When my dad asked me if I wanted to go to a musical, I wasn't surprised to see that Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong was the man behind the music — to put it mildly, my dad is a huge fan. I was, however, surprised to find that it was a modern adaptation of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." Even the musical's name derives from a line straight out of Shakespeare's play: "Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humor?"
"These Paper Bullets!" is accurately advertised with the punny tagline "a modish ripoff of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing," as Emmy-nominated writer Rolin Jones reimagines Shakespeare's comedy set in 1960s London while Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong reimagines The Beatles' hits.
Jones recasts Shakespeare's male leads to form a '60 British boy band named The Quartos, complete with band members Ben, Claude, Balth and Pedro. The cleverly named band is a nod to Shakespeare's earliest published texts, which were printed in the folio (also known as quarto) format, while the mod band members' names are thinly veiled allusions to Shakespeare's original characters, Benedick, Claudio, Balthasar and Don Pedro, respectively.
Shakespeare's leading ladies are reincarnated as a famous model and a fashion designer, with Hero as Higgy, an iconic model on par with real life Queen of Mod, Twiggy, and Beatrice as Bea, a self-sufficient designer with advertisements promoting her clothing all over London, featuring none other than her cousin Higgy as the model, of course.
As you'd probably guess, there's much ado about everything when The Quartos arrive in London after conquering America's music scene. Their fans adore them, the media is determined to get the scoop, the Scotland Yard is watching their every move, and their former drummer is hellbent on getting revenge. Psychedelic parties ensue, as does the inevitable mischief.
Jones ingeniously employs the media to take Shakespeare's themes of shame and honor to modern-day heights. A reporter for BBC One and a photographer for The Spectator play key roles in spreading information and misinformation, respectively. As with any great modern adaptation of a Shakespearean comedy, there is a healthy dose of hilarious audience interaction, which is fittingly facilitated by the press during a star-studded celebrity wedding (spoiler alert: The Queen of England even makes an appearance!).
Jones provides an interesting take on Shakespeare's infamous twist ending by calling out a few of Shakespeare's more dramatic moments and putting a realistic, modern lens on the final act. For instance, faking Higgy's death is treated as a crazy idea proposed by a drunk model, rather than a brilliant idea proposed by the reverend. Similarly, Bea's request for Ben to kill Claude doesn't result in a literal death, but rather a figurative one with Ben leaving The Quartos and going solo.
Though Shakespeare's play is primarily written in prose, there are a few sections of verse that lend the play to musical interpretations. Jones and Armstrong take the musicality of the play to the next level by creating performances that are not only entertaining, but also play with the notion of the fourth wall. The audience doubles as the audience for the band's performances, immersing us in the '60s world Jones and Armstrong have created by making us Quartos fans.
Opening night is tomorrow, September 16th, and the play only runs through October 18th at the Geffen Playhouse. I highly recommend that you get tickets!
Do you have a favorite modern adaptation of a Shakespeare play? I'd love to hear!