Between the Gorillaz’s studio albums Demon Days and Plastic Beach, Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn created Monkey: Journey to the West with Chinese opera director Chen Shi-zheng, which premiered in 2007. Their collaboration was somewhat written in the stars: Chen had been trying to get a version in production for a few years; the Gorillaz had been engaged to create something for the first Manchester International Festival; and Albarn and Hewlett had a certain nostalgia for Wu Cheng’en’s Ming dynasty-era epic due to their childhood exposure to the camp classic TV version we were exposed to in the U.K. by the BBC.
The opera has had a few productions around the world now, always well-reviewed, and is now returning stateside, running July 6–28 at the David H. Koch Theater of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. Hewlett has returned to the world of Monkey for this production, adding several new character designs. A couple of these designs have now arrived online: Vulture debuted the River Demon, while MTV Buzzworthy was the first to see Pig Monster.
I’ve never managed to catch a production of this myself, but have been sorely wanting to since seeing the documentary Damon and Jamie’s Excellent Adventure around the time of the original premiere. It seemed pretty much like being dropped into a universe designed by Hewlett for a couple of hours, and what could be more blissful than that?