Something of Silver, a Musical Merchant of Venice

Bruce Katzman as Antonio and Robert Towers as Shylock

Something of Silver, otherwise known as The Merchant of Venice with Music, is Tony Tanner’s latest adaptation for Classical Theatre Lab & the City of West Hollywood’s Free Shakespeare in the Park. The 90-minute musical will play three weeks in the Great Hall Courtyard in Plummer Park before moving to King’s Road Park in August for another three week stint.

It isn’t the first time Tanner has musicalized Shakespeare. He’s also written musical versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing, as well as last summer’s delightful crowd-pleaser, As You Like It the Musical. That production was the first of his adaptations I’d seen and it was immensely enjoyable. The courtyard in Plummer Park is a lovely outdoor setting in which to see a play. Showtime is 5pm (4pm in King’s Road Park) so the hard sun is almost gone but it isn’t yet dark. Plus, sight lines are good because of the intimate nature of the venue.  

As for Something of Silver…I saw the production over the weekend and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of a musical Merchant of Venice. Part comedy, part tragedy, the play deals with issues of racism, intolerance, and the complicated relationship between romance and commerce. It has often made an audience squirm with its frank portrayal of unpleasant subjects though it is one of Shakespeare’s most often performed works.

With so much weight in the workings, turning it into a musical comedy takes some getting used to. A singing Shylock feels oddly melodramatic and though press notes say that Tanner’s musical adaptation makes Shylock a more sympathetic character, the effect of a singing Jew feels counterintuitive to the story’s purpose. Robert Towers, in the role of Shylock, is never so fine as when he drops the singing and simply speaks the words. In fact, he has a final moment in the musical with his daughter Jessica (Amanda Ives) that is extremely poignant accompanied by no singing and no words at all.

Steven Good and Molly Cookson

That’s not to say that the singers aren’t talented. Steven Good (Bassanio), Molly Cookson (Portia), Bruce Katzman (as the merchant Antonio), and Casey Ford Alexander (Lorenzo) all have beautiful voices and Tanner has written some lovely melodies to show them off. Good and Katzman’s duet describing Portia is earnest and sweet, and Portia’s suitor song is very entertaining, as is Ives’ comedy number. After the first few songs and their numerous reprises, however, the songs begin to sound alike.

Katzman makes a dashing figure in the title role and transitions from worldly-wise entrepreneur to tormented man who has lost everything with skill. His handling of the irregular text in the courtroom scene is especially powerful and reflects Antonio’s increasing emotional distress. Salarino and Salanio become Sally (Rachel Sorteberg) and Selina (Jean Kauffman) in this version of the story and function as a humorous matronly Greek chorus of gossips.

Shakespeare outdoors is one of the joys of summer and if a typical Merchant of Venice feels too serious for a summer night, rest assure that this musical comedy treatment softens the blow. As Tanner says, “sit back and enjoy this evening for what it is: one man’s riff on a play he loves by a writer he regards just this side of idolatry.”

Photos by Garth Pillsbury

Something of Silver
Adaptation, Music & Direction: Tony Tanner
Music Director and Arranger: David Kole
Producers: Suzanne Hunt, Zeljka Z. Gortinski

Saturdays and Sundays at 5pm through July 29 in the Great Hall Courtyard in Plummer Park, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90046.
Saturdays and Sundays at 4pm, August 4 – 19 in Kings Road Park, 1000 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood, CA 90069.
Call (323) 960-5691 to make reservations. Tickets are free.


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