Mosaic performs musical 'Tempest'

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

You've still got this weekend to catch a remarkable theatrical event at the Detroit Film Theater that's brought together the best of both the New York and Detroit stage.

Mosaic Youth Theatre will give three more performances of the musical version of Shakespeare's "The Tempest," which was created by Manhattan's celebrated Public Theater several years ago, and has never before been performed outside New York.

"It's a really unique show," says Mosaic president and founding artistic director Rick Sperling. "It uses the original Shakespearean language, but combines it with an incredible score by Todd Almond — and the score is sung entirely in modern English," creating what Sperling calls a bridge between the audience and the text that makes it far less intimidating.

The gist is that this may be the Shakespeare for those who complain they never understand the bard's language. "It's a wonderful hybrid," Sperling says, "so accessible and understandable that it really connects with audiences emotionally."

Who could resist? There's even an aerialist from Detroit Circus involved.

Mosaic is the first theater beyond the Public that's been allowed to mount this version of "The Tempest" — no small honor in the theater world.

"The Public Theater is the gold standard," Sperling says, with dozens of Tony awards to its credit, and a formidable list of hits that the theater hatched, from "Hair" to "A Chorus Line."

"The Public is as close to a national theater as we have," he adds. "For them to select us as the first theater company to do this — not just the first youth theater, but the first theater, period — is huge. We've already gotten calls from around the country. It's really put us on the radar for the legitimate New York theater world."

None of this would have come to pass were it not for a particularly fierce Michigan tempest last winter. Shirley Brice Heath, a Stanford University professor interested in how the arts can help young people, was in Detroit briefly at Sperling's invitation.

She had 45 minutes to spend at Mosaic, and then Sperling was to drive her to Metro Airport.

But when a storm blew up and her flight was canceled, Heath ended up staying at Mosaic, and took in seven hours of kids rehearsing for an earlier Mosaic show.

She was reportedly impressed, and told friends at the Public, who were looking for a theater outside New York to take on the show, that she'd found the perfect place right here in Detroit.

"If that storm hadn't happened," Sperling says, "I don't know whether we'd have this opportunity."

For its part, the Public appears to be very pleased. Their artistic director, Oskar Eustis, flew in for a rehearsal just before opening, and Heath and the Public's literary director will be sitting in the audience this weekend.

Also present will be representatives from the Seattle Repertory Theatre, one of the nation's best-known small venues, which will get the production next.



'The Tempest'

Detroit Film Theater, 5200 Woodward, Detroit (inside the Detroit Institute of Arts)

8 p.m. tonight, 8 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $19.50-$35.50 ($15 for DIA members)

(313) 833-4005

mosaicdetroit.org or dia.org