The poetry of William Shakespeare's timeless A Midsummer Night's Dream is swinging to a new beat with newly composed tunes, classic jazz standards and choreographed dance numbers in A Jazz Dream, The Musical, adapted by New York guest director Maggie L. Harrer and produced by the University of North Texas Department of Dance and Theatre. UNT's College of Music is providing creative musical input, and UNT's Department of English is offering dramaturgical assistance.
A cast of 18 people - plus 10 dancers, a five-piece jazz ensemble and a 12-member jazz choir - will perform A Jazz Dream at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1 through 3 and Nov. 8 through 10 (Thursdays through Saturdays) and 2 p.m. Nov. 4 and 11 (Sundays). All performances will take place in the University Theatre in the Radio, TV, Film and Performing Arts Building on the UNT campus. Tickets are $10 for the general public and $7.50 for students, UNT faculty/staff and seniors. Box office hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; tickets go on sale starting Oct. 18 (Thursday). Call 940-565-2428 or visit www.danceandtheatre.unt.edu for ticket information. A reception with a brief question-and-answer session will follow the Nov. 1 performance.
"Shakespeare's iambic pentameter is like jazz; it's the rhythm of the heart with the accent on the second beat – ba bum, ba bum," said Harrer, adaptor, guest artist director and choreographer of A Jazz Dream, The Musical. "Shakespeare's Midsummer is a play about passion - about loves thwarted, loves lost and loves found - and it's timeless. The rhythms of jazz make passion immediate and accessible, so the two together seemed a perfect blend of poetry, passion and music."
Under the direction of faculty member Richard DeRosa, students from UNT's renowned Division of Jazz Studies are creating musical arrangements for A Jazz Dream and will be performing as jazz vocalists and instrumentalists.
"When I looked at UNT and saw the incredible assets of jazz, dance and theater, I thought this is the perfect place to develop A Jazz Dream," Harrer said.
The play opens in present times in front of the classical Grecian architecture of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The city represents "a modern-day Athens" as the center of politics, power and freedom with Wall Street Titans and Occupy Wall Street protestors challenging society, Harrer said. In Harrer's adaptation, the fairy folks of Shakespeare's classic are free-spirited artists living in Central Park.
The set for A Jazz Dream is being designed by guest artist Bob Lavallee, who was voted the best theatrical designer in 2012 by the Dallas Observer. Lavallee is well-known for his sets for the Dallas Theater Center and PBS.
"His atmospheric designs create the magical world of A Jazz Dream, and we are so lucky to have him on this project," Harrer said.
Senior Austin Struckmeyer, who is pursuing a double major in music and theater, plays dual roles of Theseus - king of Athens in the original version and a Wall Street giant in this adaptation - and Oberon - king of the fairies in the original play and a traveling street magician in the adaptation.
"The adaptation into modern times makes it very easy to relate to," said Struckmeyer, a graduate of Naples American High School in Naples, Italy. "The beauty of Shakespeare is that the things he wrote about are universal and have endured for the last several hundred years, and the particular perspective we are taking in this show is very topical and very relevant, particularly with the upcoming election and political strife."
In addition to newly written music by UNT students, the production includes jazz standards such as Ain't Misbehavin', Jeepers Creepers and Moonglow.
After developing A Jazz Dream at UNT, Harrer said she hopes to bring the production to regional theaters and eventually to New York.
"Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton theater audiences can get in on the ground floor of a Broadway musical in the making," Harrer said.
UNT Department of English faculty member and Shakespeare scholar Kevin Curran is providing dramaturgical assistance to the cast, helping with language, pronunciation and context. Student Johnny Rodriguez is creating a behind-the-scenes documentary for NTTV showing the process of making a new musical.