“Juliet’s Death” from Romeo and Juliet the musical by Conrad Askland to words by William Shakespeare. Katherine Fisher as Juliet. Filmed February 2015 at the Historic Lincoln Theater. Visit the RJ musical website at http://www.RJmusical.com
This is a video clip from the live performance of my musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” which had it’s world premiere January 2015 at the Historic Lincoln Theater in Mount Vernon, WA.
After the premiere run of my second full length musical, PAN, director Joe Bowen challenged me with composing a new Romeo and Juliet. “West Side Story”, a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, has already been done well so I was searching for a new angle of approach for the work.
At the time, the Broadway version of Romeo and Juliet was getting strong criticism partly for it’s pandering and dilution of Shakespeare’s original lyrics. That’s when the concept struck me that no one had ever successfully written an American musical theater adaptation of Romeo and Juliet using only William Shakespeare’s original text. I should note that it has been tried many times, but never successfully to audiences and critics alike. There are some successful operas but they do not use Shakespeare’s original English text.
My first pass through the script, I only found three small parts that I felt I could put to music. On the second pass, I found a couple more. I actually started to write director Joe Bowen a letter to tell him it could not be done. But on each pass I would find a couple more spots where I heard music that was fitting.
I continued the process of going through the script, only finding a couple lines to put to music, hundreds of times until the score started to take shape. From that point, I listened to computer playback of my score each night before going to sleep. At the first point I heard something I didn’t like, I would stop the score and fix it first thing when I woke up. Initially I could only get through a very short portion of the score before hearing opportunities for improvement. After months of this process I could finally listen to entire sections before making additional corrections.
For every line of music that I kept in the final score, I threw away two or three. In other words, if the final score was two hours, then I actually wrote about six hours of music. Of any projects I have produced in my life, I was most relentless and critical of myself on this project.
To my great sadness, so far there has been little to no interest in anyone even wanting to listen to the score. I have discovered that traditional Shakespeare audiences absolutely loathe the concept that the Shakespeare’s words would be put into musical theater. And alternately, I have discovered that musical theater lovers do not seem to care for Shakespeare.
But what makes me sad is not just those preceding observations. What makes me sad is that I set the goal of creating the world’s first successful treatment of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet into American musical theater. I believe I have achieved that. I do believe that my score is the finest adaptation of Shakespeare’s original text into American musical theater.
I would love to know that I am wrong in this belief. The great sadness comes in the fact that no one has been interested to peruse the score and to give me an informed opinion of whether I am right or wrong.
Would it be possible for someone of musical theater stature to give me their verdict? Rarely in my life have I found myself in such a traditional artist state of woes. Perhaps I am fortune’s fool.