Nigerian-Inspired New Rock Opera 'Killin' Republicans' Hits The Theatre

By Isaac Asabor
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Killin' Republicans, a new production by New Rock Opera directed by Dick D. Zigun and presented by the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, is about what happened in a conversation between actress Jodie Foster, a Nigerian Afrobeat star, and her Mississippi oilman husband while flying transatlantic in first class. ISAAC ASABOR reviews

It has long been anticipated, and the wonderful thing is that the thriller has arrived, generating a wave and a forceful statement in the cinema. "Killin' Republicans" is a rock opera written by Dick D. Zigun, a Brooklyn avant-garde art scene icon, the Permanently Unelected Mayor of Coney Island, the creator of the Mermaid Parade and the Coney Island Museum, and the Godfather of Neo-Burlesque and Sideshow revivals. Killin Republicans composed by Arturo "Artie" Rodriguez and directed by Vagabond, is an intellectual conversation set to Rock 'n Roll concerning violence in the history of the Republican Party.

"The entire piece is sung or performed in recitative in a variety of styles, including rockabilly, Dean Metal, Willie Nelson, The Beatles, and Punk." The opera will have its world premiere at Theatre for the New City, which provided Zigun his first paid theatre job (working the TNC Box Office in the late 1970s).

Zigun credits this creation to his wife, Princess Patience Mukoro from Akara Royal Quarters, Kiagbodo Mein, Delta State, Nigeria, and also a place of the late Nigerian dramatist, J.P. Clark (my Uncle-In-Law) for 'Killin Republicans'.

They "encouraged the writing of this story over a non-stop 2-day conversation," he stated. The former commissioner for education, Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, my in-laws welcomed me at his Mansion in Kiagbodo Delta State. And his Royal Highness King Pere Bigborogha, in the Throne Room of his Kiagbodo Palace, was a major influence in the creation of this play."

In the story, actress Jodie Foster is trapped in the first-class cabin of a transatlantic flight with two wealthy very important personalities (VIPs): Goodness Gracious, a Nigerian Afrobeat star studying for her US Citizenship test, and her husband, Billybob from Biloxi, a Mississippi oilman and Rockabilly fan. The pair is aware that Foster was the unwitting inspiration for John Hinckley's 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. When bullets rang out, Reagan was leaving the Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC, where he had addressed 5,000 AFL-CIO members. Hinckley had tried an assassination with a.22 handgun in order to impress Ms. Foster, with whom he had a pathological fixation.

The talk that develops between the three passengers is meant to be academic (like "My Dinner with Andre"), but also entertaining and Rock 'n Roll. To grasp the American system, Goodness Gracious is studying for her US Citizenship Test and learning about US leaders. Jodie Foster's involvement with the Reagan assassination tale sparks a series of bizarre observations about political violence in America.

The trio recounts the history of other presidents' assassinations and attempted assassinations in America, including Abraham Lincoln's assassination by actor John Wilkes Booth ("big star with a tiny gun"), the shootings of James A. Garfield (who lived eleven weeks with the bullet in his body--his doctors couldn't find it), and William McKinley (whose death put Teddy Roosevelt in the White House).

According to Zigun, these are followed by accounts of the attempted assassinations of Teddy Roosevelt (he finished a campaign speech in Milwaukee with a bullet lodged inside a rib) and Ronald Reagan (whose assailant, John Hinckley, had been stalking Jodie Foster while she was a student at Yale). Ms. Foster exclaims in the libretto, “Why me…why not Brooke Shields…it’s not fair…” Ms. Shields studied at Princeton.

For many, the title of the opera might suggest the piece is anti-republican, but this is not the case. Mostly it suggests that the Republican Party has a history of progressive action and has gotten punished for it. Toward the end of the piece, there’s a Rock ‘n Roll remake of Whitman’s poem about the death of Lincoln,

“O Captain! My Captain!”
Oi! Captain! My Captain!
What direction is up ahead?
There was once a Grand Old Party
Now it’s fallen, cold, and dead
In the curtain call, for equal time, "we finally get a Democratic victim: JFK. (The chorus sings of a “Curse on the Kennedys – They Never See It Coming.”)

The violence discussed by the three passengers is not restricted to presidents. They also remark on Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery Democratic congressman from South Carolina, caning Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts anti-slavery Republican, in 1856. Sumner was beaten bloodily in the Senate chamber, yet he survived to help impeach President Andrew Johnson for obstructing the implementation of reconstruction acts.

Queen Koleurz Koluchi plays Goodness Gracious, Edwin Vazquez plays Billybob from Biloxi, Abby Gumpper plays Jodie Foster, Gabriel Winkler and Ava Jones play Flight Attendants, and Youssef Alaoudi-Flidi plays the Captain's Voice.

Zigun has been developing an experimental approach that he describes as "accessible Richard Foreman." He attempts to think in a light-hearted and "fun house" manner. He's been creating plays since he was in high school. He chose to compose rock operas seven years ago. His first act was to murder Republicans. The objective was to remove language from everyday discourse and create a drama that also functions as a rock concert.

Most of it is light verse, like beat poetry. The entire opera is either sung or its music scored under dialogue. “Chorus and rhyming is not how actual people speak,” says Zigun, “but it’s how Rock ‘n Roll works.”

Crystal Field gave me my first paying theatrical job running the TNC Box Office when the theatrical was on 2nd Avenue', he recalls. Crystal was always encouraging even when I was running my Coney Island institution. I hosted a huge benefit at TNC, and many of her performances came to my stage or the Boardwalk. Crystal was the first to suggest, "Come to TNC, it's already your home!" when I just chose to relocate my playwriting efforts to Manhattan. I treasure her friendship and her decades of support for whatever I accomplish. She has always been a lighthouse for me on my journey to Off-Off Broadway!"

Zigun's marriage to a Nigerian woman and his transatlantic journeys to see her family inspired the composition on a personal level. Zigun describes Jodie Foster and Billybob from Biloxi as two sides of himself. The opera was written before Trump was elected.

Dick D. Zigun created the concept and libretto. Arturo "Artie" Rodriguez is the composer/musical director. The director is a vagabond (proper lowercase spelling). Omar Villegas is the Production Manager. Jordan Rodriguez plays drums and percussion, John Plenge plays guitar and keyboards, and Jordan (Rothstein) (proper spelling and brackets) plays piano and keyboards. Erin Mathewson created Abraham Lincoln's top hat.