“The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” Shakespeare’s tale of friendship and romance, gets a hip-hop remix in “Dress the Part,” onstage through Feb. 15 at the Ready Room in an exhilarating Shakespeare Festival St. Louis production.
Yes, not at Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park, but in the Grove. Staging a play inspired by one of the Bard’s comedies in a rock club might sound decidedly offbeat. But “Dress the Part” is just the latest Shakespearean adaptation — or “ad-rap-tation” — from the Q Brothers, who famously worked such magic with their groundbreaking 1999 show, “The Bomb-itty of Errors.”
That off-Broadway reimagining of “The Comedy of Errors” set a standard for applying hip-hop attitude to unlikely material long before Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” made an old-school American statesman hip. With “Dress the Part,” director-composers GQ and JQ have come up with an inspired approach to “Two Gentlemen”: transposing the high-spirited comedy to a high school setting.
Jordan Moore and Garrett Young turn in whirlwind performances as pals Proteus and Valentine, respectively — as well as portraying quite a few other characters. But Shakespeare scholars should be warned that the Q Brothers’ version bears only the slightest resemblance to its source material.
Not that it matters: The show is less concerned with adhering to a narrative than with displaying a quicksilver wit that might impress the Bard himself. It’s also about reveling in the immediacy of live theater. That includes jokes that call attention to costume changes, or poke fun at the Shakespearean trope of men posing as women. All to the rhythmic accompaniment of DJ Crim Dolla Cray.
Sheena Laird’s choreography, Peter and Margery Spack’s set, Christina Leinecke’s costumes, Jesse Klug’s lighting and Rusty Wandall’s sound design are in delightful sync with the show’s freewheeling spirit.
It’s not necessary to be a fan of hip-hop or Shakespeare to enjoy this richly imaginative and off-the-charts experience. To paraphrase legendary jazz trumpeter and Alton native Miles Davis, “Dress the Part” is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.
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