Playwright William Shakespeare helped to create stage plays as we know them today. Disney Theatrical Production is recreating musicals as audiences will come to know them in the future with a live stage production of the Universal Pictures film “Shakespeare in Love.” The stage production’s success is also creating a new constellation of possibilities for transforming cinematic masterpieces into stage productions and putting the artistic expertise of Hollywood to work in the performing arts.
There is no orchestra pit or conductor to be seen when “Shakespeare in Love” is performed. Rennaisance musicians who also play dramatic roles perform background music similar to film scores. The soft and subtle tones blend with the script and are often performed in natural settings for period music like a gathering at a tavern or the court of Queen Elizabeth I.
The cinematic screenplay for “Shakespeare in Love” by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard was adapted for the stage by Lee Hall. A creative modular set design imitating the tiers of the Old Globe Shakespearean theater enables the musical performers to circulate with the cast so that the musical accompaniment matches each scene to perfection. Paddy Cunneen, composer of the scores for the stage version of “Shakespeare in Love” applied polyphony, using simultaneous melodies, to create new music that is immediately associated with the Renaissance period and the Elizabethan era in which William Shakespeare worked. This historically authentic approach uses a violin, cello, oboe, lute-guitar and natural trumpet.
The authentic recreation of the late sixteenth Century London settings that William Shakespeare worked in is reinforced by performances by seasoned, classically trained, Shakespearean actors and actresses. Female lead Lucy Briggs-Owen (shown in photo with me off the set) became well versed in Shakespearean standards by playing Helena in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Tom Bateman, who plays William Shakespeare in this production, previously appeared in “Much Ado About Nothing.” The Shakespearean stage was also the training ground for a dedicated “Fight Director” on the creative team. The stage is filled with suspense and the sounds of swordplay in dramatic fencing scenes. Fight Director Terry King cultivated this precision combination of athletics and choreography with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Henry VI, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and Macbeth.
This summer’s latest success for Disney Theatrical Productions is helping to show how creative teams affiliated with talent from the worlds of television and film here are able to reinvigorate traditional performing arts with creative and innovative approaches to stage productions. The accumulated experience of understanding how audiences interact with theatrical content and how music and motion accent theatrical scripts brings new energy to stage productions. Since many theatrical traditions still favored today date back to Shakespeare himself, this 21st Century approach to theatrical production is a fitting tribute to the Bard.