Developed with CST Creative Producer Rick Boynton
Starring Jackson Doran, GQ, JQ, Postell Pringle & Clayton Stamper
Presented by Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Richard Jordan Productions Ltd.
This hip-opera adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic has a powerhouse score and impeccably sleek production value.
Chicago Shakespeare’s Othello: The Remix has proudly come home to roost. Following a world premiere at London’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad—with subsequent runs in both Germany and Scotland—CST’s commissioned hip-hopera is an unqualified success. Freely adapted from Shakespeare’s original tragedy, OTR is the brainchild of Chicago-natives GQ and JQ (collectively known as The Q Brothers), who along with CST’s Creative Producer Rick Boynton, have brought us this taut and engrossing re-think on an old classic.
Re-imagining the world of Shakespeare’s Venetian army as that of a vast hip-hop empire, the traditional Moorish general is here recast as MC Othello (Postell Pringle), who rises up from the ghetto to reach the heights of music stardom and the full extent of the “American dream.” His wife Desdemona—in OTR, represented as an ethereal songbird, trilling soulful R&B in some faraway Arcadia—sits devotedly at his right-hand side. True to custom, MC Othello has promoted Cassio (Jackson Doran) to the first-ranks of his crew. Cassio being a ham-boned pop rapper in his own right, MC Othello agrees to release his next album. This of course angers the “hip-hop purist” Iago (GQ), who solemnly vows revenge on the Moor. Soliciting the aid of the nerdy light techie, Roderigo (JQ), Iago thus sets in motion an otherwise all-too-familiar plan to poison MC Othello against his wife. With a DJ (Clayton Stamper) propped on top some tagged scaffolding, the whole play is set to a continuous hip-hop rhythm, with major production numbers as glitzy and well-polished as they are powerfully dramatic.
OTR’s production elements—including Jesse Klug’s high-octane concert lighting, James Savage’s boldly beat-heavy sound design, Scott Davis’s tagged and bare bones set—all conspire to create an event that artlessly combines the showy glitz of a rock concert and the narrative pull of an American musical. Without a doubt, The Q Brothers have written a score that manages to be both emotionally compelling yet also incredibly funny, subversively lambasting hip-hop’s purist sub-strains, subtly aligning them with Iago’s own reactionist intolerance for the commercial success of his peers. For ever since DJ Kool Herc started mixing samples out of his South Bronx apartment, claims to hip-hop’s “authenticity” have driven critical reactions. Still, it no minor point that a musical form once used to vent the frustrations of living in the projects or to voice the limitations of the civil rights movement is now being appropriated to the needs of a classical theater repertoire. At the very least, such issues should be a crucial part of post-show discussions emerging around OTR. Although it would be equally unfair to let such issues define our reactions entirely.
For it is equally true that this collection of able performances looks and sounds just about “as real” as it gets. In the title role, Postell Pringle’s MC Othello builds intensely over the course of an hour and a half, forcefully self-destructing in a skillfully constructed murder scene. As the scheming Iago, GQ’s harrowing Slim Shady-esque comedic performance is only the veil for an otherwise fiercely angry young man. And Jackson Doran and JQ show themselves equally instinctual performers, able to throw down artfully nuanced comedic characters in-between the edges of two paper-thin beats.
Assuming Othello: The Remix is showing a conscious effort on behalf of CST to extend themselves to younger audiences, it should succeed admirably. Just so long as “young people” avoid that reactionary cynicism so prevalent among our generation. Trust me. For all its glitzy good looks and hip-hop humor, Othello: The Remix has lost nothing in translation. And we too have nothing to lose by letting loose…
Anthony J. Mangini
Reviewed Saturday, March 16th, 2013.
Running time is approximately 1 hour 30 minutes with one intermission.
Othello: The Remix runs until April 28th, 2013. Chicago Shakespeare Theater is located at 800 East Grand Avenue on Navy Pier. Tickets can be obtained through their box office at (312) 595-5600 or at their website (https://www.chicagoshakes.com/). Check out their Theater in Chicago listing at https://www.theatreinchicago.com/othello-the-remix/6153/.