REVIEW: Theatre@First delivers a compelling and haunting ‘Hamlet’

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, William Shakespeare’s work has garnered the most screen adaptations of any author in history in any language.  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet boasts the most screen adaptations, but it’s hard to imagine Hamlet being far behind.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet has taken the stage and screen by storm from looser adaptations such as Disney’s stunning The Lion King in musical, animated, and live action form to Shakespeare on the Common to several films starring everyone from Laurence Olivier to Mel Gibson to Benedict Cumberbatch.  Why?  It’s a thrilling classic tale beloved by many about love, betrayal, and retribution with a haunting twist.

Theatre@FIrst Hamlet cast Johanna Bobrow

The cast of Theatre@First’s ‘Hamlet’ Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Directed purposefully by Elizabeth Hunter, Theatre@First continues Shakespeare’s Hamlet through Saturday, November 23 at Unity Somerville in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Not a bad seat in the house as the audience gathered in Unity Somerville’s church basement for Theatre@First’s Hamlet.  The show is an immersive experience as the production expands beyond the stage and cast members can enter from anywhere in the venue.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is about a Prince of Denmark who discovers his mother has married his uncle after his father has been murdered.  An urgent message inspires Hamlet to believe “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Theatre@First’s Hamlet is a stylish, compelling drama that boasts some iridescent and impressive special effects as a translucent figure paces from a mysterious location.  It is not revealed which actor portrays that particular figure, but his moving and affecting presence is a highlight of the production.

Theatre@First Hamlet Laertes Nathan Phillip Andrew Harrington as Polonius and Evelyne Cardella Ophelia Johanna Bobrow

Clowning…. Nathan Phillip Johnson as Laertes, Andrew Harrington as Polonius and Evelyne Cardella as Ophelia Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

The show also blends the contemporary with the historical through its more casual tone and costume choices while Shakespeare’s alluring text and action sequences remain the same.  Carolyn Jones’s and Katie Caroll’s costume design nods to the late Middle Ages setting in Elsinore, Denmark while also boasting a contemporary flair.  For example, Hatem Adell portrays Hamlet wearing stone washed jeans and a crown on his t-shirt while Gertrude, depicted by Ron Lacey, wears a gown more faithful to the historical time period.  Makeup artists Meg Boeni, Mack Caroll, and their assistants did an extraordinary job transforming the cast into their respective roles.

Hamlet features a capable cast that occasionally engages the audience.  The dialogue can be a bit rushed at times in its conversational tone which lessens the gravitas of Shakespeare’s eloquent text.  Andrew Harrington is an unforgettable presence as Polonius.  Wearing a beard and a bow tie, Harrington has natural comic timing with a distinctive voice and lighthearted demeanor.  A bit of a scene stealer, he humorously engages the audience with his offhanded and frank observations while offering wisdom and insight to his children.

Theatre@First Hamlet Hatem Adell and Evelyne Cardella Ophelia Johanna Bobrow

Evelyne Cardella as Ophelia and Hatem Adell as Hamlet Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Evelyn Cardella glows as Ophelia with a wide smile, bright eyed virtue, and complete infatuation with Hamlet.  Playful and charming, Cardella has a sweet chemistry with Nathan Phillip Johnson as her brother, Laertes and Andrew Harrington as their warm and wise father, Polonius.  Cardella navigates the character with vulnerability and heartfelt poignancy as her emotions turn on a dime.

Theatre@First Hamlet Nathan Philip Johnson as Laertes and Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius Johanna Bobrow

Nathan Phillip Johnson as Laertes and Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Hatem Adell certainly has exacted the alarming rage expected of Hamlet in the face of betrayal.  Adell delivers the famous “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy with finesse.  He also excels at Hamlet’s darkly playful demeanor, especially in a powerful scene alone with Ophelia.  Nathan Phillip Johnson also gives a memorable performance as valiant and forthright Laertes, infusing a natural charisma in each scene.

Myra Hope Eskridge as Claudius delivers a suave poker face, but lacks the devious nature expected of the character.  Claudius is a calculating character and leaves little room for sympathy.  A brief exchange with Laertes later in the production showed just a glimpse of Claudius’s true nature.

Hamlet is not complete without the appearance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, portrayed with fresh humor by Chantelle Marshall and Julia Kennedy respectively.  They make a seeming pair of jolly, dimwitted bookends as Hamlet’s childhood friends, dressed identically and interchangeably.  However, they are more than meets the eye.

Theatre@First Hamlet Hatem Adell Rosencrantz Chantelle Marshall and Guildenstern Julia Kennedy Johanna Bobrow

Hatem Adell as Hamlet joined by Chantelle Marshall as Rosencrantz and Julia Kennedy as Guildenstern Photo courtesy of Johanna Bobrow/Theatre@First

Get thee to Theatre@First’s final performances of Hamlet through Saturday, November 23 at Unity Somerville, 6 William Street in Somerville, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support Theatre@First.

