New musical showcases Shakespeare’s classic tragedy of love

Bellingham’s Dylan Kane, 24, says he auditioned for the production of “Romeo and Juliet: The Musical” on a whim.

“I received news of the audition only days before and had virtually no time to prepare for it,” he says. “I almost did not attend auditions for this very reason, but after hearing a sample of the music that was provided to me and meeting the production crew and the other people who were auditioning, it became clear to me that I had to do this.”

Kane, a 2013 Western Washington University graduate, plays Romeo in the production.

He studied classical guitar at Western (with a double major of acting and music) and plays lead guitar in the Bellingham tech-death metal band Ashes of Existence.

“The experience I have gained from these few short months of rehearsal has been invaluable to me,” Kane says. “As challenging as it has been —and rightfully so — I cannot imagine my life in this moment without ‘Romeo and Juliet: The Musical.’”

The production opens Friday, Jan. 30, at Lincoln Theatre in Mount Vernon.

The adaptation came about through the hard work of Conrad Askland, who seems not to have a minute of spare time.

“I travel a lot doing shows,” says Askland, who lives in Mount Vernon when he’s not on the road.

From 2008 to 2012, Askland lived in Macau, China, while working as music director and keyboardist for the ZAIA show by Cirque Du Soleil.

In 2014, he worked with Norwegian Cruise Line as music director and keyboardist for “Rock of Ages” and “Burn the Floor” out of New York. He’ll return to “Rock of Ages” after the run of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Askland was convinced to write the show when Joe Bowen, president of META Performing Arts in Skagit County, and his wife, Lindsey Bowen, threw down the challenge to write it, he says.

When Askland began to research writing Shakespeare’s classic as a musical, he wasn’t particularly excited, since there are so many versions of the play, including ballets and the well-known spinoff by Leonard Bernstein, “West Side Story.”

What Askland couldn’t find was an original classic musical theater version set to Shakespeare’s original words.

To get to the core of “why,” he says “‘Romeo and Juliet’” is all about adolescents navigating their relationships with parents and trying to find their path in the world around them. That core is timeless and relates to teens of any generation.”

“What I hope is that teens who see this show understand everything that’s going on at all times without having to research the show before they come, and without any prior knowledge of Shakespeare,” he says. “I hope it never occurs to them that Shakespeare is difficult or hard to comprehend.”

“This is the main aim of the show, to present real Shakespeare without watering it down and to have it be entertaining and understandable to audiences new to Shakespeare. At the same time, I think the show will be completely satisfying to hard-core Shakespeare critics because we have retained Shakespeare’s original dialogue.”

Bellingham actor Dylan Kane agrees: “I feel the production as a whole effectively tells the century-old story of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in a way that is multidimensional, original and honest.”

Kane says one of the largest themes and metaphoric devices used in the original play is the relationship between light and dark.

“The society which Romeo lives in is plagued by darkness that manifests itself in many forms (violence, greed, confusion, hatred, jealousy). Romeo finds no interest in this type of energy and is unknowingly looking for ‘the light.’”

He looks for it subconsciously through his obsession with the pursuit of true love. Romeo and Juliet find such love, or “unconditional light,” at the very core of the deepest and “darkest” hatred known in their lives.

“Unfortunately, this kind of pure love, this kind of absolute light, cannot exist and spread without its opposite,” Kane says. “Hours after their marriage, fate plunges both Romeo and Juliet into the horrible dark that they must again overcome. It is fate itself which concludes that the only way for them to do so is by taking their own lives; only in death is their love and light able to shine on the rest of the world, thereby beginning to dismantle the hate and darkness that has consumed their friends and families for centuries.”

The production, Kane says, showcases the talent and potential of an amazing group of artists. “The amount of dedication, creativity, attention, skill, and passion that has been put into this production by people from all walks of life and performance experience has created a show that is very much our own.”

Finally, Kane says, “Intense and precisely choreographed stage fights, beautiful and elegant full ensemble dances, first-rate costumes, beautiful props and professionally crafted music that not only works for, but further heightens, Shakespeare’s own iconic text are but a few reasons why anyone in the Pacific Northwest would find it worthwhile to make the trip to the historic Lincoln Theater in downtown Mount Vernon to see Conrad Askland’s ‘Romeo and Juliet: The Musical.’”