OTHELLO: THE REMIX: A Backyard Masterpiece

  • remix0001Commissioned for the Globe to Globe Festival by Shakespeare’s Globe, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Richard Jordan Productions:
  • premiered on May 5, 2013 as part of the London 2012 Cultural;
  • toured widely, captivating audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Australia, Germany, South Korea, Poland, New Zealand, and United Arab Emirates;
  • garnered tremendous acclaim and honors, including Edinburgh’s Musical Theatre Matters Awards for Best New Musical Theatre Show and Best Lyrics, as well as a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Ensemble;
  • a past recipient of a Writers Residency Grant from NAMT’s National Fund for New Musicals.

How does one account for this tremendous success?

Simple.

Othello: The Remix is a masterpiece of its genre.

In fact, Othello: The Remix created a brand new genre of musical theater.

Now part of Chicago’s Shakespeare 400 celebration, there is no more exciting, dynamic, profound or important event you could see during the year-long celebration of the Bard than Othello: The Remix.

A musical remix takes a piece from musical history, alters it from its original state by adding, removing, and/or changing to create something new.

The Q Brothers (GQ: Gregory Quiyam and JQ: Jeffrey Quiyam) have taken Shakespeare’s monumental tragedy, Othello, the Moor of Venice, and remixed it, fore fronting the play’s iambic pentameter to such an extent that the musical verse moves into the verse structure of hip-hop.  The characters of Shakespeare’s names, psychological and social relationships remain the same, but their social milieu becomes the corporate entertainment world of rap music, headed by Italian corporate CEO Lodo Vito (JQ), featuring MC Othello (a Kanye West-type figure), and his newly discovered female voice, Desdemona. Loyal rapper Iago is shoved aside in favor of a boy band Beastie Boy wanna-be named Cassio (Jackson Dornan).

The dynamics, motivations, and character arcs of Shakespeare’s characters have rarely been as clear as they are in this production.

Actors have historically been challenged by the seeming contradictions in Othello: strength and tenderness and innocence. Not Postell Pringle *. His power is immediately evident as he literally leaps to the forefront of his profession. His overwhelming love for Desdemona has never been clearer than in Pringle’s eyes as he sees and hears her for the first time. And the betrayed husband’s  anguished determination in the ritualized sacrifice of his beloved has rarely been as moving or understandable.

GQ’s Iago makes clear why actors and audiences have loved this character. Descended from the comic malevolent devils of the medieval morality plays, Iago personifies vengeance, and directly and winsomely plays upon the audience to bring them to his side. He winks at his audience, he mugs for his audience, he confides in his audience, he delights his audience; his validation for living comes from his audience. GQ’s Iago is evil horrifyingly appealing. When he triumphs and sees himself as the master puppeteer, GQ is not merely delighted. He reveals a shocking anger which suggests that even Satan, on some level, wishes he were not as successful as he is. Jackson Doran plays both Cassio and Emelia to a fault. His solo-with-back up  “It’s A Man’s World’ is magnificant. JQ captures the essence of both Roderigo and Bianca simply and beautifully, stunningly putting the hallmarks of Japanese calligraphy into his acting.

The audience is both mesmerized and physically engaged by every moment of the production. (Some, understandably, have become Remix addicts, seeing the performance multiple times, listening over and over again to the sound track. In audience enthusiasm, Othello: The Remix is the world’s Rocky Horror Picture Show of Shakespearean productions).

Many years ago I saw Charles Ludlam and Everett Quinton play Camille and Armand in the Ridiculous Theatre Company’s historic production of the Dumas classic. The actors had the audience in gales of laughter one moment, and audibly weeping in another. Great actors have this ability and the actors in Othello: The Remix accomplish this throughout the evening.

One leaves Othello: The Remix better understanding Shakespeare’s towering play, the historic power of verse on the stage, the important need for comedy to live in tragedy, and for tragedy to live in comedy, and the reason why plays from long ago made a lasting impact on their original audiences.

Looking at the list of places where Othello: The Remix has played one notes the absence of New York.

New York has historically rebuffed Chicago’s classical musical theater artists. In fact, Samuel Insull built Chicago’s Civic Opera Building (“Insull’s Throne”) with its back to New York, in response to decades of dismissing the Chicago Opera’s tours to New York).

Now New York is abuzz with their own hip-hop musical based on an historical figure. They talk as if they invented the genre. Chicagoans who hear them boast should yawn and point to the world-wide acclaimed Othello: The Remix,

the first masterpiece of the new musical theater genre it created.

* Postell Pringle was my student at Bates College.

 

 

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