Broadway and the Bard: An Evening with Len Cariou 

4 out of 4 stars

Len Cariou enchants with a night fused between William Shakespeare’s works and Broadway classics. Cariou navigates the audience through soliloquies and monologues and pairs them with complimentary, inspired, or contrasting show tunes. Broadway and the Bard is a whole lot of laughs and truly a night to remember. 

Conceived by Len Cariou, Barry Kleinbort, and Mark Janas, Broadway and the Bard takes the audience on a journey through love, loss, jealousy, anger….basically a snippet of the human condition. This 80 minute production spans a wide variety of Shakespeare’s works paired with familiar tunes from composers such as, Richard Rogers, Lorenz Hart, Stephen Sondheim, Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner and plenty more. As a musical theater fan myself, I was blown away with how seamless the entire performance went. 

 

Cariou directs the audience through key milestones in his career and their relation to the selected works. Rather than a conventional “I did this and I did that”, the audience is treated to anecdotes and lighthearted commentary that compliments the alternating structure between dialogue and song. Under award-winning Barry Kelinbort’s direction, it is no wonder that this piece is so masterfully charming. The well balanced depth to this piece was something I was particularly impressed with. Summarized plots were provided with just enough context for a refresher or for those unfamiliar and a quip here and there. This allowed a pinpointed emotional pull in each sequence, all while creating a forward momentum throughout the evening. Warm and conversational is how i would best describe this work. It has extreme heart.

 

Mark Janas provides musical direction and accompaniment for this production. Janas most recently provided musical direction for Kathleen Turner’s new show Finding My Voice in London at at Cafe Carlyle. A highly qualified and esteemed professional, Janas has experience with Leonard Bernstein, The New York Philharmonic, The Boston Symphony Orchestra, and worked with productions such as, Hello Dolly, and the 1st and 3rd National Tours of Les Miserables. An extensive career in cabaret and a number of awards and honors that are just plain impressive. 

 

Len Cariou is a distinguished member of the Theatre Hall of Fame and a three-time Tony nominee, for Applause, A Little Night Music and for his legendary performance as Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tony Award winner, Best Actor). His classical stage repertoire is far ranging encompassing the title roles in Oedipus the King, Macbeth, Cyrano and two productions of King Lear. Part of Cariou’s early career was spending time at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. His expansive and impressive career is a testament to his talent and spirited character. 

Cariou’s vocal range is astounding. His acting superb. To witness a master at his craft such as this, while having fun the whole time too really makes one grateful to be in the same room and witness it all. The dynamic staging of this piece keeps both the actor and the audience engaged throughout the piece. Cariou’s drama and eye contact pierces the soul in bold crescendos and heart wrenching fades. Such emotive power! My first experience with Mr. Cariou’s work was back when I was a fresh face doe eyed sophomore in high school and in one of my classes being subject to the original 1979 Broadway production, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I was enamored with it. I don’t really quite know why. Perhaps because it was a bonding moment with a best friend of mine, or the crazy story line, but regardless the reason, to be witness to Mr. Cariou’s live performance is an honor. 

 

For a production such as this, it is easy to dismiss the set and solely focus on the individual with no embellishment, but Josh Iacoveli’s scenic design and production supervision elevates this piece into a inviting intimate performance. The simple thrust stage is dressed casually with ghost light, black grand piano center, a variety of headpieces strew about amongst trinkets hither and thither, as well as the bust of the bard himself upstage. These adornments create a warm atmosphere, as if we have happened upon a break from rehearsal when everyone is just hanging out singing bits of songs and quoting this and that, except there’s still a really stellar lighting guy present. 

Matt Berman’s lighting design is simply fantastic. The cues were so clear and focused, which blended the sequences together well. Directional spots from downstage to the back wall and all the middle range for Cariou to walk into was timed perfectly. This really heightened the experience. I particularly enjoyed this range from the glowing footlights to the single spotlight drama of the more tender moments. This kind of work is inspiring. It showcases the ability to create a varied, yet genuine ambiance within a small space without feeling forced. Matt Berman’s work includes credits with the Tony Award winning Liza’s At The Palace, Kristin Chenoweth’s Low Letter to Broadway, Bea Arthur on Broadway, and Kathy Griffin Wants a Tony

 

Broadway and the Bard is honestly a treat for any theater lover. While highlighting his own career, the passion Len Cariou has for Shakespeare and his works is evident. Themes written ages ago still enrapture audiences today and are present in the dazzling world of musicals. The commonality between two seemingly very different approaches to theater are melded in a night filled with memories, laughter and tears. The pure joy and punny ending to a beautiful night puts a perfect bow on an excellent production celebrating a love for the stage. 

 

Broadway and the Bard runs now through Sunday, June 10th at Stage 773. Performances are Friday, June 8th at 8pm, Saturday, June 9th at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday, June 10th at 3pm. To purchase tickets or learn more about the show, please visit http://www.stage773.com/show/broadwayandthebard or call 773-327-5252

Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!