Review: Shaking Spears (a conglomerate of Shakespeare’s tragedies set to the music of Britney Spears)

Yes you read that right… one of my theater acquaintances wrote a stage play taking four works of Shakespeare’s tragedies
– Macbeth
– Romeo & Juliet
– Hamlet
– Julius Ceasar
taking various aspects, storyline lines, and characters and created a singular storyline. Not only that, she had various characters (including two of the male leads) sing Britney Spears songs…

Now upon first glance this shouldn’t have worked, Shakespeare and Britney Spears? I could hear Shakespeare rolling in his grave. However, the truth of the matter is that somehow, someway it did and I will be the one that would grudgingly admit that I was wrong in my original take of this particular ditty (and I really don’t like having to eat my words).

Let me explain:

I’m a great lover of Shakespeare, my first acting role was as the Fool in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (a comedy) so naturally when I first saw the production there is already an embedded expectation of the outcome of the show. When I first saw it on Opening Night, I was not impressed… whether it was the writing, the singing, the acting, the directing, or some combination of all factors it didn’t sparkle for me nor did it shine.

Perhaps this was simply because of the fact that I found this show to be rather predictable as far as Shakespeare conglomerates go. I mean there is a fantastic comic book series called Kill Shakespeare that takes various works of Shakespeare and combines them into a singular storyline, with a twist, the ultimate goal was to kill Shakespeare so that the characters could be in charge of their own destiny as opposed to having it chosen for them. There is a theatre production currently in rehearsals that takes the classic story of Romeo and Juliet, re-images it in feudal Japan. They haven’t changed the dialogue but there’s a whole lot more fighting to turn it into Romeo vs Juliet.

For me, if someone is going to put on a production of Shakespeare in any capacity, where’s the hook, or the catch, or something that breathes new life into what can be considered fairly known material that would keep the audience attention… and this is where after my first viewing I changed my perspective so that the second viewing was much more enjoyable: the show isn’t meant for everyone, it was meant to just be funny and entertaining by the sheer power of the directing, the acting, and a few one liners and pokes in the script.

Once I got that into my head… things became a whole lot easier to digest, afterall you can’t criticise about theater in general if you can’t understand their original target audience. So after the disappointing (in my eyes) first viewing of the show… when convinced to see it again two days later everything seemed to “magically” (I really hate using that word) come alive in a big way. The acting became tighter, the jokes were coming across, the chemistry was stronger, the directing made scene, and as predictable the script was it was actually funny.

If the rumors are true and this show makes a repeat performance in the city, I would highly recommend it. Hopefully by then, what didn’t work the first time through would work the second time through, hopefully the majority (if not all) of the cast that participated the first time through could be a part of the reincarnation.

The chemistry between the romantic leads was funny and endearing, the chemistry between the groups of friends / family was spot on comedic (if at times predictable). Seeing Macbeth killed over and over and over again was a thing of beauty and most of the singing was on pitch and enjoyable. The actors all have fantastic comedic timing and the director did a respectable job for her first time out of the gate.

Lorrisa Julianus was funny as a very uncultured version of Juliet, I couldn’t help snickering was she snorted, picked her nose, and pulled her underwear through the show. Granted when she came on stage I didn’t know what to expect and what I got was so unpredictable that it threw me into a loop to the point that I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Then when she seduces and tosses Hamlet off her balcony umpteen number of times she showed a more teasing side of her that was fun to watch. She was well balanced by Adam Krause who played Hamlet, his overly brooding and whining version of Hamlet made him so much more girly than Juliet was that seeing the two of them together was a riot and a half, especially during their duets.

Craig Engel was funny as death prone Macbeth, being stabbed left and right on stage, but what really endeared me to him was all the “white man dance moves” he pulled. Sharon Hand was majestic as Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother) her voice, as always, powerful and a force to be reckon with even as she brought a bit of comedy into it.

Who almost stole the show for me were the dynamic duo of Bill Smith and David Lichty as Hamlet’s comrades in arms as they bumbled through the production, egging Hamlet on to kill his uncle Macbeth. They reminded me of the two gangsters from Kiss Me Kate. Granted the comedic was all there from the remainder of the cast but the mentioned were the highlights.

All in all a respectable show with an adapted script and first time director and as much as I hate to admit it… probably one of the VERY few times that I am forced to eat the words of my first impression. Now THAT takes some skill.

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