A well-known and loved Shakespeare tale. 80s hits you can’t help but dance along to. An immersive venue that puts you in the heart of the show. Romeo & Juliet: Love is a Battlefield, Vol. 2 has a lot going for it – including a talented cast that nails both the acting and the singing aspects of the performance.
They’re also just a lot of fun to hang out with. Fangirlish had the chance to chat with the cast, including leads Ashley Argota (The Fosters) and Alex Nee, prior to seeing the show at Hollywood’s Prospect Theatre last weekend. We talked everything from 80s music to exactly what challenges performing while navigating a room full of dining guests presents.
On What’s New for Volume 2
As you may have inferred from the title, this remarkable take on Romeo and Juliet has been performed before (with its former home being the Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz). With much of the original cast still attached to the show, we had to ask, what sets Volume 2 apart from the original? “It’s the same story – Romeo and Juliet – [but] the music is different,” Jordan Kai Burnett (Benvolia) explained. “Before, it was just Pat Benetar with a couple Tina Turner sprinkled in. Now, it’s a good amount of Pat Benetar still, but other songs that people know and love from the 80s.” “It’s more of an 80s mixtape. A love letter to the 80s,” Nicci Claspell (Nurse) added.
“It’s an 80s mixtape. A love letter to the 80s” – Nicci Claspell (Nurse)
The new tracks not only add to the experience of Love is a Battlefield, but actually change the nature of it. “I think it’s changed the tone of the show. It has a little bit of a lighter feel to it, because it’s such a tragic story,” Peter Allen Vogt (Father Capulet) said.
The new venue has also allowed the performance to evolve into something more impressive than ever before. “The space is bigger. It leaves for a bigger experience – not just in the sense that we’ve expanded the actual show and the music, but we’ve expanded the physical show itself and how much we can do in the space,” Burnett said.
On the New Romeo
As previously mentioned, the majority of the original cast returned for this run of the show. However, several roles – including that of Romeo – have been filled by new faces this time around.
“It’s so exciting,” Alex Nee (Romeo) said of his experience joining the cast. “I got thrust into what was already clearly such a tight-knit family with a lot of history together and a lot of trust and a lot of knowledge of the material, so I got to really draw from all of that and learn. I felt very welcome within a short period of time. It’s such a creative group.”
Of course, Nee’s dynamic with Ashley Argota as Juliet is just as important to the show’s success as his performance individually. Ashley has played Juliet since the show’s inception, opposite four different Romeos. So how does Alex fit in? “Every time we hire a new Romeo, I tell Bradley [Bredewig, the show’s creator] that the most important thing is that I feel really safe with whoever this person is,” Argota said. “I need to know that if everything goes wrong onstage, at least me and him can be on the same page.”
Nee proved himself from opening night. “There’s a part in the show that our choreographer taught me but did not teach Alex, and he totally went with it – we did the show last night and I was doing new blocking, and I just guided him through everything. It was totally fine. He’s been amazing,” Ashley said.
On the Immersive Nature of the Show
Anyone who has visited the Rockwell will be familiar with the immersive nature of shows like Love is a Battlefield. The performance isn’t just happening on-stage – it’s happening all around you, and sometimes even at your table. While this makes for a unique and exciting experience, it also is not without its challenges for the actors.
“I kicked someone in the head last night,” Alex Nee (Romeo) confessed, laughing. “I wouldn’t call it a kick. But I did kick someone in the head, basically. It’s challenging because there’s a new energy every night – which is true of every show, but it’s just much more personal and immediate and in our space, as actors. And we’re in their space. There’s a lot of trust that has to instantly be built between the audience and the performers, which I think ultimately makes it a more exciting experience for the audience – but you really have to dive full-in.”
“It’s challenging because there’s a new energy every night – which is true of every show, but it’s just much more personal and immediate and in our space, as actors. And we’re in their space.” – Alex Nee (Romeo)
Not only does the nature of the performance complicate the mechanics of getting from Point A to Point B, but it also means that the actors have to contend with being observed from every direction. “I think it’s fun with the catwalk, the thrust stage, and the balcony – there’s not any one place that you can kind of let your guard down,” Brett McMahon (Paris) said. “As soon as you step out from behind the curtain, you’re just on. You can’t take a breath. You’re in-character. Every angle, you’re being looked at, so you just have to be on-point all the time, which I find really exciting.”
On Their Favorite Numbers
With a soundtrack packed with the best of the 80s – from Pat Benetar to Madonna to Prince – we had to ask the cast to tease their favorite numbers from the show. Here’s what they had to say (and what you have to look forward to):
Ashley Argota (Juliet): “One of my favorite numbers in the show that we added is ‘Heroes,’ and it comes right before ‘Brave.’ Alex kills that song every time. It’s so hard for me because I’m supposed to be in a trance the whole time he’s singing the song, but he’s made me cry every time that number comes on. It’s so good.”
Alex Nee (Romeo): “My favorite is the last number, ‘We Belong.’ I think it’s a pretty incredible arrangement. It’s way different than the original orchestration and feel, and it’s also a point in the show that we are fully in it. For me, it sort of transitions away from dinner theater, and I just get to fully dig in to the moment of this very intense experience that Romeo is going through.”
Peter Allen Vogt (Father Capulet): “I think ‘Brave’ is the number of the show. That’s the big Juliet song – it’s really beautiful.”
Brett McMahon (Paris): “I love ‘Walking on Broken Glass’ [performed by Kyra Selman]. It was one of my favorite songs growing up. All the girls in the show are just powerhouse voices, and the guys have to step up to their level. They’re trying to catch up to these power women.”
Jordan Kai Burnett (Benvolia): “My favorite moment in the show is when Chris Chatman (Mercutio) comes in and does ‘The Way You Make Me Feel.’ I’ve been attached with the show since the beginning, and in this version what’s really fun is that Mercutio and Benvolia have a little bit more of a relationship that you get to see in the show. We have this moment when he sings ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ where you really get to see this flirty, but really close friendship. When Mercutio dies – spoiler alert – it pays off the loss of that more. It’s also really fun to do, because it makes me laugh.”
Nicci Claspell (Nurse): “I love a new song, ‘Let’s Go Crazy,’ from the masquerade scene. Almost everyone in the cast is partying and dancing and having a great time onstage. They brought in a fight choreographer and amped up all the dances, so that one’s a good time for me.”
Kyra Selman (Mother Montague): “I think my favorite is still ‘Brave.’ Ashley, our Juliet, has a number in the second act that just like, every time [makes crying motion] – she nails it.”
On What Makes the Show a Must-See
Yeah, we’re just going to leave this here. “If you’re looking for a really good time to get your face melted by incredible singers and also you just want to watch people dance their asses off while you eat great brussels sprouts – this is the only place you’re gonna get that exact experience,” as Jordan Kai Burnett explained.
“If you’re looking for a really good time to get your face melted by incredible singers and also you just want to watch people dance their asses off while you eat great brussels sprouts – this is the only place you’re gonna get that exact experience.” – Jordan Kai Burnett (Benvolia)