BWW Review: Re-Imagined 21st Century Version of HAMLET THE ROCK MUSICAL Begins World Tour at the El Portal in NoHo
HAMLET THE ROCK MUSICAL with book, music and lyrics by Cliff Jones, with additional music and lyrics by Craig Fair, has undergone a few incarnations since its Broadway run in the late 70s. The launch of a re-imagined 21st Century version, produced by David Carver Music, magnificently directed by Bill Castellino, with conductor Doug Oberhamer's music direction and choreography by Janet Roston, certainly proves there's something still rockin' in Denmark! And even those not familiar with the Shakespeare's classic tragedy will be able to understand the story, performed as a sung-through musical with enough heartfelt emotions on display to leave no doubt as to how and why the characters interact with one another to mostly bad results.
Now onstage at the El Portal Theatre in NoHo, this latest incarnation is perhaps the most elaborate version musically, creatively and visually, according to producer David Carver, thanks to the brilliant artistic vision of the show's technical wizards, including scenic and video design by Nick Iwaskow which transforms a multi-level gray set into the castle wall from which Marcellus and Horatio first glimpse the visiting ghost of Hamlet's dead father to the many rooms within its stone walls as well as the graveyard with its spindly tree branches shaking in the wind; John A. Garofalo and Nick Iwaskow astounding lighting design which focuses attention exactly where it needs to be to enhance the mood of each scene/musical number; sound design by Leon Rothenberg and Jonathan A. Burke which balances the dominating level of nine musicians backstage to allow the soul-searching lyrics sung by the talented cast to be understood as well as heard; and Mylette Nora's modern costume design adaptation which allows pieces from Elizabethan England to seamlessly blend with color-coordinated ensembles across many time periods which reflect not only the mood but the social standing of each character.
But of course kudos must go to the remarkable cast of players who so enthusiastically lend their talents to the telling of this most tragic of tales, told through a total of 40 songs, each of which forwards not only the storyline but the emotional turmoil going on within their souls. Part love story mixed with family turmoil and revenge, HAMLET THE ROCK MUSICAL succeeds on all levels, beginning with handsome Payson Lewis as the tormented Prince of Denmark, torn between his need for love after being jilted by Ophelia and his desire for revenge against his stepfather Claudius (Kevin Bailey) who poisoned his own brother, the rightful King, in order to take over the throne and marry his widow Gertrude (Carly Thomas Smith), Hamlet's youthfully appealing mother. All of these performers can belt a tune with the best of them and will pull you into their heartbreak and internal torment so well that you sense it to your own soul.Of course there is another family involved, led by its patriarch Polonius (Larry Cedar, dressed more traditionally to perhaps reflect his conservative nature), who is not played as a fool but as a parent concerned for his children's and the Queen's welfare, his son Laertes (attention-grabbing Ian Littleworth whose final duel with Hamlet during "The Joust" will leave you breathless) and daughter Ophelia (Fatima El-Bashir) whose struggle to honor her father's wishes to break up with Hamlet even though their love binds them together ultimately drives her to take her own life. Hamlet's best friends Horatio and Marcellus, who we meet on the parapet during "The First Watch" when they first see the Ghost (Steve B. Green), are portrayed by Thomas Hobson and Michael Deni as full realized young men doing their best to support their friend, even when his behavior confuses them. And of course, at the end the two are left wondering if by telling Hamlet what they saw, they have caused the death of many. Certainly the truth needed to be told, but at what cost? Other supporting players, courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Justin Michael Wilcox and Alli Miller) who are introduced in the Banquet Hall during a cleverly comical ensemble number named for the two of them, add a bit of much needed comedy during their initial scene. But when they are summoned by Claudius in Act 2 to take Hamlet to England with them, the serious nature of his request challenges their dedication to the throne, which of course ultimately leads to their demise aboard the ship, from which Hamlet returns to seek out his final revenge. Ensemble players take on many roles, both royal as well as the band of players who "grab the conscience of the King" thanks to Hamlet's play within a play to dramatize what a vile thing Claudius has done, which of course seals the death of both men. These talented triple-threat performers include Deanna Anthony, Marie Gutierrez, Tim McGarrigal, Bruce Merkle and Julia Springer, who are often joined by other featured players as courtiers. And thanks to Janet Roston's imaginative choreography, each of these talented performers have their own, well-deserved moment in the spotlight.
On all levels, there is something for everyone in this totally new production of HAMLET THE ROCK MUSICAL and I encourage you to get your tickets soon as performances are scheduled through February 23 only at the El Portal Theater in NoHo before the show's world tour begins later this year. And I guarantee you do not have to be a fan of Shakespeare's story or an expert in understanding his Elizabethan English as this fabulously inventive, sung-through musical extravaganza is told using modern lyrics which everyone will understand during this theatrically entertaining rock show.
The World Tour of HAMLET THE ROCK MUSICAL continues Wednesday-Sunday at 8pm through February 23 at the El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets range from $49.50 - $99.50 and can be purchased online at HamletTheRockMusical.com or by phone at 866-811-4111. For groups of 10 or more call 818-508-4200. For additional information, visit HamletTheRockMusical.com
Photo credit: Barry Weiss