Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Cast enhances rock musical "Merry Wives"

Cleveland Press August 18, 1972

"The Merry Wives"opened at the Berea Summer Theater last night. This is a folk-rock musical version of Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor."

Both Shakespeare and the Bible are serving as inspirations for rock musicals these days. This particular adaptation is less a departure from the original than "Your Own Thing" ("TweIfth Night") or "Two Gentlemen of Verona," both of which have served as springboards.

Director William Allman's adaptation is a condensation with an overlay of contemporary sounding music. What it does manage to achieve is a sense of the ridiculous which serves the play well.

THE PLAY is a showcase for George F. Buza in a triple role. Young Buza wrote both words and music and stars as the jolly fat knight. Physically Buza is perfect. Temperamentally he is right as well, capturing a sense of blustering clowning in his portrayal.

His music is as often country sounding as it is rock with one love ballad emerging as somewhat Elizabethan.

The music sounds like so much of country and rock and just when you think that there is little to distinguish it, along comes a number entitled "Page Has No Brains" which is almost a parody of rock.

"What Does He Think," a duet for Mistresses Page and Ford has a good bounce to it and the staging makes them wind up looking and sounding like a couple of Old English burlesque queens. "The Horn" and "I hear\ You Are a Scholar' are both good.

Allman's staging emphasizes the ridiculous. Everyone wears tennis shoes, the costumes are tie-dyed and the men have on knee protectors. All the faces are painted. Gesturing is definitely on the broad side (which is OK) and few people leave the stage without leaping (a trifle distracting after a while).

The forest scene at the end is an all-out, big production number - a frantic, wild scene,with music heavy with percussion and staging that takes advantage of lighting tricks.

AFTER THAT the finale comes as an anti-climax., especially its slow beginning with people waving their arms like something out of a Hawaiian musical movie, That quickly gives way to what is a standard close for rock musicals -- the wild dancing in the aisles.

In addition to Buza's performance there is good work from Ron Spangler as Ford, writhing in the best rock singer manner of imitating Groucho Marx in his disguise as Brooks.

The entire company is generally adept at working with the music and the dances.