What if Romeo and Juliet were set in a fantasy dimension where the Capulets were demons and the Montagues were angels? Where the two houses were feuding over—the soul of rock and roll? This hypothetical plot begins to explain the concept of Star-Crossed, a vibrant, hilarious rock opera that fuses classic and metal hits with Shakespeare's quintessential tale of doomed love.
Our Romeo (Norman Grey) is a naive, young angel who looks the part with his Nordic blond David Cassidy locks, white vest and sky-blue scarf. He was raised on "bubblegum heaven rock," yet longs for something different. Enter loyal friend Mercutio (Sheena Transue), who hooks him up with some heavier music and an invite to a party in the underworld.
To fit in, he needs to go from dorky to edgy and begins the transformation by singing Dio's "Holy Diver." Amusingly, Grey gets out the first few verses with the soft earnestness of an early Neil Young. But as the song goes on, he becomes more comfortable and adds some of the band's scraping harshness to his rendition.
The metal makeover works. Romeo meets a demon girl at the party. Juliet (Blair Bowmer) wears a torn-up pair of fishnets that could've been stolen off the legs of a '90s grunge-era Courtney Love, and she can barely be bothered to look up from her phone. But the two hit it off and are secretly married. You know how the rest of the story goes.
Star-Crossed is not a faithful adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, though there's an affection for the source material and even a few jokes thrown in that may yield chuckles from Shakespeare nerds. Primarily, the play is a road map to get from point A to point B while visiting musical attractions along the route. In a way, the story is the perfect framework for this kind of experiment because it's so universal. You already know what happens, which means Star-Crossed can focus on being its own thing.
The writing by Grey (who not only stars in but also directs the show) has a playful meta quality. Romeo, for example, mentions at one point cutting lines because Act I is running long. God (Owen Hofmann-Smith) and Lucifer ("Lucy" as God playfully calls her, played by Heidi Davis) are two more comedic standouts. Hofmann-Smith plays God as the ultimate laconic dad joker. "Me damn it!" he exclaims whenever something doesn't go his way.
The music, all of which is performed live by the house band with vocal cast accompaniment, includes hits from Metallica, Pantera, Meat Loaf and Led Zeppelin. The highlight number is the elopement set to Billy Idol's "White Wedding" backed by live synth.
Star-Crossed is an odd-sounding mashup that works better than you might imagine, like a big glob of peanut butter on top of a hamburger. On one hand, I'd love to see what this concept would look like with a giant budget and special effects. On the other, it's more rock 'n' roll to stage it in a limited-budget theater with a lot of grit.
SEE IT: Star-Crossed is at the Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St., 503-404-2350, witd.org. 8 pm Friday-Saturday, 6 pm Sunday, through Aug 19. $12-$20.