THE ROYAL Shakespeare Company (RSC) has today announced further details of its Tales for Winter 2020/21 programme which includes Swingin’ the Dream; a concert of a work in progress from the Royal Shakespeare Company, with the Young Vic and Theatre for a New Audience including original music and songs from the 1939 production by Gilbert Seldes and Erik Charell.
The story of Swingin’ the Dream brings together so many different elements: Shakespeare, Jazz and some extraordinary talent.
Gregory Doran, RSC Artistic Director
First performed at The Center Theatre, Broadway in 1939, Gilbert Seldes and Erik Charell’s jazz-infused version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is widely regarded as one of the most ambitious and intriguing Broadway musical adaptations of Shakespeare ever.
The original musical featured lyrics by Eddie de Lange and music by Jimmy Van Heusen with choreography by Agnes Demille. Relocating Shakespeare’s comedy from 16th Century Athens to 1890s New Orleans, Erik Charell’s pioneering production combined original music with popular jazz standards from the great American songbook including Ain’t Misbehavin’, Blue Moon, St Louis Blues and Darn That Dream.
The 1939 musical also featured some of the most popular African American performers of the day including Louis Armstrong, Moms Mabley, Maxine Sullivan, the Dandridge Sisters and Butterfly McQueen alongside musical contributions from Count Basie, Fats Waller and Benny Goodman.
Now, eight decades on from the show’s Broadway premiere, the Royal Shakespeare Company has teamed up with London’s Young Vic and Theatre for a New Audience (New York) to swing into the New Year in style with a one-off concert telling the story of the musical.
Presented by Kwame Kwei-Armah, the show will feature a selection of original songs from the production performed by RSC musicians Peter Edwards (MD/Arranger/Piano), Neil Charles (Bass), Chris Storr (Trumpet) and Zara McFarlane (Vocals). The cast includes Alfred Clay, Andrew French, Kemi-Bo Jacobs, Cornell S John, Georgia Landers, Mogali Masuku, Baker Mukasa and Anne Odeke.
The concert performance will be streamed live from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on Saturday 9 January 2021 at 7pm.
Further details of the new musical co-production, inspired by Swingin’ the Dream, will be announced in due course.
Gregory Doran, RSC Artistic Director said: “The story of Swingin’ the Dream brings together so many different elements: Shakespeare, Jazz and some extraordinary talent.
The fact that this production of Swingin’ the Dream existed, and that the manuscript has since disappeared and has never been found, simply intrigues me
Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of the Young Vic
“But it also touches on the deeply challenging issues of representation, of exploitation, of segregation and cultural ownership.
“The way these issues have gained in prominence, and the urgent need to tell stories which illuminate and articulate the historical and contemporary Black experience, makes the resonances of this story even more powerful.”
Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of the Young Vic said: “The fact that this production of Swingin’ the Dream existed, and that the manuscript has since disappeared and has never been found, simply intrigues me.
“I am really excited by the idea that Louis Armstrong was once in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the fact that there was a Producer who wanted to make a statement on Broadway at that time about people coming together to simply create great art.
“So, the moment Greg pulled my coat to this project, I wanted in. And I wanted in because I think we can build something beautiful in the spirit of that original ‘dream’.”
Jeffrey Horowitz, Founding Artistic Director of Theatre for a New Audience said: “In 2017, Greg asked me if I knew about the 1939 Broadway musical, Swingin’ the Dream and the Duke Ellington quote, “Somehow, I suspect that if Shakespeare were alive today, he might be a jazz fan himself.”
He added: “Over the past three years, my excitement about working with the RSC and Young Vic on Swingin’ the Dream has only grown.
“But my understanding of what I think the story is and why an African-American playwright might want to collaborate with us – has evolved considerably.
“Everyone in the Swingin’ the Dream company is searching for their dream by making a new kind of art.
“The original songs and music are terrific and the dancing has great energy. But, against that buoyancy is the reality of what happened to the artists’ dreams?
“Without an African-American co-author such as, for example, Langston Hughes or Zora Neal Hurston who understood jazz and African American culture collaborating with Gilbert Seldes and Erik Charell, what was lost in this fusion of “Midsummer” with Swing? Who exploits whom?
“Who influences American cultural life? What might Black artists in the production feel they had to do to survive? And how might the rhythms of swing and jazz influence the speaking of Shakespeare’s text?
“These are all important questions which we want to address in creating this new musical around the idea of Swingin’ the Dream.”
For more information, visit https://www.rsc.org.uk/education/schools-broadcasts/