Shakespeare Society blends Bard and Big Easy

by Jason Madanjian / Beacon Staff • December 8, 2011

The trumpet blared. The saxophone wailed. Improvised banter and dance persisted among the cast. And the audience roared with delight this past Thursday and Friday night as the Shakespeare Society rocked the Cabaret with their two-night, four-performance tour de force in the Shakespearean Jazz Show.

Patrick Greeley, a sophomore performing arts major, composed and musically directed the show. The lyrics were taken directly from Shakespeare’s work, with some tweaks for this musical approach.

“There’s something about jazz and Shakespeare that just fits,” said Greeley. “They’re both very emotional; it can be happy or dark.”

A fictional band, The Nine Worthies, which itself is a reference to a group from the Shakespeare comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost, were the stars of the show. The evening boasted a relaxed and spontaneous environment. 

The audience clapped and stomped to the beats of the music throughout. The set was decorated to look like an early-20th century New Orleans jazz club, featuring old wooden chairs, benches, and boxy suitcases. 

Actors and musicians wore 1920s American-style clothing which included plain dresses for the ladies, and suspenders, vests, and ties for the gentlemen. Singers stayed in character, even when not on stage, performing puppetry via shadow to convey the actions of the songs using an old overhead projector

“I was born and raised in New Orleans,” said Shakespearean Jazz Show director Alex Ates, who also serves as vice president of the Shakespeare Society. “And artists in New Orleans would be truly free and connected to their music, so my job with this show was to find that authentic theatricality.”

Notable moments from the one hour show included “Wit Peddler,” featuring a hair-raising trumpet solo from junior performing arts major Max Sangerman and the hauntingly beautiful and romantic “Lovely Boy” sung by senior Emily Skeggs, a performing arts major who produced the show. 

Greeley started composing the show this summer and said his copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare is covered in hundreds of notes. In total, he composed 10 pieces for the show.

“Shakespeare has a stigma of being very strict and rigid whereas jazz is loose and free,” said Ates, “so there was a curiosity of what would happen if we melded the two together.”

The show concluded with an all-out jamboree of “Wind and the Rain.” The audience was allowed to flood the stage and dance as the band jammed out on the epic showstopper. After each of the four shows, the audience demanded an encore and got one in the crowd-pleaser “Mariana.”

Tierra Bonser, a senior performing arts major, was in the audience Thursday night, and said she thoroughly enjoyed the show.

“I was bedazzled,” said Bonser. “I enjoyed the atmosphere and the interaction — which sometimes gets skipped over, but that certainly wasn’t the case with this show.”

Ates said the goal of the show was “to present Shakespeare in a lively, innovative way ... To take soulful music and combine it with the most soulful word of all time.”

Steve Miller, managing editor of the Beacon and performer in the jazz show, did not edit this article.