I am going to be brutally honest here. I thought I had seen every posssible modern variation of Shakespeare’s work done in motorcycle gang updates, modern suits and tie updates, sci-fi versions, and even 1960’s mobster style. If I saw another variation trying to be unique by setting his works in anything other that its historical place in time again I would have to give up on Shakespeare! But then there comes Chris Bayon and his band (not gang) of classical and jazz musicians to, well, jazz up an old classic(al) and give it a yet new, but unexpected twist. Suddenly, I am intrigued. And if the videos and cuts I’ve listened to are any indication of what’s ahead, then we may indeed be into something completely fresh and exciting.
Bayon’s new musically-driven love story FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH is basically “Romeo and Juliet.” But I can assure you that you haven’t seen anything like it. The musicians play the actors on stage and the entire performance is told through music and dance.
The project develops as a melodic battleground, pitting talented musicians of Jazz versus Classical. When a struggling Trumpet player falls for the lead Violinist of the opposite affiliation, will the young couple end up in a harmonious relationship or will their family and peers keep it out of tune? Bayon and company have been evolving this work a festival at a time and will be featured in this year’s Midtown International Theatre Festival with some added performances being discussed and scheduled for after the festival run! I am thinking he may be on to something quite unique, so we asked a few questions in hopes of getting a better idea of what we can expect.
Q~Where and when did the notion for combining Shakespeare and musicians happen? Tell us how that began and evolved into what you are doing at the MITF.
Christopher Bayon: Shakespeare actually came later on in the process. I was toying with the idea of a classical and jazz show that was more musically oriented, and then thought about moving with the instruments and the logical story that came to mind was the two feuding families from Romeo and Juliet and everything evolved from there.
Q~Why Jazz and classical? Why not, say, Rock and Dance Music? Is there something about the genres that works better?
Christopher Bayon: I've been playing these two genres my entire life, and they've rarely intersected in a substantial capacity. I've seen classical orchestras play a "jazz" piece and a big band or jazz band play some classical music, but it's always been sort of passive and/or experimental in a way. These instruments have been around for hundreds of years so have seen the evolution of music in ways that rock and dance really haven't in my opinion. This show theoretically could have taken place 100 years ago and been exactly the same, which I thought was pretty cool. Classical and Jazz also represent two very different subcultures that work really well for the story.
Q~Why Shakespeare? Would there be the possiblity, on the flipside, of creating a mix with some other play the way that Sondheim's "Company" was presented by musicians a few years ago?
The Romeo and Juliet story is timeless. Everyone can understand it in any language. Cultures clashing is a universal that everyone can understand at every level of society. I don't think any other story would be able to represent the clashing of the cultures as clearly. However, in our show, we promote the blending of the cultures instead of killing people off at the end!
Q~Which musicians represent which characters? Did the instrument influence your choice in the character portrayed?
The brass represent the lower class, blue collar workers and the classical instruments represent the elite white collar. The instruments themselves are great representations of the class through sound and appearance, and so the characters were quick to follow with an upper class family and a blue collar gang battling it out.
Q~How much has the work changed since you first presented it? Where do you think it could go from here in terms of content?
Christopher Bayon: For the Summer and Fall theater performances, we are going to maintain the same songs and choreography that we initially presented and had success with. Going forward, I'd love to make it a bit longer and develop the characters and story a bit more. This was a completely new concept so everything from rehearsals, to choreography to blocking had never been done, so we had no idea what we could do and most importantly, if people would even like it. Now that it seems that we've had some positive feedback, I'd love to have it evolve and get more complicated with music and choreography.
Q~ This seems like a great touring concept, or an extended run right here in New York. Where do you see it going and will it change?
Christopher Bayon: I'd love to see our show turn into a little Jazz hot spot that professional musicians pop into when they're in town for fun. If we could have a recurring gig like STOMP or Blue Man Group, I think that tourists, locals and musicians alike would love to check out the local music scene in NYC, while also checking out some of the most talented actors/musicians around. Because it's all told through music, I really don't see why it couldn't be internationally successful as well if people like it!
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH, Written and directed by Christopher Bayon, opens July 26th at the MITF, Main Stage Theater, 312 W. 36th Street.
West Side Story meets STOMP where musicians are the actors on stage is a new take on the classic story of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, using the power of music and movement as the language to tell this story of forbidden love. Set in the 1930's, the show will feature all live music performed by the players and runs 45 minutes.
The diverse cast includes Caddy Finlayson (Violin), Gina Chapman (Violin), Elya Siani (Violin), Marcus Herndon (Euphonium), Michael Brinzer (Saxophone), Xander Kozak (Percussion), Nick Wheeler (Percussion), Steve Boghossian (Percussion), April Leonhard (Trombone), Wayne Walcott (Trombone), Jeremy Pagirsky (Electric Bass Guitar) and of course, Christopher Bayon (Trumpet) and Carolina Zhang (Lead Violin) in the lead roles.
Performance Schedule: (CLICK Dates to purchase tickets)
Or visit their website at https://www.forwhatitsworthnyc.com/