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Bloody, gory TITUS A GRAND GORY ROCK MUSICAL continues CPT’s off the beaten path journey

Bloody, gory TITUS A GRAND GORY ROCK MUSICAL continues CPT’s off-the-beaten-path journey

Roy Berko
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association)

Since he became the artistic director of Cleveland Public Theatre, Raymond Bobgan has set a clear path.  He has organized a theatre that centers on practicality.  It lives within its means, is well organized and is artistically creative.  The play productions respond to “the political events, societal movements and new technology.”  It has a spiritual mission that places “high value on truth, even if that truth cannot be easily packaged or explained.”

When a theatre’s Artistic Director selects a script to produce, s/he usually does so with the venue’s audience in mind.  Bobgan knows his audiences well.  They tend to be young, hip, to crave creativity, like off-beat materials, and are loyal to CPT’s mission.   No Arthur Miller, “JOSEPH AND HIS TECHNICAL DREAMCOAT,” or “SUNSHINE BOYS,’ grace the CPT stage.  They aren’t competing with Cleveland Play House, Great Lakes Theatre, Beck Center or Dobama.

One of Bobgan’s “things” is devised theatre.  Experiences that are developed based on a theme through director, cast and creative team working together.  He also is not afraid to produce untested shows.  His audiences tend to be fine with shows that aren’t completely polished or challenge traditional formats.  As he says, “The CPT style of theater is really wide,” off the beaten path.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that for a musical, CPT is presenting the world premiere of “TITUS A GRAND AND GORY ROCK MUSICAL,” conceived and directed by Craig J. George, with music by Dennis Yurich and Alison Garrigan, with orchestrations and arrangements by Brad Wyner.

“TITUS . . . MUSICAL,” is based on William Shakespeare’s first tragedy, “TITUS ANDRONICUS.”  It is classified as one of his revenge plays and was very popular throughout the sixteenth century.   It tells a fictitious tale of the latter days of the Roman Empire, when revenge, inner battles for the country’s leadership, and low moral levels were in vogue.  It is undoubtedly one of the Bard’s most violent works, also one of his most maligned.

Many historians believe that it was the lack of morals that led to the fall of Rome.  If TITUS is any example of the goings on, there can be no doubt of the lack of ethics and respect for human life. “TITUS ANDRONICUS,” as well as the musical take-off of the script, ends with almost everyone dead, and bodies and body parts littering the stage.

In brief, the king of the Roman Empire has died.  After his body is dumped into a pit below the apron of the stage, a battle rages for his crown.  His sons want it, the Queen wants her brother, Titus, to take it, Titus doesn’t want it.  In the path to leadership, there is graphic violence…rape, beheadings, the ripping out of guts and tongues.  Yes, as one of the lines of the play expounds, “We will have vengeance, there will be blood!”

Why do such a play?  Why spend the years of work to write a musical that has seemingly little redeeming value?  Unfortunately, the play reeks of “now.”  Think of the of the name calling and lack of civility toward the nation’s President.  The South still can’t get over losing “the war of Northern Aggression” (the Civil War),  civil rights for Blacks, Gays and women are often given lip service, if that.  The US attacked Iraq on false pretenses to seemingly satisfy the ego-centric needs of the then country’s elected leaders.

Is the tale of TITUS not a story that echoes the sounds and actions of today without the actual ripping out of tongues and slicing off of limbs?

“TITUS . . . MUSICAL,” is neither a polished or well designed musical, but that probably doesn’t matter to the CPT faithful.  It does incite the emotions, speaks to felt thoughts and needs of many in the targeted audience, and can excite and insight the viewers.

The night I saw the show, the audience was rocking and laughing.  Rocking with the overly loud music which drowned out the lyrics and laughing at the blood spurting, limbs being separated from bodies, the overacting and screaming of many of the cast, and the overblown farce.  But, those actions,  which would have been negatives in a traditional production, all worked for the intent and purpose of this script.

Dana Hart, agonized properly as the well-meaning, but put-upon Titus. Amiee Collier effectively plays it straight as the widow queen.  Her “Treature” was tenderly sung.  Allison Garrigan reveled in the part of Tamora, the evilest of the evil.  The rest of cast all fulfilled their violent over-blown parts.

Martin Céspedes’ minalist choreography was well conceived and visually highlighted stage actions.  Todd Krispinsky’s scaffold-leveled set, with Roman columns and influences, worked well, allowing for maniacal action.   Jenniver Sparano’s multi-generational costumes, which combined sneakers with Roman sandals, and togas with jeans and t-shirts, helped blend the modernity with ancient times. Ben Gantose’s lighting effects, especially the abundant use of red spots and floodlights, helped heighten the gore.

Brad Wyner’s musical direction was appropriate for a rock concert, but, this was a musical play in which the audience should have wanted to hear the lyrics.  But the lack of hearing the words didn’t seem to bother many in the audience, especially a woman in the corner of the most upper level of the seats, who screamed, whistled and clapped to near exhaustion after every musical interlude.

Capsule judgment:  TITUS A GRAND AND GORY ROCK-MUSICAL is definitely a production that will not be appreciated by everyone.  It should satisfy the targeted CPT audience who will rock out with the music, appreciate the present political implications of the message, and give it standing ovations for its gutsy creativity.

“TITUS A GRAND AND GORY ROCK-MUSICAL” continues at Cleveland Public Theatre until March 22, 2014.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go to