“Let me get this straight,” Billie Joe Armstrong said to the playwright and screenwriter Rolin Jones over drinks last year. “You’re going to rewrite Shakespeare, and I’m going to rewrite the Beatles?”
The improbable show Mr. Jones was pitching to Mr. Armstrong, the Green Day frontman, opens next week at Yale Repertory Theater with the title “These Paper Bullets!” and the helpful subtitle, “A Modish Rip-Off of William Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ ” Mr. Jones’s notion — to reset that prickly romantic comedy in Swinging ’60s London, and to reimagine the play’s returning war heroes as a popular rock quartet just back from conquering the United States — required nearly an album’s worth of period-appropriate songs.
Cue Mr. Armstrong, for whom Mr. Jones is writing a film adaptation of the stage musical “American Idiot” (based on the Green Day album), and who happens to be a pop music scholar of sorts as well as a tireless tunesmith.
“Billie’s got this archive that he sits on — a bunch of songs that aren’t really appropriate for Green Day, and some of them sound like the Beatles,” Mr. Jones said recently, on a break from rehearsals in New Haven. “And he’s always writing new things.” Just a few days after their meeting, Mr. Jones received a demo recording of a brand-new tune from Mr. Armstrong, who warned him he’d eventually “have a plethora to choose from.”
Mr. Armstrong, who had relished the experience of seeing “American Idiot” adapted for the stage, and even joined the cast for several weeks on Broadway, said in a recent phone interview that he jumped at the chance to write more for the theater: “I got so inspired. I was listening to all those early Beatles records, and I read the book ‘Revolution in the Head’ and just started banging these songs out.”
Mr. Jones and the play’s director, Jackson Gay, are careful not to call “These Paper Bullets!” a musical, though they’ve also employed the choreographer Monica Bill Barnes to stage some dances, and they’ve cast singing actor-musicians in the roles of the fictional band the Quartos. Yale Rep has stepped up in turn with money from its Binger Center for New Theater, a program designed not only to commission new plays but also to enhance their productions, both at Yale and elsewhere. That largess helps to bankroll the cast of 19, the added costs of including original live music, and the ambitious designs of Michael Yeargan’s sets and Jessica Ford’s costumes.
It has all come together with what, for the theater, is lightning speed. The idea was hatched only a little more than a year ago, amid rehearsals for Mr. Jones’s play “The Jammer” at the Atlantic Theater Company, which Ms. Gay directed.
“Yale Rep was interested in doing a Shakespeare play, and they had asked me, was there anything I wanted to do?” recalled Ms. Gay, who was a colleague of Mr. Jones’s at the Yale School of Drama. “I was telling Rolin about that, and he said, ‘I actually have a really stupid idea for “Much Ado.’ ”
Mr. Jones credited the 1993 Kenneth Branagh film, which opens with the male heroes galloping triumphantly into sun-dappled Messina, Sicily, with planting the seed. “As they ride in, everyone’s going insane, like: ‘They’re coming! They’re coming!’ And it’s like: ‘What the hell? It’s like they were the Beatles or something.’ “
Ms. Gay, who easily assumes the role of the skeptical grown-up to Mr. Jones’s boyish effusions, “had a lot of questions for me,” he said, “like: Does that work all the way through? You don’t want one of these productions where you put Shakespeare in another world and a time, and then about two-thirds of the way through, it just falls apart.”
“These Paper Bullets!” is the latest in a recent wave of pop-Shakespeare adaptations that have updated the settings and found music to match, from last summer’s fratty “Love’s Labour’s Lost” at Shakespeare in the Park to “The Last Goodbye,” the Old Globe Theater’s grafting of “Romeo and Juliet” onto the Jeff Buckley song catalog. As far back as 1971, Galt McDermot and John Guare turned “Two Gentlemen of Verona” into an exuberant rock musical for the Public Theater.
Full article at NY Times: HERE