Fri, Apr 06, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Shakespeare's tragedy gets the Gallic treatment

By Diane Baker  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Bard has been given a modern twist by composer Gerard Presgurvic.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NEW ASPECT

The star-crossed lovers of Verona have attracted audiences for hundreds of years and in scores of languages and formats since William Shakespeare's original play. There have been operas, films, ballets, poetry and musicals. One of the latest versions is the French pop opera Romeo et Juliette de la Haine e l'amour, by the composer Gerard Presgurvic, which took the French-speaking world by storm after it premiered in Paris on Jan. 19, 2001.

Several of its songs became top-20 singles on the French charts and one, Romeo and Juliet's duet Aimer, quickly turned into the "must have" for weddings around the country. Productions were mounted in more than a dozen countries.

Last year the decision was made to revive the show for an Asian tour and Damien Sargue, who originated the role of Romeo, was lured back to lead the cast again. His chiseled good looks are everything one could want in Romeo — although cheekbones sharp enough to cut diamonds appear to be almost a requirement for cast members, both male and female.

The show was completely overhauled for this new tour, with new staging, costumes, three new songs added and a character dropped (the Poet). Don't expect to see a lot of doublets and tights, though. This is a modern musical, which means that women are garbed in what might be called the "medieval/gothic romantic look" with bustiers and tight ruffles, and long trenchcoats for Romeo and his friends, more Adam Ant than heavy velvets and brocades.

The leads all have terrific voices, judging from their impromptu performance at a recent press conference in Taipei, but they will be singing to a pre-recorded soundtrack. Presgurvic, whose other credits include musical productions of The Ten Commandments and Gone With the Wind, has been quoted as saying a pre-recorded soundtrack allows the company to "create a larger and more memorable impact on audiences."

Performance notes:

What: Romeo and Juliette

Where: Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, Taipei

When: Tonight through April 20 at 7:30pm; matinees tomorrow and Sunday at 2:30pm and on Sunday April 15. No performances on Mondays (April 9 and April 16) or on Tuesday April 17

Tickets: NT$2,000 to NT$6,000, available at FNAC or at www.artsticket.com.tw


The company arrived in Taipei from South Korea, where they had been since late December. Cyril Niccolai, who plays Romeo's cousin Benvolio, said the company spent close to four months in South Korea. "We started in Kwangju ... a small town, for rehearsal because there was a gymnasium where we could put the sets. It's pretty rare to find a place where we can rehearse," said the medical student turned songwriter turned actor.

"We worked three week in France and three weeks in Korea ... Twenty-first of January we started [performing] ... eight shows a week ... . For the body, the voice, its a lot ... it's a challenge," he said.

Niccolai is no stranger to Taipei having been here last year with the production of Notre Dame de Paris that played at the Taipei Arena. Judging by the number of women who turned up to see him at the press conference, he has a ready-made fan club here for this show.

"Spending time in Taipei [last year] was really great ... I'm just lucky to be able to come back," he said, adding that it was a mixed blessing since he now had to live up to expectations.

He said Romeo et Juliette is quite different from Notre Dame.

"It was a challenge for me to do it ... because there's a lot of dance in the show," he said.

One downside to this production is the venue. The theater in the Sun Yat-sen Memorial must have some of the worst acoustics of any stage in Taiwan, especially for pre-recorded music. It's not so bad if you can afford one of the good seats, but if you are higher up, you might want to take some aspirin a long with you and gulp it down during intermission.

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