Why (and How!) We Should Have Televised Shakespeare Musicals for Teens

It was announced last week that Fox will be doing a live version of Grease, a decision presumably inspired by NBC’s staging of The Sound of Music and Peter Pan and the upcoming The Wiz. As a fan of musicals and a fan of television, I approve. I am certainly pro- televised live musical theatre extravaganzas, as many people, especially those living outside of big urban centres, do not have the opportunity to see theatrical performances. That said, I want to take it up a notch.

My proposal is this: televised live musical Shakespeare – for teens. The Bard abridged and adapted for a modern young audience with original songs performed by pop artists. Just picture it: Singing! Dancing! Shakespeare! Live!

No really, I’m serious.

As an older Millennial, “teen Shakespeare” was its own genre when I was growing up and I loved it. And in this age of ’90s nostalgia reboots and revisits, a return to teen Shakespeare should be high on the list.

There is always a great deal of hand wringing in some quarters about “young people today” and “appreciating the classics.” My thinking is this: instead of demanding that young people interest themselves in Shakespeare, maybe we should keep trying to make Shakespeare interesting to young people?

I admit that I am saying this with a certain amount of snob-trolling glee but I am also, in my heart, serious: the Bard is not so precious that his work would be sullied by the touch of One Direction. I promise. Look, this could be amazing! Or it could be terrible! But wouldn’t you watch to find out? I mean, think of the live-Tweeting.

Okay, by now I’ve managed to intrigue you or you have closed your tab, so let me move into what I’m terming “dream-producing.”

Script

Most of the late-’90s-early-’00s Shakespeare adaptations either kept the original text (Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet, Hamlet) or scrapped it altogether and just kept the story (10 Things I Hate About You, O). What I’m proposing is something halfway between the two: an abridged version that keeps the rhythms of the original language but makes changes where certain turns of phrase or words are completely out of use, plus adding original songs.

That would probably be really hard! I hear you saying. Well, yeah but I am fairly certain there are talented, creative songwriters and academics who would jump at the chance to work on a big network production that would reach the ears and eyes of a new generation (and pay a big network paycheque).

Staging

Summer would be the perfect time to stage these – enough space from the Christmas musicals that they wouldn’t compete and maybe, just maybe (she says, with starry-eyed idealism) it would be enough to pique teens’ interest right before school starts. True the artists would have to rehearse, but hopefully ticket sales to the live event, licensing, and album sales would make it worth their while.

Casting

The idea would be to make this summer fun, so I have opted to forgo anything sad like Lear or Hamlet – I’m thinking mostly the comedies plus the inevitable Romeo and Juliet staging because teens love to swoon (and come on, most adults do too). Here are my top three ideas:

1) Much Ado About Nothing – Rihanna as Beatrice, Harry Styles as Benedick

Come on. You know you want to see the chemistry crackling in the “merry war” between those two as they try to match each other swagger for swagger and quip for quip (Rihanna would be the best obviously, but it would be fun to watch Harry try).

2) Twelfth Night – The entire cast of the Bad Blood video, specifically Taylor Swift as Viola, Karlie Kloss as Sebastian, Selena Gomez as Olivia and Kendrick Lamar as Orsino

This gang already seems to have a blast together and I really think they would make all the mistaken-identity and cross-dressing look as exactly as hilarious and fun as it is.

3) Romeo and Juliet – Zayn Malik and Ariana Grande

We’d all float away on a cloud of poetic tragedy and the gusts from batted eyelashes.

 

Bonus: I think Miley Cyrus would make an excellent Puck if anyone more familiar with A Midsummer Night’s Dream wants to help me out with the rest of it.

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