The Last Goodbye

Directed by Alex Timbers

Conceived and Adapted by Michael Kimmel

Music and Lyrics by Jeff Buckley

Choreography by Sonya Tayeh

The Old Globe Theatre, San Diego

Sept. 22 – Nov. 3, 2013

And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

If you ever wondered whether the world needs a rock opera rendition of “Romeo and Juliet,” then “The Last Goodbye” is here to tell you: yes, it does.

By combining one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays with Jeff Buckley’s music, the show simultaneously doubles-down on tragedy, celebrates the works of both artists and takes a deep, emotional plunge into love and loss. It’s a stirring experience.

Set in Verona, Romeo and Juliet are the children of two warring families, the Montagues and Capulets. When they fall in love, the two must navigate this deadly feud.

Throughout the show, Shakespeare’s immortal verse is punctuated by Buckley’s soulful music. These could be jarring transitions but they work beautifully, at times toggling repeatedly between Buckley and Shakespeare in the same scene. The end result is a deeper investment in the main characters and their intense need for each other.

The combination of old and new is even further accentuated by the show’s flashy style: Sexy, brash, aggressive, joyful, gut-wrenching—all the characteristics of teenagers in love for the first time. Sonya Tayeh’s choreography ranges from rambunctious to feral to passionate, with the occasional nod to “West Side Story.”

The costumes combine a version of gangland chic, for the young toughs, with more martial attire for their elders. The set is large and foreboding, the band, loud and exciting. And, like any good rock concert, there is subtle interplay between the audience and the players, an implicit acknowledgment that something exceptionally cool is happening.

This is a show with big appetites: A technically difficult attempt to fuse classical drama, modern music and contemporary dance. Somehow director Alex Timbers keeps all the plates in the air, moving the story rapidly and finding the emotional core.

Even better, the cast is completely invested. During the fights, dances, lovemaking and everything else, there’s a clear sense that each character is seizing the moment. This is especially true of Mercutio (Hale Appleman), of the Montagues and Tybalt (Jeremy Woodard) of the Capulets. For them, young as they are, the feud is more party than war.

Amidst this mayhem Romeo (Jay Armstrong Johnson) and Juliet (Talisa Friedman) dodge competing gangs to be together. The show thrives on their chemistry, making it easy to dread the final outcome. We want them to live forever.

We don’t get that, but we do get Benvolio (Brandon Gill) singing ” Hallelujah,” Leonard Cohen’s iconic hymn made famous by Buckley. A cathartic moment in an exceptional show.

San Diego, CA
Josh Baxt has an MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and writes for a local nonprofit. His play, Like a War, was produced for the annual Fritz litz. Josh's short fiction has been published in the anthologies Sunshine Noir and Hunger and Thirst, as well as the journal City Works.