with a mythic light that captivates and costume designer Ashley Trutanich clothes the cast in simple and timeless country frocks. In short, actors here are supported by well-crafted spectacle. This is a gift to the actors and audience alike. The cast has all the tools they need to tell a story that transports us.
The cast itself is pretty even. The majority of the leads deliver and in some cases even the supporting cast is excellent. Jason Rivera (Paris) is adorable in his bubbly characterization. Truly there is an embarrassment of riches here. From Cecilia Rodriquez's Nurse to Bianca Tolentino's Friar Joan, they evoke humor with their honesty.
The group of feuding youth including Nathan Fennacy (Benvolio), Malakai Kimo Howard (Sampson), Joe Laurent (Tybalt), Annajane Murphy (Valentine) and Rachel "Ray" Post (Mercutio) are most impressive. I haven't yet created a list like this in a review, but truly the kind of collaboration in storytelling here is worth noting. There is an incredible strength in their honest raw portraits of these time worn characters.
Finally, the lovers themselves Mikayla Conley (Juliet) and Matt Avery (Romeo) will pull you along with them into the class five rapids of Will's language and will sing you into love with them as they expertly belt Brandi's music. Have you ever cried at the end of Romeo and Juliet? I haven't ... until now.
"Romeo & Juliet: The Hard Way Home" continues at Cal State Long Beach's University Theatre in the Theatre Arts complex at the southeast corner of campus, on the corner of Seventh Street and East Campus Drive.
Tickets, from $23 to $18, are available at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 562-985-5526.