REVIEW: With flawless artistic wizardry, Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ musical, presented by Lexus Broadway in Boston, remains a magnificent theatrical experience

Over the years as a critic, taking notes during the show has been a ritual and now pretty much a reflex these days.  When Disney’s The Lion King musical amazed audiences over 20 years ago on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre, it was a larger than life spectacle that was as impressive to the eyes as it was to the heartstrings.   Seeing it for the first time back then, it was probably one of the most glorious theatre experiences in memory.

One would think that as time passed, the technology and the sheer artistry of the show would become a bit dated.  However, it hasn’t aged a bit unveiling richer interpretations of songs from the film such as I Just Can’t Wait to Be King and The Circle of Life and including additional songs such as Shadowland and They Live in You not included in the film. It is also the one show that was too enthralling to take notes.

Directed by Julie Taymor, Lexus Broadway in Boston presents Disney’s Tony award-winning musical, The Lion King through Sunday, October 27 at Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and click here to see where the show is touring next.

The Lion King is based on Disney’s 1994 Academy award-winning film of the same name which is also an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  It is about a cub prince named Simba who must grow up fast after being exiled from his home by his scheming uncle.  Bursting with color, comedy, jaw dropping special effects, a classic soundtrack by Elton John and Tim Rice with important lessons about growing up, it puts an entirely new spin and depth into in this extraordinary tale, giving this musical new dimension and heart.

With scenic design by Richard Hudson, lighting by Donald Holder, and Steve Canyon Kennedy on sound, it brilliantly navigates Citizens Bank Opera House’s space to stage some of the film’s vast landscapes which includes the breathtaking and encompassing opening sequence.  The show manipulates movement and height with strategically placed moving props and the Julie Taymor and Michael Curry’s mask and puppet design representing members of the animal kingdom are visionary marvels.

The entire cast is as impressive as their visually stunning surroundings.  Bursting with color, I Just Can’t Wait to be King is a celebration with zany, eye popping color and wild shapes combined with Walter Russell the III’s enthusiastic vocals as Young Simba.  Buyi Zama is intense and hilarious as the wise Rafiki, her mesmerizing interactions with the cast unpredictable and endlessly amusing while delivering the emotional impact that the part entails.  She stands out in the stirring number, Nao Tse Tsa and every scene at Rafiki’s Tree.  Gerald Ramsey has a commanding, yet nurturing presence as Mufasa as he interacts with energetic and adorable Walter Russell III.

Spencer Plachy is a masterful, manipulative Scar the likes of the original Scar voiced by Jeremy Irons, haunting in the number, Be Prepared and with kooky and creepy performances by Keith Bennett as Banzai, Martina Sykes as Shenzi, and Robbie Swift as Ed, they form a group more menacing than in the film.

Adding a wealth of comic relief is Nick Cordileone as Timon, his compelling puppetry bringing the character to life in a new way.  With Ben Lipitz as a wild haired Pumbaa whose expressions channel John Belushi, the two make a sidesplitting pair as they deliver the catchy classic, Hakuna Matata.  Greg Jackson is impressive as he navigates Zazu’s jittery angst in a sprawling bird.

Lexus Broadway in Boston presents The Lion King musical through Sunday, October 27 at Citizens Bank Opera House, 539 Washington Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and here to see where The Lion King will perform next on their national tour.  This mesmerizing hit musical continues to reign on Broadway at the Minskoff Theatre in New York City.

Lexus Broadway in Boston has an amazing lineup in store as they continue their 2019-2020 season which includes Disney’s Anastasia, Mean Girls, and their next musical, Come From Away.  Click here for their entire lineup and follow them on Facebook for updates and much more.

 

 

 

 

Centastage’s Joe Antoun directs Shakespeare with a comedic, twist-filled spin in new play, ‘Noir Hamlet’

Picture a dark night in 1949 Los Angeles, a mysterious death, a new take on a classic, twist-filled tale, and a play within a…comedy?  That’s what happens when playwright John Minigan melds key elements of Shakespeare’s classic tale while throwing in a doll, a dame, and a detective in Centastage’s Noir Hamlet continuing through Saturday, June 30 at Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.  Even for those familiar with Hamlet, this tale is full of surprises.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Noir Hamlet Paul Melendy

Paul Melendy as Hamlet in Noir Hamlet

Centastage’s Executive Director, founding member, and Noir Hamlet’s director Joseph Antoun discusses classic noir, Write On, and just where the idea for Noir Hamlet came from.  Joe won an IRNE for Excellence in Theatre.

Sleepless Critic:  Noir Hamlet is a fascinating, inventive play.  Since Shakespeare’s Hamlet has dark and mysterious elements, it’s easy to see the connection to noir.  However, this is a full-length comedy in one act.  How did this show come together?

Joseph Antoun:  John Minigan, part of our Write On playwriting group that meets once a month, wrote Noir Hamlet.  It was read in our playwriting group episodically, which means a couple of scenes brought it every now and then.  Through that process, John was able to shape this show.  Several playwrights bring in their work.

