New musical features Graffiti as art

 

Graffitti art in NYC from the 70s and 80s celebrated in musical Graffiti Kings. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gross)
Graffitti art in NYC from the 70s and 80s celebrated in musical Graffiti Kings. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gross)

If you take a train, “L” or bus in Chicago you are likely to see murals, words and names painted on the sides of overhead passes and buildings. Some tell a story or express moods and feelings but you might miss that if your vehicle isn’t stopped long enough. Sure there are also gang territory and identification words.

Would you lump all of it together as graffiti? Or would you think of any of the work as art, as cultural expressions?

Jonathan Gross not only sees much of the paintings as cultural art expressions, he is writing two booksabout that; “Four Studies in Graffiti” and “Cure for the Common Core: Arts Education in the Public schools.”

But what theater goers, musical lovers and arts aficionados should know is that Gross is putting the finishing touches on an earlier show he wrote, “Graffiti Kings: A Musical.”

Originally written on New York’s graffiti of the 1980s based on “Graffiti Kings” by Jack Stewart, “Subway Art” by Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper and “Training Days” by Chalfan, the revised musical will be slightly expanded.

Still titled, “Graffiti Kings: A Musical,” the version coming to a Chicago venue in late May includes research into artist Martin Wong’s social realism of ethnic and racial identities works and collection and will fictionalize graffiti collectors into a composite of characters.

The revised show, now an hour long, will be performed at 7 p.m. on Stage 773, May 30, 2019.

“Graffiti Kings” had premiered in April 2016 at the Old Town School of Folk Music with student performers from DePaul University’s renowned theatre department; formerly the Goodman Drama School. It was backed by musicians Gross and Vincent Buoncore.

DePaul University English professor and playwright Jonathan Gross. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gross
DePaul University English professor and playwright Jonathan Gross. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Gross

You see, the playwright is DePaul University English Department’s Professor Gross. His area is Nineteenth-Century Literature; World Literature. No ivy-tower escapist, Gross worries about students in schools that under-fund the arts.

But during a recent phone interview, what emerged was this is the Gross who co-wrote such popular children’s musicals as “The Dragon’s Tale,” The Blue Dog” and “Snoops and Schnozzles” with Jacqueline Russell back in the 1990s. Russell is now artistic director of the Chicago Children’s Theatre.

Also revealed was that Gross studied piano and trumpet, and played in a jazz trio with Buoncore and Kim Healey called Lush Life.

A long-time admirer of Ethel Waters and Duke Elington, Gross wrote “Harlem Renaissance Remembered” (Brilliance Audio) and “Eye on the Sparrow: Afterlives of Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith.” He sees “Graffiti Kings” as the third part of his trilogy.”

“The play and songs for “Graffiti Kings” were written by me, inspired by the voices of graffiti artists Blade, Seen, Zephyr, Lady Pink, Lee Quinones and Martin Wong (graffiti collector whose work is compiled in NYC’s Museum of the City of New York),” said Gross in a follow-up note.

The show celebrates their characters in his original songs: “Open Book,”  “Train,” “When I Said Goodbye,” Sheila,” “ Look Back in Anger,” and “Passenger.”

“Graffiti wasn’t a crime in the 70s and 80s. I’m trying to get people to see it as a culture contribution, to be admired and not as vandalism,” said Gross.

For tickets and more information on the show call (773) 327-5252 and visit. Stage 773/Graffiti Kings.

Jodie Jacobs

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *