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The Original Teen Tragedy: "Romeo and Juliet" Tops Southern Shakespeare Festival Bill

Southern Shakespeare Festival

The Southern Shakespeare Festival returns to Tallahassee’s Cascades Park May 10-13. As has become a festival tradition, the “main event” will feature a unique twist on a Shakespeare classic.

And when it comes to Shakespeare, one can’t get much more classic than the well-known – some may say “well-worn” – standard, “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s been performed on literally thousands of stages and has spawned scores of screenplays, including the insanely popular 1968 flick directed by Franco Zeffirelli. It’s a story just about everyone knows almost by heart. So the challenge for the Southern Shakespeare folks was to come up with a special hook for this year’s festival performance. First, let’s meet “Romeo.” His name is Miles Muir and he’s sixteen years old. He’s not from around these parts.

“We live out in L.A. I flew out with my mom about a month ago,” he said.

More about Miles’s mom in a moment. Portraying “Juliet” is a 15-year old actress named Melanie Applegate.

“I’m from Tallahassee, but I was born in Gainesville,” she smiled. “I’ve lived in Florida my whole life.”

The reason her “Romeo” is Miles Muir is a true instance of serendipity.

“The Southern Shakespeare Company was looking for a celebrity person to play one of the roles in the play for publicity reasons and Steve knew that mom played ‘The Nurse’ in a community theater production that we did out in L.A. and it was a blast! Mom was ‘The Nurse’ and I was ‘Benvolio’ and I understudied ‘Romeo.’”

The “Steve” Muir referred to is Steve Sears, a Hollywood TV writer and producer. Among his credits is the series “Xena: Warrior Princess,” in which Muir’s mom, Renee O’Connor, plays the character “Gabrielle.” That notoriety is why Southern Shakespeare had tapped O’Connor to again play ‘The Nurse’ in the Tallahassee production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. And why her son Miles tagged along and wound up auditioning for a part as well.

“And they really liked my audition and they had fallen in love with Melanie who was auditioning for ‘Juliet,’ but everyone else who had tried out for ‘Romeo’ were college-aged and they didn’t seem to be young enough to fit the role with Melanie and they saw my tape and they really liked me. It was perfect timing, they fell in love with her, I was young enough to do it and it all worked out,” Muir said with obvious relish.

That’s just fine with ‘Juliet’, aka Melanie Applegate.

“He’s awesome! He’s so talented and so convincing as ‘Romeo.’ And during the balcony scene he was so cute and all his mannerisms and characteristics. It helps me play ‘Juliet’ better and he’s a super-nice guy and….yeah!” Applegate gushed.

It’s obvious these co-stars already have great chemistry. Plus Muir has the valuable experience of bringing the lyricism of the author’s language to life on numerous occasions.

“Because the way that Shakespeare wrote this and all of his plays because he wrote it in such a poetic and emotional way, that a lot of the time, even if you’re not fully into it when you start, the way that you hit the language tells the message of the character, it influences your emotions and almost makes what you’re trying to convey easier.”

For Applegate, it was all about creating a thoroughly believable ‘Juliet.’

“I really try to make it my own and implement some of my actual self into the character to make it more authentic. I try to relate to the character and put myself in her position and let myself shine through the character.”

And for Muir, the seasoned professional, wise in the way of hard-ball Hollywood back-biting, the situation has been a bit off-putting, but in a good way as he adjusts to the ways of Tallahassee.

“Everyone was so friendly! I didn’t know who to hug first!” (Laughter from Applegate.) “And then everyone went on stage and dropped it! I’ve done a lot of community theater and I was so shocked to come into an environment like this. Even some of the minor roles, people just knocking it out of the park. It’s going to be a great show!”

And that show is only one aspect of this year’s Southern Shakespeare Festival. Check out the entire event at: www.southernshakespearefestival.org.

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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