Monthly Archives: November 2016

Rapping the Moor: Othello the Remix

The Q Brothers’ Othello: The Remix
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor THE EDGE
Thursday Nov 17, 2016

GQ and Postell Pringle 

GQ and Postell Pringle   

“Hamilton” has happily released the theater world to recognize the power of modern poetry to tell a story in the rhythms of modern rhyme. The newest entry to this hip-hop pantheon is the “Q Brothers’ Othello: the Remix.” It is brought to us in association with theater wizard John Leguizamo and well worth the 80 minutes of raucous wit and wise re telling of one of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedies.

“Othello” tells the story of a general who falls in thrall with Desdemona and they elope. Her father is not pleased and so to escape some notice, Othello appoints Cassio to a more exalted position, angering his more experienced lieutenant, Iago. Iago then spins elaborate lies to turn Othello against Desdemona, who eventually kills her, leaving the stage littered with, what we now cavalierly call collateral damage.

This remix casts Othello and his posse in the music industry as competing rappers. Think of it as an all sung Shakespearian “Empire.” The intimate Westside Theatre/ Downstairs has been turned by designer Scott Adam Davis into a blaring disco with DJ Supernova spinning and scratching and neon lights flashing. It sets an energetic stage for what is to come and heated up the theater happily as the AC was somehow blasting in November.

The show is created by the Q Brothers, meaning music, words and direction. I don’t know if GQ and JQ are actual brothers, but their ability to coalesce a tale and excite an audience is impressive. Everyone in this cast is not only supremely talented, but they seem as if they are having a blast and we lucky few get to watch and clap and groan at puns and just get happily awe struck.

There is a wonderful harkening back to the original Shakespeare modality even though the words are magically modern. All the women characters — Emilia and Bianca, wives to Iago and Cassio — are played by the men. This is achieved by quickly donning wigs and sort of dickey-like dress fronts. (Huge props to costume designer Christina Leinicke.)

This works not only for comedic enhancement, but allows JQ who tackles the roles of Roderigo, Loco Vito, a record producer, hilariously obsessed with tennis, as well as Bianca, and Jackson Dorian who portrays Cassio and Emilia to show their acting wonderful chops.

Q Brother GQ plays the villain Iago and Brabantio, Desdemona’s father. He can be dark and swiftly becomes a doddering old man with wonderful precision. Desdemona is embodied only as a distant soprano voice floating occasionally though the action. A wise choice as she should not be turned into a caricature.

The lead role of Othello is embodied by Postell Pringle whose outsized character is matched with his prodigious talent. He raps; saunters and sweats bringing every nuance to a man besotted with love and brought down by the green-eyed monster of jealousy.

This work was commissioned jointly for the Globe to Globe Festival by Shakespeare’s Globe, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and premiered in Britain and Chicago before gracing the New York stage. This is the third Shakespeare to be transformed by the Q Brothers and let’s hope many people revel in this work so they can bring us more of the cannon.

The Q Brothers’ Othello: The Remix” enjoys an extended run at Westside Theatre/Downstairs, 407 W. 43 between 9th and 10th Avenue. For tickets or information, call 212-239-6200 or visit Othellotheremix.com.

Falsettos Rings True

THE EDGE
Falsettos
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor
Wednesday Nov 9, 2016

I adore Billy Finn. I have been saying this for four decades, no exaggeration. During this time I have seen every iteration of “Falsettos” from Broadway to individual songs belted and bellowed over the phone when we worked together during the launch of the Big Apple Circus. Yes, William Finn really did escape from the circus and ascended to become one of the most exalted, insightful, funny, ravaging intelligent people emboldening the American theater scene.

The newest incarnation of “Falsettos” reminds us of all Finn’s gifts and how perfectly fitted they are to his long-time collaborator, the visionary director James Lapine. I think that many of us fretted that “Falsettos” might have become a bit long in the tooth, like stalwart fans who wept and worshiped it the first time when it came in three parts: “In Trousers,” “March of the Falsettos,” and “Falsettoland,” but take heart old timers and first timers; this is marvelous.

