The Old Globe Announces its 2017 Summer Season

Robert Sean LeonardThe Old Globe has announced its complete 2017 Summer Shakespeare Festival Season which will feature two Shakespeare classics: Richard II and Hamlet, as well as Ken Ludwig’s new comedy Robin Hood! in its world premiere. The season also includes the previously announced Guys and Dolls, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes, presented in association with Asolo Repertory Theatre.

Richard II, starring Robert Sean Leonard and directed by Erica Schmidt (A Month in the Country Off Broadway). Convinced of his divine right to rule, King Richard acts recklessly and provides the canny Henry Bolingbroke an opening to seize the crown. Full of magnificent verse and Shakespeare’s characteristic wisdom and insight, Richard II is a deeply moving and insightful portrait of how the forces of history collide and combust to shape a nation’s political landscape. June 11 – July 15, 2017

Following Richard II is Shakespeare’s exhilarating tragedy Hamlet, directed by Old Globe Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director Barry Edelstein, one of the leading American authorities on the works of Shakespeare. Edelstein will direct a cast that includes some of the nation’s finest classical actors in one of the greatest plays ever written—revenge thriller, ghost story, psychological drama, political epic, family saga, all packed with unforgettable characters, theatrical masterstrokes, and world famous lines. The Prince of Denmark comes home from college to find his father dead, his mother remarried to his uncle, and a spine-chilling apparition roaming the palace grounds. August 6 – September 10, 2017

Tickets to the Globe’s 2017 Summer Season are currently available by subscription online at www.TheOldGlobe.org, by phone at (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623], or by visiting the box office at 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park. Discounts are available for full-time students, patrons 29 years of age and younger, seniors, and groups of 10 or more.

2017 Summer Shakespeare Festival Season

June 11 – July 15, 2017 (Opening Night June 18)
Richard II

July 2 – August 13, 2017 (Opening Night July 7)
Guys and Dolls

July 22 – August 27, 2017 (Opening Night July 30)
Ken Ludwig’s Robin Hood!

August 6 – September 10, 2017 (Opening Night August 12)
Hamlet

Review: SKULLDUGGERY: The Musical Prequel to Hamlet, a Rowdy Good Time

Skullduggery - Sacred Fools

John Bobek and Brendan Hunt (center) and the cast of Skullduggery. All photos by Jessica Sherman Photography

I love a good prequel, especially when a contemporary playwright decides to take on the back story of a hallowed play by the likes of William Shakespeare. I mean, come on. Daring to tread on that playing field takes some guts because you know before you begin that audiences are going to have high expectations of your work. They also know where you need to end your story in order for Shakespeare’s to begin so getting there must be highly inventive and worthy of its foregone conclusion.

LA-based playwright Michael Shaw Fisher proves he’s up to the task in his latest new work Skullduggery: The Musical Prequel to Hamlet, a rowdy and irreverent precursor to Shakespeare’s revenge play, Hamlet. The musical comedy is a smart contrast in tone that opens up a clever pathway for foreshadowing later events and introducing the quirks of Shakespeare’s dramatic characters, like Ophelia’s (Alyssa Rupert) madness and Polonius’ (Curt Bonnem) convoluted conversation. It also allows for a slew of new characters to emerge that are completely unpredictable. You never know what this bunch of crackpots will do next.

Instead of simply the skull of a jester we meet in passing in Hamlet (“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio”) Yorick (scene-stealing Brendan Hunt) is a real person – a falling-down drunkard with more than his fair share of secrets. Hunt doesn’t even have to try to be funny. All he has to do is try to stand up and it becomes a study in how to create an unforgettable character. When his arm gets stuck in a set piece or he slips while walking across the stage, it’s a lesson in improv you can’t pass up.

Hamlet Sr. (David Haverty), appearing in Hamlet as a ghost only, is still alive, and three boisterous roustabouts (Jeff Sumner, Matt Valle and Cj Merriman) who will take up new careers as gravediggers before Skullduggery is over will reveal all the mysteries heretofore unsolved.

When this show works it works really well and a lot of that is due to the understanding they (and Hunt) have of how to bring the material to life. In truth, it’s the fusion of their acting chops and director Scott Leggett’s terrific ability to wring the funny out of Fisher’s writing that makes Skullduggery so much fun.

Skullduggery - Sacred Fools

L-R; Jeff Sumner, Matt Valle and Cj Merriman

Each of the three has a distinct personality and role in their lively trio. They sing, they dance, they move like wraiths cloaked in black à la Martha Graham and, whenever they appear, they buoy up the merriment. Leggett’s adept staging and Natasha Norman’s cheeky choreography are a delicious combination that this show wears well.

