Drums, a keyboard, amps, electric guitars, piles of wires — the pre-performance set-up of “The Tempest: A Glam Rock Musical Odyssey” foreshadows an impending concert. The musical comes closer and closer to this expectation as actors and musicians trickle in, dressed androgynously in tights with powdered faces, colored lips and exaggerated makeup, various shades of David Bowie hair and oh, that cool theatrical swagger. It’s a swagger exhibited on concert stages, where musicians dramatize themselves — but here, it’s Shakespeare dramatizing music.
“The Tempest,” directed by Erin Kelly ’07 and Lexi Newman ’07, exudes 1970s glam rock in its continuous references and returns to Bowie’s alter-ego ‘Ziggy Stardust:’ the eye-patched, flamboyant and sexually questionable character with a personality as outgoing as his orange hairs extending in all directions. This reference is most salient in the musical interludes that pepper the play, when individual actors take the mike and sing Bowie lyrics along with the band in the back — lyrics that carry their own fresh interpretations relative to the scenes witnessed beforehand. And in spite of the fact that David Bowie phrases and fashion are replicated within “The Tempest,” the production is no copycat; by fusing a literary tradition with an aesthetic music trend, it has lent auditory drama to a visually offsetting rock convention.
And even when some of the interlude lyrics were lost in the loud music emanating from the stage, the back band itself carried the scene, with instrumental embellishments that surprisingly gave the songs development, contrary to the simple, continuous guitar riffs of some glam rock pieces. But this was just the music; the actors completed the illusion of a rock performance. Going along with the night’s attire and musical intervals, the glam rock theme gave actors license to exhibit audience-pleasing attitudes and quirky mannerisms. In fact, the glam rock presence within the production allowed for a spectrum of presentations, from the loud and rambunctious Trinculo (Eugene Ashton-Gonzalez ’07), Stephano (Leah Franqui ’09) and Caliban (Rebecca (Joe) Samel ’07), to the comically lusty Ferdinand (Ashton-Gonzalez) and Miranda (Franqui), to the graceful and somewhat pompous Prospero (Andrew Ash ’08) and his mystical servant, Ariel (Julian Prokopetz ’09). Little time is given for these characters to develop, but the pointed quirkiness of some individuals, such as Gonzalo (Jon Hood ’07), Francisco (Liz Carlin ’07) and Sebastian (Erin Cawley ’08), ensure that the characters are unambiguous, if not exactly human. Furthermore, the modernist interpretation of “The Tempest” resulted in characters that broke restrictions otherwise present in normal renditions; Ariel, in particular, took mystical appeal to new heights with his spryness and physical poise. Shakespeare emerges as the focal point of the drama through performers’ controlled presentations and actual Shakespearean dialogue, but the glam rock factor offsets the austerity by saturating actors’ clothes and styles. In the end, the presentation is not overwhelmingly Shakespearean or overwhelmingly glam rock, but fabulously representative of both.
Despite this careful balance, the musical’s final destination lies in the seventies. Toward the end, Shakespeare’s conflicts resolve and characters are given more excuses to be jubilant and party — and party they do, rocking out on stage to the band (something that the audience has been dying to do ever since the first guitar chords were struck) and dancing around. At this point of the performance, an on-stage dance party accompanied by a confident set of musicians who are clearly there just to jam seems justified, since the actors have thus far maintained a sense of composure as well as glamour in their adherence to Shakespearean lines and their dedication at the mike. This energy sustained itself even during an unintended pause, when the projector overheated and the performance had to skip over a David Bowie music video — Miranda, Ferdinand and Prospero wittily commented on the ‘spirits’ on the blank projector screen, and stylishly moved on. After all, what would the ’70s be without style?