SALT LAKE CITY — Ready to take a gamble with your entertainment dollar?
Consider attending the latest offering from Odyssey Dance Theatre, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Vegas.”
The contemporary dance program takes the beloved William Shakespeare play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and mixes it with the over-the-top atmosphere of modern-day Las Vegas, Nevada, for something completely different from the normal theater-going experience. Performances will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 27-29 — with a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee — at the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. Presidents Circle. Tickets are $20 to $40, available through odysseydance.com.
As the theater company’s website describes the show: “Caesar’s Palace mogul Theseus and his overbearing and spoiled wife, Hippolyta, join couples Demetrius and Helena and Lysander and Hermia, who hope that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
Derryl Yeager is founder and artistic director of Odyssey Dance Theatre, which brings the popular Halloween-themed dance program “Thriller” to Utah audiences each fall. Yeager says “A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Vegas” grew out of another Bard-inspired ODT dance program from a couple of years ago, “Romeo+Juliet.”
“It was a really cool dance version of the play that was very contemporary,” Yeager said. “So we were thinking about what kind of a new show we could do.”
Shakespeare’s stories are classics, Yeager says. The only drawback is that, basically, everybody dies in most of his works.
“I think ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is the only Shakespeare play that has a happy ending — in the entire repertoire,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Let’s take a look at that.’”
As Yeager and others at ODT began exploring how to update “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” they got to thinking about all the magical elements in the play. That led them to Vegas, where there are plenty of magicians to be had.
“We started looking at what these individual Shakespeare characters would be if they were dropped into Vegas,” Yeager said.
The fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania, become a Siegfried & Roy-like act fighting over who gets top billing on the marquee. The two couples — Hermia/Lysander and Helena/Demetrius — become tourists simply hoping that the happenings indeed stay in Sin City. And the actor group led by Bottom becomes a hip-hop crew, a la Jabbawockeez.
“Once we figured out what each character was in modern-day Vegas, then we put it all together,” Yeager said. “And we found all this great contemporary music that tells the story.”
The music includes everything from Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl” to a ZZ Top cover of “Viva Las Vegas.”
Add to all of the above the merry servant Puck, who uses a vape pen as a love potion; a group of fairies who are essentially showgirls; and an Elvis impersonator performing weddings.
“In the second act, when the couples finally get back together again and get married?” Yeager asks. “When you’re in Vegas, you gotta get married by Elvis. And our Elvis marries them by singing ‘Love Me Tender.’”
Yeager says a particular challenge for a dance version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is that the story has all sorts of moving parts that can be difficult to explain with movement alone.
“This thing is a confusing play,” Yeager admitted. “So how do we make it understandable?”
They settled on a prologue — complete with rewind and fast-forward dialogue — that sets the stage for the dance that will follow.
A few weeks after the show closes at Kingsbury Hall, Odyssey Dance Theatre will embark on a European tour. Yeager says the dance company has been touring Europe annually for the past 15 years, and he says the reception has always been nothing short of phenomenal.
“Audiences over there love what we do,” he said. “It’s amazing, the audience reactions. They clap and clap and clap. They’ve got ballet up the wazoo in Europe, but we’re such a fresh take on stuff.”
Indeed, ODT is more well-received there than here in Utah, according to Yeager. He thinks it’s because the Europeans are more attuned to live events in the theater.
“Television is not as big a thing there,” he said. “In fact, television in Europe sucks, it’s just awful, but every community has its own theater.”
As a result, Yeager believes audiences in Europe have a better appreciation for live performances.
“What’s really amazing over there is that we start off with just normal bows, and then we have to add an encore — and then three or four bows after that — and the audience will clap through the whole thing,” he said. “Especially with our new dancers who’ve never experienced European audiences, I love looking at their faces. They’re thinking, ‘These people are still clapping, what’s wrong with this?’”
And here in the United States?
“The only problem in America is that by the time they get to the standing ovation, people are already checking out their smartphones,” Yeager quipped.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Vegas” is unlike any other version of William Shakespeare’s classic comedy of errors, according to Yeager.
If you want to see a totally different version of “Midsummer Night’s Dream, this is the one for you,” he said. “It’s completely different.”