Skullduggery takes place thirty years before Hamlet begins when brothers Claudius (John Bobek) and Hamlet are young men. Claudius and Gertrude (Leigh Wulff) have fallen in love but when Hamlet goes off to war with their father and dear old dad is killed on the battlefield, Hamlet returns and marries her while Claudius is away at school. Seven years later, Claudius comes home to Elsinore and learns the bitter truth. Yorick’s uncanny ability to predict the future eventually convinces Claudius to join him in his drunken revolution to overthrow the now King Hamlet and take back what he lost.

L-R: John Bobek and David Haverty

L-R: John Bobek and David Haverty

Where Hamlet follows the perspective of King Hamlet’s son, Skullduggery is really Claudius’ story of what led up to the murder. Bobek (as Claudius) is a likable leading man with a strong singing voice whose journey begins hesitantly, and is at times quite comical, with his hypoglycemic fainting spells a regular occurrence. As he gains confidence, his earnest demeanor propels him forward until he takes bold action to achieve his desired end. Haverty goes from battle-ready to war-weary and his few moments of vulnerability add depth to a very traditional character.

As their object of affection, Wulff looks the part of a regal queen but is acting as though she is in an entirely different play. A scene can be serious in a musical comedy but it still needs to have an intensity behind it that is consistent with the style of the play. And, whether or not an actor is miked (they are not here), it is critical that the audience hears their dialogue. In this case, we can’t hear her and the acting is so internal that it comes across as flat. Rebecca Larsen (Berta) does the same thing in her scenes although her wisecracks do land when we can hear them. Both have a bigger problem swallowing their vocals during their songs which gives them an uncomfortably thin, reedy sound, neck veins straining to reach the notes.

It’s too bad because Fisher’s score is an appealing combination of musical styles that includes everything from electro-funk, Lennon-esque tunes, and Sondheim-inspired verses to Renaissance folk, drinking songs, and sea shanties. I even heard something resembling The Pink Panther hidden in the mix. When it goes all out rock, it’s even better.

Musical director Michael Teoli uses instruments you don’t often hear together in a musical to create some cool sound paintings and eerie effects in his arrangements for the show. He features marimba, mandolin, and guitar, and even tuba on “Twenty-Three” at the top of Act II to recap the story and move the audience forward twenty-three years. Vocal harmonies, especially the intentionally dissonant phrases, are deceptively simple and add subtle texture. It’s an artful working of the score that creates a musical world just slightly off enough to catch your ear because it isn’t at all traditional.

Leigh Wulff and John Bobek

Leigh Wulff and John Bobek

Lyrically there are nods to popular Shakespeare phrases and a good bit of punning if you listen closely. You’d have to see the show a second time to catch all the Shakespeare in-jokes Fisher has included so keep your ear tuned.

Sacred Fools’ new Hollywood venue is a step up from their previous location for this kind of musical adventure and the creative team has done some impressive work here. DeAnne Millais’ polished scenic design features open wooden panels, a curved staircase, and some highly effective scene painting (by Joyce Hutter) to bring the Elizabethan era’s stone and bone to life. A cabinet of skulls does double duty stage left while a fabric panel hanging stage right makes tapestry changes via Ben Rock’s rich video projections to further enhance locations. Gorgeous costumes by Linda Muggeridge look expensive under Andrew Schmedake’s saturated lighting design.

Making Shakespeare a good time isn’t always easy but Skullduggery: The Musical Prequel to Hamlet accomplishes that goal and delivers an exhilarating crowd-pleaser. The laughs are infectious, the fun factor high. Maybe every Shakespearean tragedy should come with a comedy prequel.

SKULLDUGGERY: The Musical Prequel to Hamlet
September 30 – November 5, 2016
Sacred Fools Theater Company
1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tickets: www.sacredfools.org

Inner Circle Theatre Presents a Tech-Savvy Prince of Denmark

Hamlet - Inner Circle Theatre

Hamlet tells us, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” It’s all in the perception of a thing, especially today in the age of Snapchat and Instagram where the camera puts our lives on display (or the version we choose to share). Looking to the artistic and social troublemakers of our time, the production sees Hamlet wield the camera as both exploratory tool and brutal weapon. Urban and tech-savvy, this Prince of Denmark confronts his perceptions with Shakespeare’s text and the image-wizardry of a modern street artist.

