THE VERONA PROJECT at Cal-Shakes shakes up Shakespeare.

The cast of THE VERONA PROJECT at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda. Set by Daniel Ostling, lights David Cuthbert, costumes by Melissa Torchia. Photo by Kevin Bacon.

THE VERONA PROJECT: A world-premiere production written, composed, and directed by Amanda Dehnert. California Shakespeare Theater, Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way. (formerly 100 Gateway Blvd.), Orinda, CA 94563. (just off Highway 24 at the California Shakespeare Theater Way/Wilder Rd. exit, one mile east of the Caldecott Tunnel. 510.548.9666, or online at

THE VERONA PROJECT at Cal-Shakes shakes up Shakespeare.

Bruns Amphitheater in the Orinda Hills is in gorgeous sylvan setting but is in the path of the cold wet summer fog blowing off the Bay. And so it was on opening night for the world premiere of the rock musical The Verona Project. The bone chilling wind forced this reviewer to depart at the intermission. Therefore this review is patched together with a personal opinion and gleaning of comments from my seat mate who was appropriately dressed to weather the weather staying until the end of this two hour and 45 minute production.

The multi-talented Amanda Dehnert uses Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona only as a framework for displaying her take on love and friendship with a combination of acting, rock band music and clever songs that attach to a variation of Shakespeare’s plot. The cast of eight play an array of instruments including: acoustic guitar, electric bass, accordion, ukulele, flute, washboard, trumpet, synthesizer, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, trombone, saxophone, drum kit, French horn and more. A plethora of electrical cords and microphones abound and accolades must be given to sound designer Joshua Horvath who has to keep track of them from the control board.

Two inseparable friends Valentine (Nate Trinrud) and Proteus (Dan Clegg) live in the village of True in the State of Nowhere. The only girl in the vicinity is the attractive orphaned Julie (Arwen Anderson). The “eternal” friendship of the boys, share their daily thoughts via tin cans attached by strings as they sing “Everthing that matters is now…. everything is perfect” All this is before wireless, of course but not before the birth of rock music. Reluctant Julie finally agrees to become engaged to be engaged to Proteus after reading a love poem written by Val. Thusly, this sends dejected Val off to the big city. Hey in the day and age of the play, parental approval is needed before taking the big step. Alas, Proteus’ parents say no to love of Julie suggesting he “Go out and find yourself.” Before he leaves, he gives a long distance phone (two cans and a long cord) to Julia so they can keep in touch but capricious Pro cuts the line.

In the big city Val works as a for-hire writer of poetry FS & NFS (For Sale & Not For Sale - remember the fatal poem that had won Julie for Pro) and has fallen in love with Sylvio (Philip Mills) the son of The Duke (Adam Yazbeck). Yep, Sylvio not Sylvia, as they seal their love with a big kiss we learn that Sylvio happens to be promised to Thuria (Elena Wright). No, no, no says The Duke (in song of course) and locks up Sylvio to be guarded by a trusted stranger who just happens to be Julie dressed as a man. Fickle Val is smitten by Sylvio and gives him a kiss that outdoes that of Val. With a few minor/major plot twists and character definitions that is the gist of act one.

The show is replete with hilarious visuals, solid rock music and toward the end of the first act, there are two great ballads, one sung by the booming voiced Adam Yazbeck and the other a duet by Arwen Anderson and Elena Wright. What is absolutely amazing are the smooth transitions made by the cast as the switch instruments (see paragraph two) as the move back and forth between gigs as actors and musicians. The audience was abuzz with accolades when the one hour and 25 minute opening act ended.

Consultation with my seat mate who stayed the course, suggests that this is a “work in progress” and needs cutting from its present two hour and 55 minute running time. He has no doubt that that the total show is well worth seeing and I highly recommend the first act.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of