I have just had one of the most enjoyable experiences of Shakespeare’s work I can remember. Broadway Bard, part of the Sydney Fringe, is a show in which a bunch of random soliloquies or scenes (and even a couple of sonnets) and match it with a Broadway song. Simple enough. But the vivacity with which this concept has been realised is refreshing and very real.
Setting the tone by reminding us that Shakespeare didn’t write for academics, but for the brutal criticism of the paying customer, Julian Kuo, the voice of the show, proceeds at an almost frantic pace through a selection of bits of the plays and sonnets of the Bard. His recitations of Shakespeare’s words are just brilliant, and his performances of the musical numbers are inspired. He holds a great rapport with the audience throughout, and is most engaging as an almost-solo performer.
Kuo is supported by Isaac Hayward on piano, who must find it tiring at such a long sitting. His entrance, however, was awkward, and I’m not sure the director achieved what he was aiming for. Pianists, unless they are also actors, are probably best left at the piano. Especially the really good ones. Kuo could have used some better direction, too. Despite excellent presence, the stage at times felt like a large open paddock, and the plethora of props was really unnecessary. I suspect that it could be successfully staged with none, but at least half of the props really should have gone.
I forgot all that, however, during Kuo’s rendition of Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ speech, which, while a little difficult to relate to at first, given that Kuo had his back to the audience for far too long, really sprang to life when it segued so seamlessly with Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The juxtaposition of these two pieces lent both an air of melancholy such as I have never seen more successfully brought about.
This, like many other moments, left me with goosebumps, and I don’t goosebump very easily. I almost found this journey through the familiar and not-so-familiar highlights of Shakespeare’s work to be more fun than seeing an entire play. Watch for it in Canberra!