Michael Kimmel's The Last Goodbye is rumored to be heading to Broadway. And why wouldn't it be? It seems a perfect combination – Romeo and Juliet, a classic tragedy that has held up to many modern manipulations from West Side Story to Baz Luhrman's Romeo+Juliet, along with the music and lyrics of Jeff Buckley, a musician whose physical and artistic beauty is only growing in his posthumous stature. A match made in Broadway Heaven following in the large footsteps of Rent, Spring Awakening and perhaps American Idiot.
However, powerful smoke machines and ever-present body mics ("Mr. Producer, we're ready for our Broadway close-up") are not what are ultimately going to bring The Last Goodbye its commercial success after the musical ends its run way up here in the upper left hand corner of Massachusetts. It will not be bass drum balloons of music – big gestures, grander poses. This musical about sex, drugs and rock and roll is certainly theatrical, but its triumph will be in its quiet moments – its Off-Off-Off Broadway moments. These will make you see Romeo and Juliet, a play you may have sat through countless times, in a brand new way.
The Last Goodbye begins with some musical numbers that would threaten to overwhelm it and its audience under a blanket of Broadway clichés, but the moment that Juliet (Kelli Barrett) stands on her balcony, overlooking the mourners at Tybalt's funeral, and sings Buckley's "Lover, You Should Have Come Over," all of Mr. Kimmel's efforts in directing, conceiving, and adapting this endeavor are an exultation of musical theatre. Juliet sings:
Looking out the door
I see the rain fall upon the funeral mourners
Parading in a wake of sad relations
As their shoes fill up with water
Maybe I'm too young
To keep good love from going wrong
But tonight, you're on my mind so
You never know
It is an instant of heartbreak, so much more so than the double suicide that ends the evening. Romeo and Juliet always ends in death. That is inevitable. It is the awareness of the upcoming tragedy that contains the heartbreak, not the poison or the blade.
According to Mr. Kimmel's notes, it hasn't been an easy project, as anyone can attest who is familiar with the caution that Jeff Buckley's mother, executor of his estate, has exercised over the legacy of his music. Buckley died in a drowning accident, leaving behind only one complete CD and a lot of unfinished projects that now only add to the iconic arc of his own particularly tragic story. The idea of setting Buckley's gorgeous music to Shakespeare's famous star-crossed lovers is an inspired one, made easier by Buckley's concentration on the star-crossed lovers found within in his own lyrics.