Interview: Composer and Lyricist Michael Dansicker on ‘The Comedy of Errors’

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With the addition of original music from composer/lyricist Michael Dansicker, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) The Comedy of Errors is abandonment into farce. Whatever may be outside the walls of the Lansburgh can stay out there!

Michael Dansicker. Photo courtesy of The Shakespeare Theatre Company.
Michael Dansicker. Photo courtesy of The Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Dansicker’s four original numbers include full company dance tunes, a frothy solo, and a trio’s tap number. The musical numbers give the STC production, directed by Alan Paul, a delightful shake-up of the very familiar Shakespeare work.

Ah, the new music, well, “it’s all so the audience has fun,” said Dansicker in a recent interview. The original songs are atmosphere setting numbers, he explained. “They set a mood for the production, an early 1960s sunny Greece,” noted Dansicker. On the night I attended, the music ignited the STC patrons who had quietly taken their seats–likely not long after leaving work.

Let’s start from the very top of The Comedy of Errors (reviewed here by DCMTA’s Ian Thal). The Bard’s opening lines are rather dark. They more than hint at a possible death. But Dansicker sure-handedly covers what could have been taken as darkness visible, with an infectious company number that telegraphs to the audience, to relax, “have fun, this is a comedy.”

How so? Well, here is the opening line spoken by the character Egeon, “Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall, And by the doom of death end woes and all.” Ha, not so fast.

Dansicker gives the audience a song full of zest that also introduced the characters. His music has a fast-paced dance rhythm propelling the lyrics into the ear: “You need to laugh tonight. You only live once. Life is going to get better. So live each day.” How could I not know I was in for a comedy? Dansicker’s musical composition and Karla Camp’s happy choreography provided a clarion call to loosen ties, settle in, take a deep cleansing breath, and get loose.

As Dansicker noted in our interview, the big company opening number set the production’s time and place shifted scene; somewhere in a more modern-day summertime Greece. For those of a certain age, it will remind them of the 1960 movie Never on Sunday or another movie with a setting in Greece with Zorba full of the infectious cry of “Opa!”

The next original musical number in STC’s production of The Comedy of Errors is a wild “Sinner Go Home” sung by the character known as the Courtesan. Local chanteuse Eleasha Gamble plays the courtesan and owner of the Porcupine Club, a small glittery Vegas-style club, and delivers a fine, powerful performance. The SNL-like skit number not only introduces the Courtesan character as one whip-smart club owner, but gives the other actors a breather from all their physical romping, as I learned from Dansicker. They could catch their breaths for a few minutes.

With Gamble attired in shiny porcupine quills, the aim of the vamping music and lyrics are to show her as one not to take her lightly or there will be a price to pay. And then there are two somewhat scantily clad young men dancing beside her, grinding away with glee. Yup.

The third new number from Dansicker is entitled “Forty Hours plus overtime.” Here, a trio of police officers tap dance their way through a lament about life as a paid by the hour working stiff in a world of the privileged class. The number fits within the scene in which the officers arrest someone and are to take him away. Along with Camp’s choreography and outfitted with batons, well you might think you recognize this little homage of a ditty. But, more so, it gives an opportunity for arresting officers with precious few lines of dialogue the opportunity to shine and the audience to clap heartily as the number concludes.

Justin G. Nelson, Matt Bauman, and John Cardenas in The Comedy of Errors. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Justin G. Nelson, Matt Bauman, and John Cardenas as the tap-dancing trio of police officers in The Comedy of Errors. Photo by Scott Suchman.

As the topsy-turvy world of The Comedy of Errors begins to wrap, the last new musical number, called “Satan’s Song,” is a whirlwind of on-stage activity. The lyrics connect well to Shakespeare’s dialogue about mistaken identity and other farcical elements. It also introduces one final character, a dearly appealing Dr. Pinch, an exorcist and conjurer type trying to stop a possession. Dansicker developed a raucous, rousing Gospel-tinged music with lyrics including “Satan can you hear?”  According to Dansicker, this number was originally longer, but it seemed to stop forward movement of the production in rehearsals, and some bars were dropped.

As our wide-ranging interview moved beyond specifics for STC’s The Comedy of Errors, the Baltimore-born Dansicker shared thoughts about composing, arranging, and orchestrating. How a composer sets principal musical themes, the arranger further develops the themes and the orchestrator further expands the music that is heard given the number of musicians and types of instruments to be played.

He gently schooled me about creating musical messages and understanding the dynamics in a musical production. How a musical number can make a scene distinctive while supporting and enhancing the production. How music and songs “dress” a production.

Asked about what is next, Dansicker mentioned working with Gay Men’s Choruses throughout the country with a song he wrote called “Dumped on Xmas Eve.” He chatted about a new look he has been taking at a revival of the musical Golden Boy based upon a Clifford Odets play about a young man who pursues prizefighting even as his family objects. Dansicker mentioned he also teaches a master class at Catholic University. Lastly, we had a fine time chatting about his work with Arena’s Pajama Game and last season’s mega-hit for STC with Camelot. This fall, don’t miss his work in The Comedy of Errors.

The Comedy of Errors plays through November 4 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, performing at the Lansburgh Theater – 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 547-1122 or go online.

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