Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hamlet: 66 And Counting

Hamlet: 66 And Counting

There are precious few plays that have graced a Broadway stage as many times as William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

While it's not known precisely when Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, historians believe The Bard wrote this play circa 1601, and it's known that the work was mounted in New York City as early as the following century.

According to the Internet Broadway Database (IBDB), my go-to source for all things Rialto-related, this tragedy has been previously presented in New York City at least 65 times. IBDB's earliest recorded performance took place back in November 1761 with Lewis Hallam as the Danish prince. That Hamlet was mounted at the Chapel Street Theatre, which stood on the corner of what is now Beekman and Nassau Streets in lower Manhattan.

Most of the other recorded 65 revivals have been staged in Broadway theatres. The last, performed at the Belasco Theatre as recently as 1995, earned a Tony nomination for Best Revival. Its Hamlet, Ralph Fiennes, took home a Tony for Best Actor in a Play.

Other noteworthy Broadway Hamlets through the years have included Stephen Lang (1992), Sam Waterston (1975-76), Tony-nominated Richard Burton (1964), Raymond Massey (1931), Leslie Howard (1936) and John Gielgud (1936-37). Many actors have portrayed Hamlet on more than one occasion, including Maurice Evans (1938-39, 1939-40, 1945-46, 1946), the legendary John Barrymore (1922-23, 1923), and of course, the premier American actor of the 19th Century, Edwin Booth (1864-65, 1870 and 1891).

Hamlet has been so popular through the years, that there have been several instances when competing revivals were produced on Broadway at the same time, including the aforementioned ones with Howard and Gielgud, as well as the 1931 Broadhurst Theatre revival with Massey competing directly with the 1931 Royale Theatre mounting produced by the Chicago Civic Shakespeare Society.

Much more recently, two separate Main Stem productions narrowly missed being staged at the exact same time. The 1969 Lyceum Theatre revival with Ellis Rabb as Hamlet ended April 26, a mere five days before the 1969 Lunt-Fontanne Theatre production starring Nicol Williamson opened.

Now, for at least the 66th time, Hamlet is being revived in Manhattan. Once again, Shakespeare's tragedy is being staged at the Broadhurst Theatre, this time via the transfer of a highly acclaimed production from the formidible Donmar Warehouse in London. Directed by the estimable Michael Grandage, this revival stars Jude Law as the eponymous prince who exacts revenge for his murdered father.

Personally, I've only seen Hamlet performed once on stage, and tedium set in quite quickly. Same went for my experience in watching the Academy Award-winning Best Picture of 1948, even with the late, great Laurence Olivier as the prince. So while I am sincerely looking forward to seeing Grandage's interpretation of this work, I'll go in with just a little trepidation as I normally do whenever I see Shakespeare.

Whether audiences share my apprehension remains to be seen. Or not to be seen.

This limited run of Hamlet opens October 6 and is currently slated to close December 6.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 24 September, 2009, Blogger karigee said...

Greatest play ever written; there's no competition. I hope you enjoy it this time around.

At 24 September, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks - I'm hoping so, too.

At 26 September, 2009, Blogger Mondschein said...

I'm seeing it on Tuesday.

Fingers crossed!

At 29 September, 2009, Anonymous TaylorSwift said...

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