Like the silliness of any Beatles movie or the Mike Myers “Austin Powers” films, Shakespeare has now been given a zany update. These Paper Bullets!, is a 60’s, drug infested update of Much Ado About Nothing straight from Yale Rep and now by the Atlantic Theater Company.
Forget the text as you thought you knew it, Rolin Jones’s has created his own version of Shakespeare dialogue. Oh, you will still have a sense of the story line, but that is about where that ends. The music is an homage to the Beatles, with the melodies penned by Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day) with orchestrations by Tom Kitt. Most of them are forgettable though lively and energetic.
Thrust into London during the Swinging Sixties, The Quartos rule the rock scene with pantie throwing teens swooning for their attention. In tight pants, skinny ties and mop top hairstyles these boys are the toast of the town, except to Bea (Nicole Parker), a Carnaby Street fashion designer (think Mary Quant.) Here Bea and Ben (Justin Kirk), the lead singer spar. When her cousin, Quaalude addicted top model Higgy (Ariana Venturi), falls for Quatro member Claude (Bryan Fenkart), everyone gets together to get Bea and Ben to see the light.
Higgy (Ariana Venturi), father, Leo Messina (Stephen DeRosa), owns the Hotel Messina where the band lives and most of the action takes place. Ex band member Don Best (Adam O’Byrne), does his best to cause trouble. He is furious his half brother, Pedro (James Barry), is now a Quatro. Think Pete Best, the Beatles’ original drummer, who was sacked from the Beatles for no good reason. Don’s plan to break up Claude and Higgy concern’s doctoring of a photo, by tabloid journalist Boris (Andrew Musselman.)
In the meantime there is a sub plot the bogs down the show concerning Scotland Yard. Mr. Berry (Greg Stuhr) and Mr. Urges (Brad Heberlee) and their bumbling idiot boss Mr. Cake (Tony Manna) are trying to get the goods on the Quatro’s whom they suspect have criminal activities that are harming the youth of today. Also an annoying BBC reporter ( Liz Wisan) keeps breaking up the action.
Nicole Parker and Justin Kirk have chemistry, but lack that cutting wit to make the sparing delightful. Mr. Fenkart brings sincerity to his role. Lucas Papaelias as the forth Quatro Balth and Keira Naughton as the boozy Ulcie, the real girl in the photo bring winning performances with the least amount of effort. Mr. O’Byrne makes a sexy, villain and we actually root for him. Almost stealing the show are Ms. Venturi who pops a Quaalude or 3 or 6 to walk down the aisle and Mr. Geary, who portrays Queen Elizabeth who attends the wedding of the century.
Jackson Gay, totally gets this era of slapstick comedy and you feel as if you have been drop kicked into the 60’s. The set design, by the Michael Yeargan, projections by Nicholas Hussong, costumes by Jessica Ford and hairstyling’s Denise O’Brien are smashing. Mr Jone’s two and half hour script needs to be trimmed. Two and half hours of stick is just way too much.
If you are expecting depth this is not the show for you, but you will find yourself remembering those simpler freer times. I left singing “A Hard Days Night.”
These Paper Bullets!: Atlantic Theater Company, 330 West 16th until Jan. 10th.