“Limbs are torn off, tongues are cut out…and everybody sings” states the press release for “Titus: A Grand and Gory Rock Musical”, playing now through Saturday, March 22, 7:30pm in Cleveland Public Theatre’s (CPT) Gordon Square Theatre.
This original world premiere was conceived and directed by Craig J. George, and features original music by Dennis Yurich and Alison Garrigan. In an imposing nutshell, “Titus” is Shakespeare infused with a bit of “Rocky Horror” and stabbed in the face with a bit of “Sweeney Todd”… in the best possible sense. Whatever Mr. George was thinking when he started out, he’s certainly brought it to a delightful cataclysmic conclusion on the stage.
Based on the Bard’s “Titus Andronicus”, the gory tale of revenge and retribution takes the traditional text and melds it with raucous rock music, all enhanced with “shocking stage gore and a gritty post-industrial design that ties classical elements into an aesthetic that is decidedly ‘rust belt chic.’”
Not familiar with this “bloody, bawdy and ballsy” tale? Here’s the grisly 4-1-1. Roman general Titus Andronicus (played by Dana Hart) returns home victorious from a long war with the Goths to find that only four of his sons have survived. He brings with him his spoils of war: newly captured bride Tamora, Queen of the Goths (Alison Garrigan), her lover Aaron the Moor (Lawrence Charles), and Tamora’s three sons. Titus refuses to take the throne as emperor and then sacrifices one of Tamora’s sons to avenge the death of his own dead soldier sons. Tamora is enraged and plots from within her new marriage to take revenge on her captor husband and his family. Let chaos ensue.
Considered to be Shakespeare’s first “tragedy”, the play was said to have been popular in the late 16th century, but productions of it became less prevalent over time, most likely due to the amount of bloodshed and violence. That said, Shakespeare’s brilliance comes with the wit and playfulness of his humorous text, meant to weave an entertainment factor into the carnage of the dark production. The audience is meant to commiserate with the characters, to associate with the deeds and then to be shocked by the horror that ensues amidst the laughter.
The production is a special blend of classic meets campy, with characters that are powerful yet simultaneously ridiculous. Hands are cut off, tongues are ripped out, and at one point a character fights himself (brilliantly!)
Dana Hart’s Titus is satisfactorily tragic. His portrayal is of an angry father is done with strength and Shakespearian grace, and his singing is certainly passable.
Alison Garrigan’s Tamora is a tornado of terror, a true force to be reckoned with. Her depiction of a cunning and vengeful captive is done with sly supremacy, and her vocals are raw and prevailing.
Lawrence Charles holds his own as Aaron. His presentation of being a deceptive shadow is the catalyst that drives Tamora’s revenge. He is a soul waiting to pounce, and his vocals soar.
Other performances of note include local favorite Amiee Collier as Titus’ wife Marcus, and Justine Kunstler Zapin as the sadly-butchered Lavinia.
The structure of the show feels a bit long, running about two hours and thirty minutes. The songs are not used to drive the action, per se, but as additional interludes between scenes. Perhaps if more of the text was incorporated into the song lyrics, the plot could be driven home at a quicker pace via the music.
The songs themselves have driving rhythms and raucous melodies. Dennis Yurich and Alison Garrigan’s compositions are wail-worthy, in a good way. Music Director Brad Wyner keeps the band and the singers resonating throughout the show. The “Vengeance” tune is especially catchy and leaves one wishing there were even more great songs in this wonderfully wordy production.
With an “industrial-inspired” scenic design by Todd S. Krispinsky and Gothic-meets-Greco-Roman costumes by Jenniver Sparano, “Titus” is like nothing you’ve seen before. The stone-meets-metal levels of the stage give lots of places for characters to make a stand (or to hide). Special kudos go to Jenniver Sparano and the many amazing boots on this cast. Where does one get a pair of purple, platform sparkle boots? Only Jenniver knows!
Other creative team credits include Martìn Cèspedes (Choreographer), Carlton Guc (Sound Designer), Dusten Welch (Fight Choreographer), and Ben Gantose (Lighting Designer). A shout out goes to P.J. Toomey for his Special Effects Design in all of its wounded, bleeding and hemorrhaging goodness.
Performances for “Titus: A Grand and Gory Rock Musical” are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 7:30 p.m. now through Saturday, March 22 in CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre. Tickets are $12 – $28 and can be purchased online at www.cptonline.org or by phone at 216-631-2727 x 501.
Do you have a Cleveland Performing Arts story? Contact Kate Miller at KateMillerExaminer@yahoo.com.