Noir Hamlet has key elements of the famous Shakespeare play such as finding out the mystery behind Hamlet’s father’s death.  Four actors are playing multiple roles.  The secretary’s name is Ray Chio, like ‘Horatio’ in John’s language and the same actor who plays Rey also plays Yorick’s skull.  Hamlet and Gertrude strictly play their roles, but Claude, as in Claudius, also portrays the Ghost of Hamlet and a character named Paolo Niro.  In that case, they are switching characters, but Rae is a love interest for Hamlet.  There’s also questions raised if Claude is also carrying on with Rae.  The show has lots of red herrings.

Noir Hamlet Robert D Murphy and Liz Adams

Robert D Murphy and Liz Adams in Noir Hamlet through June 30. Photo courtesy of Centastage

SC:  It’s vintage noir style.  That must have been fun to put on stage.

JA:  It was a riot!  The comedy has not only the noir look with long trench coats and fedoras, but the stereotypical language such as ‘mug,’ ‘doll,’ and ‘dame.’   It’s a fast moving script with lots of twists.

SC:  It’s a comedy, so I imagine the way this show is put together, even if the audience has read Hamlet, they still won’t know what is coming.

JA:  If the audience knows Hamlet, they’ll get a kick out what is acknowledged and paid homage to.  If they think by knowing Hamlet they’ll figure out the story, they’ll be surprised.

Noir Hamlet Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia

Noir Hamlet’s Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia Photo courtesy of Centastage

SC:  A few local performers are taking the stage such as Liz Adams from Medford.  How was the audition process held?

JA:  It was a very personal type of casting.  I knew I wanted Paul Melendy for Hamlet because I had directed hi m before.  I knew Bob Murphy has the right comic timing.  He understands the show and Hamlet very well, so I knew he could enhance it.  Last year in Newburyport, Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia, who plays Rey, took part in a Noir Hamlet reading and John was pleased with it.  I admired Liz Adams’s work.  She played Julius Caesar in the all-female actor Shakespeare project version of Julius Caesar.  A lot of the audition process was just one-on-one interviews more than monologues or sonnets.

Coincidentally, we’re in the Black Box Theatre for Noir Hamlet, but across the hall in the Plaza Theatre, OWI is performing Red Velvet, calling it an Othello like you’ve never seen before.

Noir Hamlet Paul Melendy as Hamlet

Paul Melendy as Hamlet in Noir Hamlet Photo courtesy of Centastage

SC:  What was most surprising about this production together?

JA:  One is the lightning pace of the show.  The faster the pacing, the funnier and better the show will be.  What is also surprising is the physical humor in it.  How funny simple actions such as turning the head or stepping out of the scene in film noir style have been.

SC:  His Girl Friday, an old film starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, is not exactly a film noir, but the pacing is also incredibly quick.  One can detect four jokes in one line.  It’s a brilliant film.

JA:  Yes, Noir Hamlet has the same style and it pays homage to that film.  I watched a whole lot of film noir to catch up on the noir language such as Laura, The Big Sleep, and film noir-style films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Naked GunNoir Hamlet is its own thing though it has its influences.

SC:  Centastage is in its 28th season.  How has it evolved over the years?

Centastage started with seasons of new plays by local writers and I realized I didn’t think we were serving audiences or playwrights by a season every year of the best plays we received if I didn’t feel like they were ready for production.  Over time, we started putting more energy into the development process of new plays.  Now we do a new play when we think we have a script ready for it.

In 2015, our last full production was IRNE-nominated Academy Fight Song by Andrew Clarke.  It took five years to develop between Andrew Clarke, the playwright, doing readings, rewriting it, and us rereading it.   Centastage is a great community to be a part of and it’s nice to deal with playwrights, actors, directors, and designers.

Centastage New work

Courtesy of Centastage

SC:  Please tell me about Write On, which is how Noir Hamlet came together in the first place.

JA:  Write On has been meeting since 1994 on the first Monday of every month.  We have actors come who like to write plays.  The members bring in work and we read and discuss them.  John Minigan has a dramatic piece that is a Eugene O’ Neill finalist this year.  When he brought Noir Hamlet in the first time, the people laughed their way through acting it.  The theatre group has been great.  We have been through years of big numbers but right now.   My guess is that we are at 12-15 regular playwrights.   It’s a very thoughtful process.  All genres, all forms and open to whoever wants to join.  We also put together readings open to the public, social events, and on the website are playwright and actor head shots as well as show titles that have gone on to Centastage full productions.

SC:  I imagine you hear a lot of shows that come across the board.  How do you decide which on you want to work with?

JA:  That’s a really good question.  A lot of it is my gut.  I enjoy plays with a strong sense of character, good storytelling, and surprising themes.   I have actors that come into the writing group and I also teach at Emerson which exposes me to not only young actors, but professional actors who are on faculty and we have open auditions.

I believe in building bridges between playwrights and artists.  Playwrights that have you read their play in a reading start to build a bridge between you and that work.  I think it’s a good way to connect with new plays coming up.

Noir Hamlet poster

Noir Hamlet continues through June 30 Photo courtesy of Centastage

It sounds like Centastage plays a big part in the whole picture.  Click here for more information and tickets to Noir Hamlet, continuing through Saturday, June 30 at Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information on Centastage and here for Write On.  Follow Centastage on Facebook and Twitter.

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