The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review series by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo is going to do for Shakespeare what George O'Connor has done for Greek mythology with his Olympians series. Last year they debuted, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents: Macbeth, and now, as promised by the peacock at the end of Macbeth, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review: Romeo and Juliet has arrived!
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents: Macbeth takes a pretty intense, adult play about a thirst for power, a prophecy and more than a few murders and, miraculously, makes it kid appropriate. As The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents: Macbeth begins, there is a quick set up where readers see a pink, tentacle-y arm unlocking cages all over the zoo and the audience taking their seats while seagulls hawk "Peanuts! Earthworms! Ice cold bananas!" and, "Carrion, rotting carrion!" Panels, sometimes strategically placed, allow glimpses of the audience and their reactions as the play unfolds.
Macbeth, as played by the lion, is adored by all, plied with food and hungry for something new. He realizes that if he eats the king he will become the new king. It's not food Macbeth wants, it's power! Loads of ketchup and an elephant getting up out of his seat disguise the murders that Macbeth commits to become and stay king. Lady Macbeth, as played by a cheetah, realizes, most dramatically, that her spots just will NOT come out (and a key word in her famous speech about them is changed to "dumb.") MacDuff, as played by a stork, defeats Macbeth, fulfilling the prophecy because he wasn't born from a mother, but "delivered," and, happily, everyone that he has eaten in his quest for power pops out of his mouth! The actors take a bow, the audience leaves and, as the zoo opens we see kids wondering what the animals do all night, since they seem to sleep all day...
In The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review: Romeo and Juliet the animal actors return with another of Shakespeare's tragedies and a rooster and a bear in the titular roles. The same family of monkeys return for the play, and the little one quips and complains and tussles with a lamb, Lydia, but ultimately enjoy the play and find friendship after the curtain closes, echoing that action on the stage. The writing and casting of The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review: Romeo and Juliet is brilliant. Romeo and the Montagues are roosters (and chickens) and part of the Verona Petting Zoo and known as "Petters." The Capulets are Wilders, bears living in the wilderness. The two meet at a costume party where Romeo is wearing a bandit mask and Juliet is dressed as (a very cute) Abraham Lincoln. Lendler gets around the love, marriage and death aspects of the story by having Romeo and Juliet want to be best friends and Juliet deciding to enter into early hibernation.
Giallongo's illustrations are bright and colorful and hilarious. The plans for Juliet's party include juice boxes and a blow-up bounce house. The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review: Romeo and Juliet is a more brightly colored book, perhaps because of the roosters. Once again, the violence and death is tactfully handled by having an elephant in the audience - this time with a date in tow - stand up and block the stage. The story and art work together perfectly, once again, in this totally entertaining graphic novel. Kids don't need to know that they are reading a Shakespeare play to enjoy or understand the story - it works on its own. The bonus is, maybe 5 years down the road when they read the play in high school, they will already know the story! Once again, the zookeepers clean up after the play, baffled by a bottle of "Hibernation Juice" they discover amongst the trash. The next play/graphic novel promises to be a comedy and I can't wait to read it.
Source: Purchased (Macbeth) and Review Copy (Romeo & Juliet)