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Westport Playhouse revue measures The Bard's mark on music

Published 7:00 am, Saturday, May 31, 2014
  • Westport Country Playhouse's will have a world premiere with the musical revue, "Sing for Your Shakespeare," playing June 3 to 22, 2014. The show looks at how Shakespeare's works have influenced the American Songbook. It will feature a six-member cast. Members of the cast and creative team are, from left, seated: Mark Lamos, Deborah Grace Winer, Wayne Barker; standing: Dan Knechtges, Karen Akers, Stephen DeRosa, Britney Coleman, Constantine Germanacos, Laurie Wells and Darius de Haas. Contributed photo/Carol Rosegg Photo: Contributed Photo / Stamford Advocate Contributed
    Westport Country Playhouse's will have a world premiere with the musical revue, "Sing for Your Shakespeare," playing June 3 to 22, 2014. The show looks at how Shakespeare's works have influenced the American Songbook. It will feature a six-member cast. Members of the cast and creative team are, from left, seated: Mark Lamos, Deborah Grace Winer, Wayne Barker; standing: Dan Knechtges, Karen Akers, Stephen DeRosa, Britney Coleman, Constantine Germanacos, Laurie Wells and Darius de Haas. Contributed photo/Carol Rosegg Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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SHAKESPEARE IN SONG
Tuesday, June 3-Sunday, June 22
Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court
203-227-4177, 888-927-7529 / www.westportplayhouse.org
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Shakespeare's words were his notes, his poetry, his rhythm, and what he created were compositions that were lyrical to the core -- stories that flowed with melodic phrasing, strong emotions and universal appeal.

It is not surprising, then, to learn that his works, hundreds of years after his death, continue to inspire great composers and songwriters to create enduring and classic compositions of their own.

"Shakespeare was a huge inspiration in all sorts of different ways for people from Cole Porter to Rodgers and Hart," said Deborah Grace Winer, who is among a trio of theater professionals who have worked to bring "Sing for Your Shakespeare" to the Westport Country Playhouse from Tuesday, June 3, to Sunday, June 22.

The musical revue, which will enjoy a world premiere at the venue, not only covers Broadway classics and other standards of the American Songbook, but also selections from some top jazz musicians.

"Shakespeare was very improvisational with his language," said Winer, who grew up in Westport. "He riffs with words, which is exactly what jazz musicians do."

Winer, who is the artistic director of Lyrics & Lyricists, a long-running program at the 92nd Street Y, said the idea of exploring Shakespeare's influence on the American Songbook had been brewing for some time. It was her hope to get a show going at the New York City venue, but she needed to find "exactly the right person to do that."

She found that person, she said, in Mark Lamos, the playhouse's artistic director who is the director of the production and a Shakespeare scholar, who has directed a number of the playwright's works over his career.

They met during an event at the playhouse and soon after began working with musical director and arranger Wayne Barker. The result was a concert last summer at the 92nd Street Y, which has since been reworked into a new theatrical revue.

"This is just a terrific project," said Winer. "What we wanted to do was have it be a really joyful and moving 90 minutes of fun for the audience as we show the vast array of work, and how vibrant and different the material is from one another."

She said the works come alive with the talents of six Broadway performers, including Karen Akers, Britney Coleman, Darius de Haas, Stephen DeRosa, Constantine Germanacos and Laurie Wells, some of whom have been involved with the project from the beginning. Dan Knechtges keeps the production moving with original choreography.

There are selections from Cole Porter's "Kiss Me, Kate," Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's "West Side Story" and Rodgers and Hart's "The Boys from Syracuse." Some of Shakespeare's sonnets are set to music by Duke Ellington and there are some esoteric pieces, too.

"This is something that is completely new, but the material is beloved," Winer said.

Winer, who also is a playwright, is looking forward to returning to the playhouse, which has featured some of her other work in the past, including readings of her plays, "The Real Tabasco" and "Big Important Issues."

A patron of the playhouse long before she was creating shows for its stage, Winer remembers seeing performances there as a child and teen.

"Every weekend, vacation and summer was spent in Westport," she said of her childhood, which was split between Westport and New York City, where she now lives. "For me, it is really like coming home."