Though it is a free event (or perhaps because it’s a free event), the Montford Park Players’ performance of Romeo and Juliet was crowded enough to require parking attendants. And that wasn’t the only change at the outdoor summer theater.
The community theater group, which boasts the title “North Carolina’s longest running Shakespeare festival,” has been humbly serving up comedies and tragedies to picnicking families for 35 years. This year, ramping up their productions, MPP has added local celebrities of a sort to their shows. For Romeo and Juliet (which runs through Sunday, July 8), the opening prologue this past weekend was performed by Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy (Friday, June 22), UNC-Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder (Saturday, June 23) and North Carolina Stage Artistic Director Charlie Flynn-McIver (Sunday, June 24).
I caught Flynn-McIver’s Sunday recitation, a grand (if brief) monologue leading into the well-known drama of the star-crossed lovers. Admittedly, it was a bit part for the local actor, but likely contributed to do with the large crowd. The idea for the cameos was dreamed up by Romeo and Juliet director Jason Williams as a way for community leaders to show “the involvement of the Montford Park Players and the Community,” according to a press release.
It’s a fun idea, but the real treat was the show. A large and enthusiastic cast filled the newly-painted stage. The play kicked off with a sword fight and kept up the pace with humorous acting, live musicians and choreographed dancing. Crowd pleasers included the comedic nurse (played by Stephanie Hickling) and potty-mouthed Mercutio (performed by Darren Marshall).
Shows run Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. The upcoming schedule includes Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac (July 20-August 12), the world premiere of The Signature by Hendersonville playwright William H. Logan (August 17-September 2), Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (September 7-September 30) and Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 & 3 (October 5-October 14). Admission is free, donations are accepted. Info: 254-5146.
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter