In The Arts Fuse, I review Shylock Sings the Blues a new musical based on Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice with lyrics by David Sokol, music by Dennis Willmott, and recorded by the Venetians.
...It is only natural that some artists would draw on the cultural mystique of The Merchant of Venice as source material for their own work. Burlington, Vermont-based lyricist and illustrator David Sokol (who did all the album art) and composer Dennis Willmott replace Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter and prose with blues, rock, and country songs in a concept-album entitled Shylock Sings the Blues. The story has been shifted from the Venetian Republic of the sixteenth century to 1950s Venice, New Jersey...
I also interview David Sokol (who as well as being a lyricist, is an illustrator who provided the cover art):
Sokol: I chose the blues number one because I am most familiar with it. Also the blues is the music of an oppressed people. I would love the stage presentation of Shylock Sings the Blues to have a black Shylock. I have just been turned down by a local radio station who refuses to play any songs from the album because “it is too dark! “How can blues be “too dark”? And there is humor in the musical—Jessica can be comedic and Launcelot is the truth telling fool.
The depth of anti-Semitism is intertwined with the darkest of human misery—and the Devil represents the latter. The fundamental basis of anti-Semitism is the belief that Jews don’t just act evil but that they embody evil itself. Possibly the lineage of European theater, morality plays, etc. and their depiction and teaching of good and bad through the use of devils and angels contributed to the Devil’s visits to the play. Also, in my quest to be entertaining and not pedantic, the Devil is a universal and simple dramatic tool.
Read more in The Arts Fuse!