Inner Circle Theatre and director Matthew G. Hill will fuse together Hill’s years as a film and theatre artist with his work as an illustrator to form a hybrid production that places the Bard’s great revenge play at the vanguard. Hill is an artist-in-residency at the National Theatre of Croatia, the Getty Villa, and the Annenberg Beach House and is currently the associate artistic director of the Rogue Artists Ensemble.

HAMLET
October 7 – November 6, 2016
Inner Circle Theatre
North Hollywood, CA
Specific location disclosed upon ticket purchase
Tickets: www.innercircletheatre.com

Michael Shaw Fisher’s Skullduggery to open Sacred Fools’ 2016-17 Season

Skullduggery

Shakespeare’s words, “To thine own self be true” could easily be the tag line to Sacred Fools Theater Company’s upcoming 20th anniversary season. This bunch of fools will embark on a journey to do what they do best in 2016-17 and, according to co-artistic director Alicia Conway Rock, “reflect upon and celebrate what we call ‘Foolish’ — a spirit of irreverence and ingenuity underscored with energy and optimism that has been with us since the founding days of our company.”

To kick off that worthy endeavor is Skullduggery: The Musical Prequel to Hamlet, a collaboration between the Fools and writer/composer, Michael Shaw Fisher. Those familiar with Fisher’s previous works like Shakespeare’s Last Night Out, Exorcistic: The Rock Musical Parody Experiment, The Werewolves of Hollywood Blvd. and other Hollywood Fringe Festival hits know the kind of wit and invention he brings to the table.

If you’ve ever wondered what might have happened between Hamlet Sr., Gertrude, and Claudius, Fisher’s angle will unpack the story of their love triangle, song by song, in an unlikely journey from innocent youth to the “most foul” murder in the canon.

As for the music in this twisted tale, musical director Michael Teoli describes it as a rock musical “but it’s less hard-hitting rock and more eclectic. Think Tom Waits meets Stephen Sondheim meets David Lynch.” Teoli is also doing the arrangements for the show and says the instrumentation includes marimba, two guitars, Teoli on bass, and percussion (like cahone and bongos). It sounds pretty fabulous and, dare I say, even a bit spooky.

The show stars John Bobek as Claudius, David Haverty as Hamlet, Sr., and Leigh Wulff as Gertrude. Scott Leggett, whose performance as Fatty Arbuckle in Sacred Fools’ Stoneface was one for the book, directs. You’ve also seen his directorial work in Neverwhere; Beaverquest! The Musical; and Forbidden Zone: Live in the 6th Dimension, so be prepared.

Artwork for the season, including the Skullduggery image above, is by fine art painter Gabe Leonard, another long-time friend of the company. For a complete look at Sacred Fools’ upcoming season, go to www.sacredfools.org.

SKULLDUGGERY: THE MUSICAL PREQUEL TO HAMLET
September 23 – November 5, 2016 (Opening night 9/30)
Sacred Fools Theater Company
1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Fri-Sat at 8pm. Sundays at 3pm beginning Oct. 16
Tickets and More Info: www.sacredfools.org

Casts Announced for world premieres of Skullduggery and The Tragedy of JFK

SkullduggeryBuckle up Shakespeare lovers – two new fall productions have announced the casts of their unique Shakespeare-inspired works, both opening the weekend of September 30. The first is Michael Shaw Fisher’s Skullduggery: The Musical Prequel to Hamlet, which begins previews at Sacred Fools Theatre Company Sept 23 and opens Friday, Sept 30. The world premiere musical comedy features book, music & lyrics by Fisher, arrangements & additional music by Michael Teoli, and is directed by Scott Leggett.

Told by the gravediggers, the story follows the love triangle of Claudius, Gertrude and Hamlet Sr. in song, until their journey ultimately leads to the climactic moment of Hamlet Sr.’s “most foul” murder. In his own singular style, Fisher connects the missing pieces of the story and answers questions like: What really happened to Yorick? And, what happened to Ophelia and Laertes’ mother? Before the tale is ended, ghosts, battles, and the bones of Shakespeare’s masterpiece will be uncovered and exposed to the light of day, with surprising insight.

Cast includes John Bobek as Claudius, Leigh Wulff as Gertrude, David Haverty as Hamlet Sr., Brendan Hunt as Yorick, Jeff Sumner as Delver, Matt Valle as Puddles, Cj Merriman as Dull, Rebecca Larsen as Berta, Curt Bonnem as Polonius, Alyssa Rupert as Ophelia, and Pat Towne as Osric/Ghost King. Tickets are available now at www.sacredfools.org.

Blank Theatre - Tragedy of JFKThe second world premiere is The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare), conceived, adapted, and directed by The Blank Theatre’s founding artistic director, Daniel Henning. Performances also begin Sept 24 with opening night set for Saturday, October 1 at the Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz.

