Friday, September 15, 2000


By. C.W. Walker, On the Go Correspondent

The New Jersey Shakespeare Festival's current production of "Antony and Cleopatra" is a story of alliances in more ways than one.

On-stage, of course, William Shakespeare's great tragedy deals with one of history's most famous romances, the love match between the charismatic Roman leader, Mark Antony, and the powerful Egyptian queen, Cleopatra.

True celebrities of their era, their affair scandalized the ancient world and let to disaster for both of them.

Happily, the alliance that is occurring off-stage between a popular actor with an intense fan following and this sedate institution of high culture, is quite a different matter.

"Antony and Cleopatra" marks the return of Robert Cuccioli to a starring role at the Shakespeare Festival. Best known for his award-winning turn as the schizophrenic scientist in Broadway's "Jekyll and Hyde," Cuccioli starred here last September in an original musical, "Enter the Guardsman."

The show drew so many of Cuccioli's enthusiastic and dedicated fans that the festival extended the sold-out run.

Obviously, it's an arrangement advantageous to both parties. The festival gets a name star, good publicity and healthy box-office receipts, and Cuccioli - known more for his work in big, popular musicals - gets a chance to experiment. 

Mark Antony is Cuccioli's first Shakespearean role, and, for someone who's been called a matinee idol, it's tailor made.

"Antony and Cleopatra" is offered so rarely because the leads are difficult to cast. It requires juicy, over-the-top, larger-than-life performances.

Cuccioli certainly delivers. As a character, Antony is enormously appealing, even if he's something of a screw-up. He can't seem to win a battle, whether on the field or in the boudoir. During the course of the play, he's betrayed by everyone in one form or another. And finally, when it comes time to take his own life, he can't even properly fall on his own sword.

But no matter, Cuccioli's Antony is passionate, vulnerable and deliciously angst-ridden ---tortured by every decision, every betrayal.

Ultimately, despite his many appetites and weaknesses, he's the epitome of the noble Roman. And, not incidentally, he's a good kisser, too........

(Portion of review reproduced - original review can be found in the Home News Tribune, 9/15/00)

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