In tribute to the writing, the music and the direction “Falsettos” is not a frozen timepiece, but a concatenation of the terror that scorched the landscape when AIDS first burst into our lives and the hope that propelled us. And it has also morphed into a work about blended families and most shocking to me, is the feminism vibrating across a stage, written in the early ’80s.

“Falsettos” has so many layers that reviewing it is part dissection, part history project, and all joy. The show begins in true Finn fashion with a rollicking number called “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” I recall that Finn thought that might be the perfect name for his show, and thankfully cooler heads prevailed. But at the very opening, we know we are allowed to laugh at things that are usually hidden from view and unspoken. It is the razor-sharp humor that allows “Falsettos” to draw back a curtain to reveal how we create family, unity and forward motion in perilous times.

The test of a timeless work of art is whether it can move past its original quest. In the early ’80s there was the unknown killer that became the AIDS crisis. Perhaps from this disease and the activism necessary to battle a non-listening government, we grew into a more expansive society with greater equality for the LGBTQ community.

And now, on the cusp of a terrifying election, it seems many have receded into a time of hatred and repression. When we watch in a darkened theater filled with the most glorious music and words that can flip from clawing tears from your eyes to belly laughter we know that we are all lucky to be alive now.

As I watched “Falsettos” I thought of all the wonderful, bright, talented people from my life in the arts who should have been in the theater with me. I missed them; I missed my hopeful young self, but I was soothed surrounded by vibrating talent.

“Falsettos” chronicles the story of Marvin, who is married, then divorces and finally embraces being a gay man. Christian Borle, who usually has oversized comic roles, here has an emotional depth rarely seen from him. He is jubilant to finally have the life he dreamed of madly in love with another man and then losing that love to a plague. Marvin is a man boiled down to his essence and Borle is powerful in this role. Marvin’s sweet, manipulative, handsome lover is Andrew Rannells, from “Book of Mormon” and “Girls,” and here he too has a depth and range that takes our breath away.

Marvin was married to Trina; a woman who thought her life was all sewn up when Marvin rips the seams out. The incredibly talented Stephanie J. Block tackles this new world feminist role. This woman can croon, or belt or sing a song while eating a banana and spitting out the phrase, “I’m breaking down.” She is broken, and yet dinner still needs to be made, served, cleaned up and a bar mitzvah has to be planned. Luckily she gets help from the kindly shrink Mendel played with a bumbling schmaltz by the talented Brandon Uranowitz.

The kid at the center of many battles is young Jason, Anthony Rosenthal, who takes center stage, dances to the “March of the Falsettos’ or attempt to hit a baseball while the cast sings, “We’re watching Jewish boys who almost read Latin, up battin’ And battin’ bad.” He is great.

There are two other characters populating the world of “Falsettos,” and they are “the lesbians next door.” Cordelia, a caterer, played with an easy verve by Betsy Wolfe and Dr. Charlotte who is solemnly charged with dealing with the bachelors who come in scared and confused and leave later “unenlightened.” When Tracie Thoms sings “Something Bad Is Happening,” you feel the chill of that first wave of a crisis about to hit. She brings a strong presence to the role, and the ensemble is augmented for it.

My tiny misgiving is the set. It is designed by David Rockwell, also an architect of good intentions, and is composed of a series of huge soft Jenga-like blocks that can be used to create a sofa or be knocked down in anger or create baseball bleachers. All good ideas, but the time and action of moving all the pieces, assembling and reassembling often distracted me from just wanting to be at the moment with the music and the words and the mellifluous voices, and of course a wonderful, in Finn’s words, “teeny, tiny band.”

It might be evident to all, that Finn’s idol when he was at Williams College, was Stephen Sondheim; also an alum. The attention to idiosyncratic wordplay, the encyclopedic knowledge of history, music and art that flows from tightly strung lyrics and the complicated, syncopated or purely waltzing rhythms that emanate are a tribute to Sondheim and of course, are made modern and marvelous by Finn.

“Falsettos” is a show about synergy and sympathy, activism and romance and believing. It is what we all needed decades ago, and we need it even more than ever now.

“Falsettos” runs through Jan. 8. 2017 at the Lincoln Center Theater at Walter Kerr Theater, 219 West 48 Street. For information or tickets, call 800-840-9227 or visit http://www.lct.org/shows/falsettos