In this new play, Henning, who is a recognized expert on the JFK assassination, takes on the conspiracy to assassinate the 35th President of the United States using Shakespearian text. The result is a theatrical tale unlike anything you’ve seen before concerning the possible events surrounding one of the most shocking deaths in American history.

Henning’s cast includes Ford Austin as JFK, Chad Brannon (Robert F. Kennedy), Tony Abatemarco, Brian Brennan, Brett Collier, Cris D’Annunzio, Jerry Della Salla, Susan Denaker, John Knight, Jonathon Lamer, Kelie McIver, Casey McKinnon (Jackie Kennedy), Bruce Nehlsen, Jacob Sidney (McGeorge Bundy), Jonny Walker, and Time Winters as Lyndon B. Johnson. Tickets are available now at www.TheBlank.com.

One comedy, one tragedy – all your Shakespeare bases covered. Mark thy calendar now!

New Swan Shakespeare Festival Presents Two Shakespeare Classics

New Swan - As You Like It

New Swan Shakespeare Festival’s As You Like It. Photos by Paul Kennedy

New Swan Shakespeare Festival’s 5th season is currently featuring two Shakespearean classics, As You Like It and Hamlet, in its mini-Elizabethan theater on the campus of UC Irvine. Since the festival debuted in 2012 the two-play season has grown to include a Music Monday series featuring diverse performances such as “Shakespeare’s Fool” featuring Jason Freddy’s trio, the all-female Mariachi Las Colibrí II, and Mozart Mondays, as well as a seminar series that takes place an hour before curtain.

Eli Simon, New Swan’s artistic director, helms As You Like It, Shakespeare’s beloved comedy of love and disguise, exile and companionship. Simon sets the show in the Depression Era, with original folk music written by Alan Terricciano, and performed by the actors, for an intimate evening of love, fantasy, and companionship…as you like it.

New Swan - Hamlet

New Swan Shakespeare Festival’s Hamlet

Returning for her fourth season with the festival to direct Hamlet is Beth Lopes, associate artistic director of New Swan Shakespeare Festival. At its heart, Hamlet is a ghost story. While most of us push away the shadow of mortality, Hamlet embraces it in the form of his father’s ghost. This ghost is present throughout this production, driving the action forward and forcing his son to grapple with outrageous circumstances.

Lopes says, “We all carry ghosts with us – ghosts which comfort and ghosts which burden – and we can’t always choose which ones we will encounter. Luckily for Hamlet, and for the audience, his father’s ghost appears to us all, and we travel on this journey together as the boy becomes a man … and then a ghost story of his own. This visceral, fast-paced production is perfectly suited for the vulnerable intimacy of the New Swan Theater.”

Please note that, due to the theater configuration, there is no late seating for the performances. For tickets and more information, visit NewSwanShakespeare.com.

Post Mortem Movement Theater uses movement to explore Hamletmachine

I Was Hamlet
Post Mortem Movement Theater’s I Was Hamlet comes to the Hollywood Fringe Festival following its debut last December at the George Burns Soundstage at UCLA. Adapted by Kyle Johnston, Angel Correa, Emily Josephine, and Angela Lopez (who also directs), the one hour piece is a physical adaptation of Heiner Muller’s Hamletmachine. It explores issues of gender and identity, abuse of power, and the tortured nature of performance by combining the grotesque and the awe-inspiring via dance, acrobatics, and various other physical disciplines.

The company has previously received awards for their Fringe productions of Charivari in Voyeurville and Ravens and Writing Desks. Remaining performances are Friday, June 17 (8pm), Sunday, June 19 (1:30 pm) and Saturday, June 25 (5:30 pm) at Actors Company’s Other Space Theater, 916 N. Formosa Avenue, West Hollywood, CA 90046. Tickets: http://hff16.org/3614.

I was Hamlet

I was Hamlet

Two Plays, One Cast for Hamlet and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern at ACTC

Hamlet

American Coast Theater Company, the resident professional theater of Vanguard University, will present two plays as part of its 2016 Summer Series. Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead will be performed in repertory, in the Lyceum Theater on Vanguard’s Costa Mesa campus, beginning June 3.

Jeremy Aluma, founder of the award-winning clown troupe, Four Clowns, directs Hamlet, while Christi McHale, associate producing director for ACTC, directs Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.

“I plan to use the audience as a more involved participant in the play, using them like another character,” said Aluma. “I also want them to have some kind of relationship to the ghosts and death in the play. Life is precious and Hamlet’s hesitancy to kill his uncle is not cowardice; it is his understanding that life is important, which leads us to think about what life is worth.”

