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Shakespeare and heavy metal, together at last

July 23, 2009 | 11:00 am

What do William Shakespeare and heavy-metal rock have in common? Why, a lot more than you might think, according to Jason Simms, a musician with the Portland, Ore.-based band called the Metal Shakespeare Company.

"There's sort of an element of exaggeration to both," Simms told Culture Monster. " 'Romeo and Juliet' is really hard to fathom in our day and age -- two teenagers declaring their love after knowing each other for 15 minutes?  Also, a lot of metal lyrics from Manowar and Iron Maiden are about going into battle, and so they work well with the historical dramas like 'Henry V.' "

He added: "And both have a lot to do with gender bending and costumes -- I mean, Iron Maiden wore tights, had long the hair and put on makeup."

Still not convinced? Then perhaps you should get thee hence to Spaceland in Silverlake on Sunday, when the Metal Shakespeare Company will perform a set of their blend of heavy-metal rock and Shakespearean verse. (The band will also play at the Sandpiper in Laguna Beach on Monday.)

The band is planning to perform scenes from "Romeo and Juliet," "Macbeth" and "Measure for Measure," all of which will be set to original heavy-metal music. Some of Shakespeare's poetry will be condensed or altered in joking ways, says the band. But the essence of the Bard's verse will remain intact.

As part of its act, the band likes to address its audience in faux Shakespearean language, and for the Spaceland show, it will even erect a stockade to punish unruly spectators.

Each band member has also adopted an Elizabethan-sounding stage name: Lord Simms (Jason Simms, vocals and guitar), Viceroy Matthew (Matt Stikker, guitar and vocals), William Sly (Randy Bemrose, drums), Bottom (Luke Dennis, bass) and Sir Riley (Riley Geare, keyboard).

Metal Shakespeare was formed at Lewis & Clark College in Portland about three years ago, as "a kind of joke," according to Simms, who majored in English.

"I wanted to form a band that sounded like Iron Maiden, but I couldn't do it with a straight face," he said. "Someone made a suggestion to me at a bar about combining it with Shakespeare and the idea stuck." 

The band, which has performed for audiences at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, hopes to one day stage a complete Shakespeare play set to heavy-metal music.

To get a taste of the band's distinct blend of the sublime and the cacophonous, check out its take on the "To be or not to be" soliloquy from "Hamlet" in the video above.

-- David Ng