Yale and Co-Op High students collaborate on ‘hip-hopera’

Photos: Yale and Co-Op High students collaborate on ‘hip-hopera’

Music director Jeremy Hutchins (right) makes a fine point to the chorus.
Mychael Green, as Nero (front); Rachel Zwick as Martha (left); Solomon Green as Peter (right).
Mychael Green, playing Roman Emperor Nero, faces the audience with Rachel Zwick, playing Martha, at his feet.
Dance corps in rehearsal.
Dance corps member Taylor Gainey strikes an arabesque.
Trenee McGee models her costume for the part of Mark.
Lauren Padula models the costume she will wear in the role of Jesus.
Paris McGee, a gymnast, is in the dance corps of “Broken Chains.”
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Students at New Haven’s Cooperative Arts & Humanities Magnet High School will present the world premiere of “Broken Chains: A Gospel Hip-Hopera,” a musical written and composed by Yale graduate students, on Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 21 and 22.

The production of “Broken Chains” — a hip-hop rendition of the life of St. Peter — is the most recent outgrowth of a longstanding partnership between Yale and Co-op High School.

Graduate student Patrick Gray wrote the libretto for “Broken Chains.” Steel Pan virtuoso and Yale composition student Andy Akiho composed the initial score for several of the main songs. Last spring, the Co-Op High School choir premiered three pieces from the musical, accompanied by a jazz quartet from the Yale School of Music. Two other Yale composers, Jordan Kuspa and Fay Wang, joined the composition process and rounded out the score for jazz quartet.

“The most exciting thing has been combining all of the different genres of music from gospel to hip-hop to old time traditional American music,” notes Co-Op junior Branden Wilson, who sings the part of the Self-Righteous Son in the show.

The high school performers and back-stage workers are enrolled in Co-Op After School, a comprehensive program serving 50% of the school’s student body. The program is jointly supported by New Haven Public Schools, the Connecticut Department of Education, Yale University, Co-Op Center for Creativity, and Dwight Hall, the umbrella organization for community efforts of Yale undergraduates.

Co-op After School provided the 20 custom-made steel pans used in the show. The steel pan — which was used by Caribbean slaves to communicate resistance after drums had been outlawed — is a particularly apt instrument for a play about “ideological oppression and non-violent resistance,” say the play’s organizers. Co-Op After School commissioned a steel pan master in Trinidad to make the instruments for the high school’s brand-new steel band, which supplies most of the musical accompaniment for the gospel hip-hopera.

The Yale Co-Op Partnership is grounded in the belief that a community of artists and work of quality are formed through shared experience and mutual high standards.

Paris McGee, a sophomore, who majors in creative writing and is the lead dancer for the show, says,  “This musical has allowed me to explore my skills as a dancer. … It’s joyful and something I don’t do every day. … It’s live, fresh and you can feel the story in your body.”

“Broken Chains” will be presented on the Main Stage of Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School, 177 College St. (enter corner of College and Crown streets). There will be performances at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on both Dec. 21 and 22.

Tickets are $5-$10. Order tickets online, call 800-228-6622, or visit the Shubert Box Office, 247 College St., Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.–2 p.m.