Rock Spar

Cleveland Public Theatre remixes William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus into a gory musical.

Craig J. George read William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and didn't see the twisted, sordid story of revenge, murder, rape and blackmail that has caused many producers to shy away from the play. Nope. He saw a rock musical.

So he tweaked the script for the tragedy into an updated production, Titus: A Grand and Gory Rock Musical, which runs March 6-22 at Cleveland Public Theatre.

"The plot is so extreme, and there are so many big emotional moments," George explains. "In musicals and operas, music happens when words can no longer convey emotion."

The director was also inspired by the fact that no one — as far as he knows — has ever attempted to put Titus to music before. He talked to Cleveland Magazine about transforming the tragedy into a modern-day rock musical odyssey.

when in rome » No self-respecting rocker would get caught dead in a gold-belted white sheet and olive leaf crown. "Instead of plain white togas, we're using leather togas," George says. Since polished Ionic columns don't exactly scream punk, George is roughing up the set with gritty details. "We combined Rust Belt chic with deteriorating Roman architecture," he says.

dark and stormy » George enjoys Titus' mix of black humor and self-awareness and mimicked the tone with playful, melodic music. "There are a lot of bad puns: There are hands being cut off and people being rendered speechless," he says. "We wanted the audience to know we were not taking ourselves too seriously."

fight club » Death by sword fight? That's so baroque. "You might see a gladiator ... whip out a chainsaw and use that as his murder weapon," George says. "Characters may die a bloody death by knife or be suffocated with a plastic bag, [or] threatened with a nail gun. We're trying to have a lot fun inventing new and interesting ways for the characters die."

rock legend » Sure, the bard would accept George's version — just as Madonna gave Britney Spears a kiss of approval. "[Shakespeare] pushed barriers, but he knew what was popular," George says. "He was a dramatist of the moment. I think he would understand what we're trying to do: keeping his play alive for today's audience."

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