Red Octopus Theatre is taking Shakespeare from the 1590s to the 1980s.
A new interpretation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is coming to the Newport Performing Arts Center on Oct. 12, under the direction of Darcy Hogan.
Hogan is known for her unconventional takes on Shakespeare: in 2015 she directed “The Taming of the Shrew,” reimagined in Technicolor with ’80s influences. Now, she’s preparing her new cast to open “Midsummer” as a musical set to ’80s melodies.
Fans of ’80s movies will be delighted to see allusions throughout the play, and music enthusiasts of the same era can expect to be met with familiar melodies throughout the show. The music and lyrics were a collaborative effort between Hogan and Milo Graamans, the show’s musical director.
“There are 17 numbers, though some are really just song snippets,” said Hogan. “For some I wrote original lyrics. For others, well, you might be surprised how easy it is to set one Shakespeare’s monologues to music. Iambic pentameter lends itself well to many popular song structures.”
There are a few group numbers, but the musical interludes are often solo pieces, accompanied by Hogan’s newly invented characters — the Sirens, a trio of singers not unlike the trio in “Little Shop of Horrors.” The Sirens are played by Nikki Atkins, Katrina Theodore and Caity Showalter, who help to round out the sound of the live-sung songs, which are performed over recorded tracks rather than with a live band.
“They’re very talented,” said Hogan. “And their harmonies really fill out the sound that Milo Graamans and I were going for.”
Though there are changes to the script, Hogan estimates that at least 90 percent of the words spoken are still the bard’s. More than that, she believes the show follows the intention of Shakespeare.
“I think it’s extremely true to his intent,” said Hogan. “His intent was to have fun, his intent was to be baudy, his intent was to create wild comedy ... and I happen to think, if he were around he’d be like, ‘nice!’”
As for specific changes in the show, some of the script was trimmed or reordered. However, the biggest changes, Hogan explained, have to do with the characters of Hippolyta and Oberon.
“It bothered me that Hippolyta — who is supposed to be the queen of the Amazons — had almost nothing to say,” said Hogan. “Especially when Hermia is being forced into an arranged marriage. So, I changed that. I didn’t turn Hippolyta into a leading role or anything, but I wrote her a few snappy, sarcastic comebacks that I rather like.”
As for Oberon, the changes were primarily to make him more likable and relatable — but not so much as to metamorphosize the character.
“He’s still poisoning Titania, who he’s supposed to love. He’s still not being awesome,” said Hogan. “But he’s much more likable here. And the relationship between Oberon and Titania is actually engaging in this one, and they (Pete Theodore and Karlia Bertness) have such great chemistry.”
Those who frequent Newport theater performances will recognize many of the 32 faces on stage. Hermia is portrayed by Melissa MacDonald, who played the titular role in “Mary Poppins” in 2016; Puck is played by Cody Larsen, who previously played Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family” last November, alongside Theodore as Lurch; and Cassie Lihou, who now portrays Peaseblossom, played the role of Wednesday Addams in that same production.
“It's a small pool of actors, so they're almost all known to some degree,” said Hogan.
Not all the actors on stage are veterans, though. There are a number of child actors on the stage. The youngest of which is Lucy Furuheim, who plays Mustardseed and has previous experience with Shakespeare from being a part of Red Octopus’ production of “The Two Noble Kinsman.”
The show is family-friendly, with a few innuendos hidden for the audience who will know to listen for them, and no strobe effects are used. Including the 15-minute intermission, the show runs approximately 2.5 hours. Tickets can be purchased online at www.coastarts.org, in person at the Newport Performing Arts Center box office, or by phone at 541-265-2787.