By Sandi Durell
Shakespeare may be rethinking his rightful role if he were watching the Q Brothers, GQ and JQ, and their band of 21st Century merrymakers on stage at the Westside Theatre. This rap/hip-hop ensemble from Chicago has got Othello covered from Desdemona (a soul voice of ooo’s . . . sing it girl) to Iago, Cassio, Roderigo, Bianca, Emilia, and together with DJ Supernova have put a new spin on one of the Bard’s heavy tragedies.
Unlike Hamilton where musical styles are equally balanced, the Remix is mainly rap with a little melody that shows up halfway through. Presented mostly in rhyming couplets, the rhythm hits hard and is brilliant in its presentation.
When Othello (Postell Pringle) falls hard for Desdemona (raised by a nanny, a nurse and a maid . . .) because he liked her vocal tracks, it was love at first sight. Ah ha, but nerdy Rodrigo (JQ), the lighting tech guy, is upset because he loves her too. Underground rapper type Iago (GQ who also plays Brabantio – Desdemona’s father), is jealous of Othello who likes Cassio’s glide and music “Cass-Cass-Cass-ee-oh” . . . dada Cassio (some really funny dance moves) Feeling threatened, Iago devises a plan to get Othello out of the way. “And That is Why I Hate the Moor.” When the gangster CEO of the record label Loco Vito (JQ), a big tennis fan arrives, he manages to rap many famous tennis players, i.e., “It’s the toughest job most of you will ever see! Like tryin’ to beat Bjorn Borg. . .” Meanwhile, as Iago cleverly enrages Othello with suspicion of Desdemona and Cassio’s supposed love affair, Othello orders lago to kill Cassio even with Cassio’s feisty groupie girlfriend Bianca on the scene wherever Cassio goes.
Among the many highlights is Iago and chorus’ “Call Me Puppet Master, Master Puppeteer” – – a sneaky plan rap:
Othello’s bitin’ the bait – hook, line and sinker
And I’m like Rodan – the monster and The Thinker.
The pieces of my puzzle I’ma press into place
And I can tell it’s workin’ – see the stress on his face?
And Cassio? Psh, I squashed that bug’s life.
I’m risin’ to the top like when Pac said “Thug Life.”
They kept me down long enough and I ain’t bein’ cocky –
But no one’ strong enough to stop me!
The all male cast, that includes flirty Jackson Doran as Cassio (and Emilia), is cause for a lot of laugh out loud as the guys double up as women donning a quick wig, over the head apron-like, all in one costume, and rolling up their pant legs. Aside from being quick change artists, they’re par excellence as rappers, movers and shakers as the pacing moves quickly via the brilliance of GQ and JQ (yes, they are real brothers) who composed and direct this hot little production that runs only 85 minutes.
During this uniquely clever and modern adaptation, they find time to engage the audience in their antics. Although the demographics (night I attended) was clearly young, this is a Shakespeare lesson for all ages. The energy level is high and higher and you’ll laugh your way through this brand new interpretation of the Bard. “No (They’re) Never Gonna Stop!”
This ensemble, presented by John Leguizamo, works like hand in glove and should have audiences lining up for tickets – much better priced than Hamilton!
Shout outs to Scott Adam Davis (Scenic Designer), Christina Leinicke (Costume Designer) and Keith A. Truax (Lighting Designer). Sound Design by Dave Ferdinand/One Dream.
Othello: the Remix was commissioned by the Globe to Globe Festival by Shakespeare’s Globe, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and developed with the Q Brothers by Rick Boynton. It had it’s world premiere in London in 2012 and premiered in 2013 in Chicago. This is the Q Brothers’ third hip-hop translation of Shakespeare.
Tickets are now on sale online via Telecharge.com, by phone at (212) 239-6200, and in-person at the Westside Theatre Box Office (407 W. 43rd between 9th and 10thAvenues) www.OthellotheRemix.com
Photos: Carol Rosegg