For the Halloween season, Heartbeat Opera presented three performances of “All the World’s a Drag!,” subtitled “Shakespeare in love … with opera,” a fun-filled evening of Shakespeare, musicked, and glittery drag, performed by a high-level company, at National Sawdust, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Director Ethan Heard, Peregrine Heard, and Sara Holdren devised the extravaganza, and Co-Music Directors were concertmaster Jacob Ashworth and, at the Bösendorfer and harpsichord in turn, Daniel Schlosberg, who arranged the music. Ashworth and Schlosberg led their Cantata Profana colleagues clarinetist Gleb Kasanevich and bassist Sam Suggs. The opening night, on October 30, is considered here.
After an overture weaving strains of “Macbeth,” “West Side Story,” “Roméo et Juliette,” and “Kiss Me Kate” together, our travesti Shakespeare, Stephanie Hayes, bade the band, “If music be the food of love, play on,” and noted, with surprise, “prosperous patrons … downstairs” and “the groundlings upstairs.” Then announcer Peregrine Heard and the singers introduce the bemused Bard to operatic and music theatre renderings of his words.
Soprano Lauren Worsham, a Juliette in black fishnet and frilly tutu, with billowing white, gray, and black curls, delivered a crystalline “Je veux vivre,” Gounod’s heroine’s ebullient waltz. She gargled with a patron’s drink and nestled in Shakespeare’s lap before she flashed him. Baritone Joshua Jeremiah, a menacing Iago in bright red, offered Verdi’s villain’s dramatic “Credo,” while Shakespeare protected Juliette from him. In this intimate space, Jeremiah addressed the quiet phrases of the “Otello” aria directly to the audience—and Shakespeare—before making his “exit, pursued by a bear,” a giant stuffed teddy.
In blood red, gold, and Elizabethan ruff, mezzo-soprano Sishel Claverie’s Lady Macbeth lit her way by flashlight, in lieu of candle, for her intense Sleepwalking Scene and was backed by Worsham and Joshua, as the gentlewoman and the doctor. Bass-baritone John Taylor Ward limned a campy Bottom’s Dream, from Benjamin Britten’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” sporting a flowery, silvery ass head, tinsel robe and codpiece, high heels, and pink hair.
Miles Mykkanen, a vision in pink and lavender, and high heels, began a bel canto “If Music Be the Food of Love,” by Henry Purcell, before Shakespeare dismissed him. The tenor reappeared on the balcony, as Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Tony, from which Worsham’s punky Maria wooed him, down to the stage, for a romantic “Only you … Tonight.” The role reversal included his spoken line, “I cannot stay. Daddy is strict with me,” to which she countered “Trick or treat” and he responded, “Both.”
When Shakespeare dared utter the name of his Scottish play in the theater, Jeremiah, Claverie, and Mykkanen reappeared as the three witches, dooming him, to music by Verdi, but Ato Blankson-Wood saved the day, as a gilded-and-white Dresden angel of a Queen Elizabeth the First, reversing the curse, blessing him, and intoning, “What a piece of work is man,” Galt MacDermott’s setting of words from “Hamlet,” for “Hair.” But, as “America doesn’t have a generous monarch to support the arts,” the fundraising pitch followed, then the announcement of the costume contest winner, and the multi-faceted finale. Blankson-Wood, Ward, and Hayes led the company in lip-synching to ABBA’s “Thank you for the music;” actor John Douglas Thompson offered a “To drag or not to drag” takeoff on a familiar Shakespearean speech; and the singers, led by Mykkanen, sang “Now the night is chased away,” from Purcell’s “Fairy Queen,” followed by Cole Porter’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” in which “Daddies” and “boy toys” found their way into the lyrics, and Worsham and Mykkanen interpolated cadenzas and high notes.
Emma Jaster devised choreography and Seth Bodie, the glittering period costumes for the cast and the band. Joey Moro was responsible for lighting; Nicholas Hussong, for projections; and Rachel Padula for exotic hair and makeup.
Heartbeat plans reimagined productions of “Don Giovanni” and “Fidelio” for May 2018. Visit www.heartbeatopera.org
for more information.