Shakespeare may never have listened to rap, but that does not mean the two are incompatible.
“Drakorian,” a musical fusing the drama of Shakespeare with rap, hip-hop and rhythm and blues, will premiere at the Off-Broadway Performance Space this Thursday. The musical, featuring an all-undergraduate cast, is written, directed and composed by Hershel Holiday ’18, and revolves around Augustus the First, the “semi-legitimate” king of a country picking itself up from a decade of civil war, according to the Yale Drama Coalition website. Augustus — whose flaws are few but fatal — must marry and procreate to secure the ill-gotten gains of his father and continue a legacy he has no interest in maintaining.
When creating the musical, Holiday did not want to fill “Drakorian” with typical Broadway show tunes.
“I don’t turn on show tunes when it’s time to do a p-set,” he said. “I want to write music I would listen to.”
For Holiday, this means hip-hop, rap, soul, pop and other music influenced by the African diaspora. The music contains references to Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Lady Leshurr and features computerized instruments like drum and synth pads. Though Holiday did not listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” until after he had written the first draft of the musical, he cited it as a key musical influence.
While the show is Holiday’s creation, its cast of 13 undergraduates and numerous production staff have helped the show evolve.
“Hershel has such a strong of vision of what he wants,” said Andre Allen ’18, who plays the Duke of Branford. “As he’s gotten to know us it’s shifted and molded and become everybody’s.”
Even in tech week rehearsals, often filled with stress, yelling and frantic last-minute adjustments, Holiday keeps his same cool, calm demeanor. He does not need to raise his voice to maintain control on the musical. Instead, he stays close to the action, sometimes jumping in to demonstrate the changes he wants.
Inside the Off-Broadway Theater, the air is punctuated with laughter even in the middle of a several-hour rehearsal. As the lighting team asks the directors to stand at different areas of the stage to prepare for the show, less busy cast members rap their lines fully-costumed in medieval garb.
This scene is indicative of the show’s atmosphere, which several cast members described as supportive and fun.
“It’s one of the more close-knit casts that I’ve seen in a while,” said Ashlyn Oakes ’18, a former illustrations editor for the News and the show’s set designer.
Other cast members, including leads Rayo Oyeyemi ’20 and Jae Shin ’17, also remarked on how supportive and fun it has been to work with the cast.
For Holiday, “Drakorian” is the culmination of several years of hard work. What was once an assignment for a freshman year class on libretto writing has become a full-fledged musical featuring a group of talented actors, musicians and designers, many of whom he considers dear friends.
While Holiday has not changed the musical’s story much, he says that every song has changed, some multiple times. Though this may seem hard to follow, cast members said the changes serve to tighten up the dialogue and song lyrics.
“If there was something awkward, we could change it,” Shin said.
“Drakorian” is also unique because it is one of the few musicals at Yale with nonwhite leads, according to Holiday. He said he wants the audience to experience a wide range of emotions through the show’s evocative musical lineup.
Though the show will premiere this weekend, some involved with the musical see the premiere as just the beginning.
“I think the show can have a life beyond Yale,” said co-producer Declan Kunkel ’19. “I see people enjoying it and being happy.”
“Drakorian” will run through Saturday.