Follow the Rainbow

My director's notes for Two Gents...

It’s easy to say in hindsight, but maybe Two Gents was the perfect Shakespeare play for the composer of Hair to tackle. After all, this play was Shakespeare’s Rent, youthful, raw, rowdy, messy, rude, and certainly flawed. And composer Jonathan Larson said that he intended Rent to be the new Hair. It’s the flaws that give Hair, Two Gents, and Rent -- and our June show, bare --their rawness and rough edges. They don’t feel manufactured or focus-grouped. They possess that same authenticity that the best, most lasting rock and roll has. The same is true of lots of recent musicals, like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, American Idiot, Love Kills, Passing Strange, and others.

Like the brilliant filmmaker Tim Burton, Shakespeare wasn’t always the best storyteller in the world. He borrowed plots, he relied on improbable coincidences, mistaken identity, and other devices we’d find amateurish in anyone else’s hands. Just as Burton’s real artistry is in his visual language, Shakespeare’s real artistry is in the complex psychology of his characters, maybe even more so than in his amazing language. He was the first theatre writer to delve deep down into the complexities of human emotion and motivation, and he got it so right in most of his plays that we continue to perform them hundreds of years later.

Two Gentlemen of Verona was Shakespeare’s first play, and though he’s not at the top of his game here, he’s still Shakespeare, and that’s enough. The musical’s original director Mel Shapiro and playwright John Guare fixed some of the play’s problems, and together with composer Galt MacDermot, they fashioned a new work, one still very organic to Shakespeare’s play but with a contemporary sensibility that brings this rarely produced work to vivid, modern life. Its 1971 cultural vibe brings so much more complexity and high stakes to the story, adding to the original plot a pregnancy, a decision about abortion, and the Duke’s habit of sending Silvia’s boyfriends not just away, but literally off to “the Vietnam meat grinder,” as they used to call it.

It’s true that Two Gents as a play doesn’t have the artistry or polish of Hamlet or The Tempest, but there is much that’s wonderful here. Critic Paul Friswold wrote about our other Shakespearean rock musical, Return to the Forbidden Planet, “This is no parlor trick of a musical; there’s a rich vein of Shakespeare’s favorite ingredient – the wondrous depths of the human heart – that elevates the show from cunning stunt to artful meditation on the destructive nature of power and the redemptive power of love.” The same is true here.

Our hope with this production is to get back to the original spirit of Shakespeare’s plays – rowdy, sexy, dirty, funny, popular, irreverent, rule-busting, and most of all, deeply, crazily human.

Long Live the Musical!