A musical "Tempest" hits Great Barrington
Beginning on Thursday night, the nascent troupe will perform William Shakespeare's famous tale of magic and revenge as a musical at St. James Place. It may not be an unprecedented approach to the old play — the Public Theater in New York, for instance, staged a musical version of "The Tempest" in 2013 — but it will certainly sound far different than traditional renderings.
"Scholars talk about the fact that it is strange how much music there is, and people think that [Shakespeare] actually was writing this with a musician, a lutist, and that it was intended to be this weird first musical that nobody would have seen before," co-director and musical director Jackson Teeley said, sitting in a pew at the church-turned-cultural center where the musical will resound this weekend. Teeley was sitting next to his sister, co-director Caitlin, and across from Harrison Lang, who shares GhostLit artistic director responsibilities with Caitlin.
Inspired by the play's musicality, Teeley penned an original score for a musical version. He began writing the first song when he was a senior at Monument Mountain Regional High School after hearing a monologue by Prospero near the end of the "The Tempest." In the play, Prospero, the Duke of Milan, has been usurped by his brother, Antonio, and escapes with his daughter, Miranda, to an island where he gains magical powers which he uses to exact revenge against his enemies.
"I actually wrote the first song like six years ago, and then I left it alone," said the 24-year-old Teeley, who studied music composition at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
A friend from high school, Corey G. Potter, later reached out about a "Tempest" musical at her school (Emerson College in Boston). Teeley helped her and Amanda Rose Wallace adapt the script accordingly, writing its music.
The full score that St. James Place spectators will hear this weekend isn't a deviation from The Bard's work; unlike some other Shakespeare musicals, Teeley isn't adding his own lyrics.
"The whole point of this to me is to create musical numbers and an entire musical solely with [Shakespeare's] work and his words, and then that elevation that comes with the music, that's almost the magic of the play," Teeley said.
During a stumble-through, an observer called it a "rock opera."
"That's not what I would call it, but it does have — there's a lot of visceral energy," Teeley said.
And it has range.
"There's a song for everyone in this show," Lang said, noting that there's a rock ballad, among other tunes.
The opening song will be one to remember, the show's leaders promise.
"It's an earworm," Lang said. "It's going to get stuck in your head. You're going to be singing the opening number for the next two weeks after you see this show."
The idea is to attract those who might find Shakespeare a bit sleepy or esoteric.
"It's definitely infused in something that's accessible to a contemporary audience," Caitlin said.
Even if audience members lose the narrative at different points, musical cues can get them up-to-speed.
"If something important is happening, someone's feeling an extreme feeling, the music's telling me that. It's carrying that part of the plot," Teeley said.
Both Monument Mountain graduates, the 27-year-old Teeley and 25-year-old Lang started the company as a means to experiment with older works and showcase newer ones, attempting to bring a different approach to a crowded Berkshires theater market.
"We like to look at the community, look at the seasons that theaters are doing, that theater companies have done, and say, 'OK, so what isn't being produced?' and choose those," Lang said.
This production is the first for the group under the GhostLit name, but Teeley and Lang directed "Spring Awakening" last June at The Barn at the Egremont Village Inn, which is owned and run by the Teeley family. "What We Were" and "Into the Woods" followed in August and January, respectively.
St. James Place is a more conventional theater space than The Barn.
"We were like, 'Wow, you don't have to do anything with this space,'" Caitlin recalled of their initial visit to the site. "And of course that evolved to a very specific set and having to cover all the gorgeous windows because our lighting designer would go absolutely insane if we didn't."
GhostLit will return to The Barn in August for "Fun Home." In all of its productions, the troupe aims to provide ample opportunity for local young actors to take the stage and thrive. "The Tempest" will feature Brianna Nicola as Miranda, Caroline Fairweather as Ariel, Ali Louis Bourzgui as Caliban, Aiden Chalfonte as Ferdinand, Dana M. Harrison as Alonso, David Bertoldi as Antonio, Connor McNinch as Sebastian, Olivia Willcox as Gonzala, Lang as Trinculo and Cody Lee Miller as Stephano, along with an ensemble of Alexandra Keane, Charles Kerzner, Austin Lombardi and Taylor Slonaker. Jolyn Unruh, who mentored the Teeleys and Lang at Monument Mountain, will play Prospero.
Caitlin has been impressed with the group's energy level.
"I'm so used to going through a BFA or conservatory program," said Caitlin, who received her BFA from California Institute of the Arts, "and people kind of get weighed down by their own technique and by their own knowledge after a while. Working with young people who don't have that weight yet, if you do things right, ... they'll just be throwing their bodies around. They get so excited to be doing this type of work. The commitment level is just incredible."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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