The story of A Clockwork Orange — the dystopian novel by Anthony Burgess, turned into a now iconic film by Stanley Kubrick — might not seem a natural fit for an evening at the theater, no less one driven by music: the tale of British teen Alex DeLarge, his band of “droogs” and their taste for various kinds of “ultra-violence” is as disturbing today as when Burgess’ novel was first published in 1962. But the story is also an ever-timely one about free will, how society accepts so-called deviance and how government interferes with human rights — not to mention an argument for the transcendence of music (protagonist Alex has a particular passion for Ludwig van Beethoven). As director Alexandra Spencer-Jones and actors Jonno Davies and Matt Doyle discuss on this week’s Billboard on Broadway podcast, all those elements combine in their new stage adaptation of Burgess’ novel.
“On paper, there’s only 18 pages of text. I’d say 45 percent of the show is music,” Spencer-Jones explains. “It serves a really important purpose, and people come away talking about the soundtrack to the show all the time. Music transcends language for [Alex] — for him everything has an underscore. So the necessity in the play is that stories and feelings are expressed with music.”
She chose tunes by artists “who for me represented liberation and freedom,” like Placebo, Muse, Gossip and David Bowie. “People who rest in what Alex, in the book, calls ‘the height of fashion’ but also shape-shift and change.”
As Davies notes, even Alex’s speech — a made-up slang that Burgess calls “nadsat” — feels like part of the play’s score. “It’s such a musical piece in the text, never mind the music itself, even the way it’s structured,” Davies says. “To then go into the psyche and the morality of the piece as well, there’s so many avenues to explore.”
Spencer-Jones, Davies and Doyle go on to reveal the unique physical demands of the show (movement figures strongly into all the scenes) and delve into the ever-increasing relevance of Burgess’ story (“You can see Alex in so many world leaders,” Davies says) in their conversation with host Rebecca Milzoff.
A Clockwork Orange is playing at New World Stages in New York City through January 6, 2018.