The same actors will play roles in both productions, which will allow the audience to experience the characters from two different points of view; one dramatic, the other more comedic, both unified by related themes, questions, and tragedy.

Those actors are Susan Berkompas, James McHale, Paul Eggington, Amanda Zarr, Brock Milhorn, Ian Jenkins, Ahmed Brooks, Katie Canavan, Tyler Thoreson, Aaron McGee, Taylor Stephenson, Andrew Puente, Jason Evans, and Lola Kelly.

In one half of the experience, audiences will hear Shakespeare’s classic verse – in the other, Stoppard’s witty and philosophical modern banter juxtaposed with physical comedy. The two productions will also share a unified aesthetic and design, with scenic elements woven throughout both shows.

“We will be physicalizing the idea of man as a puppet through the action on stage and the design, in a way that we cannot wait to share with audiences,” said McHale. “It’s a wonderfully collaborative process with the actors and whole design team; the device of actors performing a play within a play gives us so much room for creativity and theatricality.”

HAMLET
June 10 – July 3, 2016
ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD
June 3 – July 3, 2016
American Coast Theater Company
Vanguard University
The Lyceum Theatre
55 Fair Drive Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Tickets: www.ACTCtickets.com

New Web Series from Better Than Shakespeare: Titus and Dronicus

Better Than Shakespeare has launched a fun new web series, Titus and Dronicus, which follows the escapades of two private eyes who investigate crimes inspired by Shakespeare’s plays. Written by Megan Kelly, Madhuri Shekar and Seamus Sullivan, and directed by Liz Rizzo, here is episode one.

For more about the series and to watch all episodes, visit TitusandDronicus.com.

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Review: Four Clowns Reinvents Hamlet in their Latest Shakespearean Soiree

Four Clowns Presents Hamlet

L-R: Connor Kelly-Eiding, Andrew Eiden, Corey Johnson, and Charlotte Chanler. Photo by Zach Steel

It’s a little uncanny how easily Shakespeare’s tragedy lends itself to reinvention by a troupe of clowns and still communicates the full measure of the poet’s intent, yet that is exactly what happens in Fours Clowns Presents Hamlet, a guest production at The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles. To director Turner Munch’s credit, not only does he understand the funny – of which there is plenty in this production – he also knows how to play it off against its polar opposite to create palpable dramatic tension. And he does it with surprising finesse.

This is Shakespeare for people who hate Shakespeare, and for those who love it, for purists and dilettantes, and anyone who wants to see a story told with humor and creativity. More than anything, the 90-minute production is simply a great night at the theatre.

It helps to have a cast who plays full out, at times heartbreakingly so. You expect it to be funny (it’s clowns for goodness sake) but when the moment spins on a dime and lands a stupefying blow to your gut or your heart, that’s when you appreciate how the play has truly become the proverbial putty in their hands.

Hamlet (an excellent Andrew Eidon) on his mother and stepfather’s leash becomes Hamlet on a lunacy bender once the red nose goes on. And just when you think he can’t push the madness any further he pivots into a scene with the fair Ophelia (sweetly played by Elizabeth Godley) that is as delicate and touching as you’d find in any serious production. How the actors realize these scenes is often so beautiful and revelatory that I don’t want to lessen the delight you’ll experience in the moment by going into detail here. Suffice it to say that by extracting the essence of a scene and physicalizing it they are able to use a minimal amount of Shakespeare’s text to tell the story. “Brevity is the soul of wit” is a mantra that this company knows well.

Dave Honigman and Tyler Bremer are the skillful clowns who redefine the phrase “dopey puppy” as Hamlet’s deceptive friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and Connor Kelly-Eiding brings an endearing innocence to her role as the huggy Horatio. Each actor is well-matched to his or her character yet it is Joe DeSoto’s wild-eyed, expressive Ghost you’re most likely to remember. Play along. Have fun. This kind of Shakespeare never gets old.

Just as delightful is the way the technical and design elements are integrated into the storytelling and used as building blocks for the action: Elena Flores (costumes, hair & make-up), Alexandra Giron (set and props), Mcleod Benson (lighting), Matt MacCready (technical design), an uncredited but terrific sound design, and Matt Franta’s fight choreography all have exceptional moments.

Ellen Dostal
Shakespeare in LA

FOUR CLOWNS PRESENTS HAMLET
Sept 18 – Oct 10, 2015
Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles
1238 West 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90026
Tickets: (562) 508-1788 or www.fourclowns.org
Show runs under 90 minutes with no intermission

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