“The Most Lamentable Romaine Tragedie of Titus Andronicus.” Sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it? So it should come to no one’s surprise that it screams to be made into a musical, said no one ever, except in the brilliant creative mind of Craig J. George. Through the risk-taking birthing hips of Cleveland Public Theatre’s Executive Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan, George takes the sickening tale of revenge and murder and surrounds himself with music wizards Dennis Yurich, Alison Garrigan, and Brad Wyner. Together they produce the world premiere of TITUS: A GRAND AND GORY ROCK MUSICAL, a rocking dramedy that will have you guessing what the hell you are in the middle of. Just when you think it is a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the bard, comes a quick shift into a dramatic scene that holds you in Shakespearian delight, moved and enlightened with pitch-perfect diction and emotion. And just when your iambic pentameter is assuaged, shit happens! Oh, what a glorious night of theatre indeed!
Set designer Todd S. Krispinsky knocks it out of the coliseum. The set reminds me of a love child between “Game of Thrones” and “Thunderdome.” I half expected a leather-clad Tina Turner to open the show atop the haze covered glorious structure. All of this is stimulatingly lit by lighting designer Ben Gantose.
The first vocal moment of any musical is extremely important. It can be a beautiful hard cover edition, or a paper back novel found at a resale shop. Jon Conley, described in the beginning as the First Goth, delivers a haunting opening with a Sting-like quality that is breathtaking. It is an unexpected vocal and immediately dictates this will not be your mother’s Titus. Lawrence Charles (Aaron) is a self absorbed hot mess. With strong vocals and a presence that reminds me of Punjab on steroids, he wields his talent throughout the chaos. Marcus is skillfully played by Amiee Collier. Her clarion voice and deft diction clearly provide her path as the lone survivor with a commanding presence that provides great range of emotion. Ryan Edlinger is a blast--a comedian that offers such varied characterizations (Quintus/2nd Goth/Nurse) to the delight of the audience.
Tamora is a complicated woman and has a siren song that apparently makes any man’s sperm count quadruple within a 10 mile radius. Empowering this gothic beauty of voice and look is Alison Garrigan. From her entrance, her commanding presence would make any waiter quit if they got her order wrong. Decked out in gothic chic, Garrigan is a “bardnado” of talent. Her voice is haunting and powerful, her acting chops pierce every scene, and her embodied characterization is a delight. Dana Hart (Titus) is the titan of the evening. Watching the journey of this loyal soldier, slowly realizing deceit and then self-actualizing in a picnic from hell, is magnificent. He is an actor that can command the language and dictate intense emotions and then, as a comedic fade away jumper, his “here, hold this” moment at the end of Act I has you howling with horror and delight. Hart is a master storyteller and excels at presenting this evening of Shakespearean chicanery.
Val Kozlenko (Lucius/Chiron) and Pat Miller (Bassanius/Demetrius) would be sure bets to win The Amazing Race. Watching these two traverse the evening is a complete success, with each in total control of his impressive talents, vocally rocking out as the brothers Grimm or as back-up singers to a trippy vision to screw up Titus’s head, which reminded me of Josie and the Pussycats on crack. Their moments are many, and their dedicated character work is grand. And then we come to Saturninus. Oh, Saturninus, who is adorned in a pantsuit that looks like China and New Orleans decided to blend the celebrations of the Chinese New Year and Mardi Gras. Matt O’Shea practically steals the show with his metro apparition of a cover model for Men’s Fitness. I can’t imagine a mirror that can hold all of that nebulousness at one time. O’Shea rocks the shit out of this role. His versatility is worth the evening’s “you go girl!” award. Tremendous work.
Justine Kunstler Zapin (Lavinia) is very enjoyable. Her skill at a dead pan look to comment is my personal favorite. Her voice is luscious, and she handles the transformation to a retooled body with great skill. She is a pistol to revel in, but then she still shines when cruel intentions add a silencer. Christopher Sanders (Mutius/Young Lucius) and Justin Williams (Martius/Aemillus) round out this impeccably talented cast. Both actors are busy providing great energy, diction and characterizations that never are off track, with strong vocals and an unending energy stream that ignites every scene they are in.
Jenniver Sparano is a revelation. This is a costumer of exquisite talent. Sparano creates a dream production of leather, pleather, color, kink, chains, glitter and heels for days. P.J. Toomey adds his expertise to the blood and special effects of this production--a monstrous job executed with adept skill. However, on review/opening night there was the rogue penis that wouldn’t go into the bucket, much to the delight of the audience. But then actors (and body parts) can be so temperamental. Carlton Guc did a great job balancing the sublime rock band with the stage vocals. The entire evening was clear and crisp musical heaven. Martin Cespedes provides high energy excitement, executing ferocious manipulations with the staircase, and staging the rock cast with appropriate zeal and focus.
Dennis Yurich, Alison Garrigan and Brad Wyner have created a solid musical foundation. There is a great balance of ballads and rock-out jams that are interjected in a timely manner and certainly add to the arch of the evening. Brad Wyner, who provides musical direction, orchestrations, and arrangements, is a gold mine. This is a World Premiere. There is no bar for these incredible artists, except their own. Craig J. George should be applauded for gathering a perfect storm of talent.
Go see it. Cleveland Public Theatre is a phoenix in the national theatre movement, constantly being reborn.
Kevin Joseph Kelly
Staff and Cast:
Director: Craig George
Musical Director: Brad Wyner
March 6 - March 22
3pm on Sunday, March 16. (THE ONLY SUNDAY PERFORMANCE)
$12-$28 General Admission
(216) 631-2727 ext 501
Order Tickets Online
Cleveland Public Theatre
Gordon Square Theatre
6415 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44102