A Shakespeare Jubilee!


Review by Willard Manus

A SHAKESPEARE JUBILEE!, a one-night celebration of The Bard’s work, was recently mounted at The Wallis with 34 actors and singers filling the air with excerpts from plays and sonnets that have become mainstays of the English language. The show, which was narrated by Ioan Gruffudd and Joely Fisher, also included “Songs for Shakespeare” by John Dankworth and Cleo Laine (sung by Sherry Williams) and an aria from the opera “Macbeth” (sung by Oscar ZC. Zhang).

A SHAKESPEARE JUBILEE! celebrated a Shakespeare tribute organized 250 years ago by the actor/manager David Garrick in Stratford, England to honor that city’s most famous citizen.

Written and directed by Louis Fantasia for The Wallis and BritWeek, the show moved crisply from beginning to end in well-choreographed fashion, making for an entertaining as well as edifying evening.

As the narrators pointed out, Garrick and other theater luminaries of the day were not above re-writing Shakespeare, especially when it came to plays like “King Lear” and “Macbeth,” going so far as to give those bleak dramas happy endings.

Gruffudd and Fisher also recited a speech Garrick gave at the 1758 jubilee in which he attempted to match Shakespeare’s poetry with his own, with fatuous and disastrous results.

Also on the comic side were scenes from “Much Ado About Nothing” (acted by Joe Spano, Kitty Swink and Lexie Helgerson) and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Lisa Locicero and Nigel Lythgoe, tricked out in padded belly and donkey’s ears).

Male/female relations in the context of today’s Me Too movement were reflected in the scenes from “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (Jane Carr and Suzan Crowley) and “The Taming of the Shrew” (with Isabella Hoffman more than holding her own against Jamison Jones).

The dramas that were brought to life included “Richard III” (Eric Brauden), “Hamlet” (Harry Hamlin), and “King Lear” (Peter Van Norden and Lexie Helgerson). “King Lear” was also satirized by a team of eight comic actors from Impro Theatre.

Four Shakespeare sonnets were beautifully interpreted by Gruffudd & Fisher, Kelsey Deanne & Finola Hughes, and Genevieve Allenbury & Suzan Crowley.

The star-studded evening was a pleasure to watch and hear. The Bard would have loved it!

Coming up (June 8-July 1) at The Wallis is the Bristol Old Vic’s production of LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, directed by Richard Eyre and starring Lesley Manville and Jeremy Irons.

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. Call 310-746-4000 or visit thewallis.org