Center Theatre Group presented the North American premiere of Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet on Wednesday evening, and when it ended, the entire Ahmanson Theatre audience was on its feet offering a standing ovation. After the dance company had taken final bows — with Paris Fitzpatrick’s Romeo and Monique Jonas’ Juliet receiving the love while covered in (spoiler alert!) blood-drenched white ensembles — Melissa McCarthy and Adam Shankman sat back down in their orchestra seats in row F.
The good friends, who arrived together, proceeded to stay seated for another 10 minutes or so to process what they’d seen through tear-filled eyes. “I just love a comedy,” Shankman said to The Hollywood Reporter in the lobby moments later. He was kidding, of course, as the show offers a surprising, dramatic and somewhat violent twist to the classic story of star-crossed lovers.
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“It was magnificent,” continued Shankman, who broke out as a dancer and performer before becoming one of Hollywood’s go-to choreographers and then a filmmaker. “I expect special from Matthew, but every time it exceeds my expectations, and I become drawn in as an audience member. I get to watch something that is so surprising and unexpected happen in a situation where you think you understand it so well. It’s like sorcery. It’s like magic. I was moved in ways watching this that I haven’t been moved seeing other productions of Romeo and Juliet or even West Side Story, and to get them to move me at this point is a feat.”
McCarthy stood over his shoulder, still drying her eyes and trying to find the words. The two watched from an audience that also included Tony Award winner Jesse Tyler Ferguson and husband Justin Mikita, Dule Hill (himself an accomplished dancer), Peter Paige, Oscar winner Dan Jinks, Daniel Franzese and others. Before the curtain fell, CTG artistic director Snehal Desai addressed the audience from stage left to do a little promotion for fundraising and upcoming promotions at the performance hub. He then acknowledged the passing of Broadway legend Chita Rivera.
“Chita was here on this stage’s stage with Kiss of a Spider Woman, [and] she also did House of Bernarda Alba at the [Mark Taper Forum]. She is someone who has called CTG home, so I want to take a moment to recognize her passing and thank her for her artistry and everything she’s done. Chita, we will miss you.”
As for Bourne, the British choreographer and dancer is known for his interpretations and revivals of classic musicals and stories like My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, Edward Scissorhands, Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance and Swan Lake. With music by Terry Davies and based on the original score by Sergei Prokofiev, Romeo + Juliet was directed and choreographed by Bourne. It was presented in association with Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, the New Adventures creative team, Sadler’s Wells and Arts Council England.
“That Matthew has dared to come here to Los Angeles for all these years and the fact that he sees this as a destination for dance is very encouraging to me about where we stand as a global community because I think that dancing is obviously very much appreciated in New York, but it struggles here,” Shankman explained. “Matthew’s shows never struggle here, and it’s a testament to how smart his work is, how inventive his work is, and how it’s bigger than dance. It’s bigger than theater. The casts are unbelievable.”
With that compliment, McCarthy was ready to weigh in. “It was so overwhelming and beautiful and relative to today,” said the actress, producer and performer. “It’s like taking it out of something that few can relate to and putting it into what every human at whatever level you’re at can relate to. What a truly exceptional thing to be able to do. If you can make a beautiful piece like that and have it hit everyone right in the gut, it’s the point of art. It’s what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s not about look at us. It’s about how does this make you feel?“
Performances run from Jan. 28- Feb. 25.
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