A Shakespeare adaptation. A new musical. A world-renowned rock star. A Pulitzer finalist. A 19-person cast. In most theatrical universes, These Paper Bullets! A Modish Ripoff of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing would have been in development for years and years, with multiple readings and workshops under its belt. However, playwright Rolin Jones, composer Billie Joe Armstrong and director Jackson Gay only received the commission from Yale Repertory Theatre’s Binger Center for New Theatre one year ago.
“How are we going to pull this off?” Gay jokes about the production, which is scheduled to run through April 5. “It’s a huge undertaking, but so far it’s just a collection of the most lovable, hammy people you’ve ever seen all just trying to out-do each other in the fun department.”
The show deposits Shakespeare’s play in the 1960s Beatles era with the Quartos—Ben, Claude, Balth and Pedro—coming back from tour and needing to cut a new album in seven days. The concept sprung out of a conversation Gay and Jones had while working on The Jammer at Atlantic Theater Company, and Jones immediately thought of Armstrong, with whom he’s working on the American Idiot film adaptation, for the score. “If you really strip down the Green Day songs, if you really strip down the Nirvana songs, they’re all Beatles tunes,” Jones posits.
The musical draws its energy from the Fab Four’s film A Hard Day’s Night, and Gay and Jones, who are collaborating for the fourth time, both call it a bit of a mash-up. While the show juxtaposes two seemingly different worlds, the irreverent comedy and sentimental nature of both Jones’s writing and Shakespeare’s work complement each other well.
“You have the Dogberry character in Much Ado, and then in the next scene with Benedick and Beatrice, she says, ‘Kill Claudio,’” Gay elaborates, adding that Jones writes in a similar mix of comedy and drama. “As the director, the trick is just trying to make all of those different elements live in the same world. It’s hard, but it’s also really fun.”