'Hamlet,' the musical

Entertainment,Music,Barbara Mackay

It seems improbable to describe a production of "Hamlet" as buoyant, spirited and exhilarating. That's just not how most directors tell the sad story of the Danish prince driven to distraction by his mother's marriage to his uncle soon after his father's death. But the extraordinary "Hamlet" at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre, produced by London's Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, is anything but a conventional production.

Using a streamlined version directed by Globe artistic director Dominic Dromgoole and Bill Buckhurst, the most stunning change in this "Hamlet" is that all the roles are played by eight actors, yet there is never any confusion about who's who.

Moreover, it's a humorous production, although all the most serious philosophical speeches are intact. There is excellent new music woven throughout, with a rich original score by Laura Forrest-Hay arranged by Bill Barclay.

After serenading the audience with a rousing folk tune, the actors, who might be a roving band of early 20th century troubadours, begin to act out Shakespeare's text.

Where: The Folger Shakespeare Theatre, 201 E. Capitol St. SE
When: Through Sept. 22
Info: $60 to $85; 202-544-7077;

Michael Benz is brilliant as Hamlet, playing the title character with supreme energy and precision. With the exception of his "the readiness is all" speech, Benz delivers Hamlet's most familiar soliloquies more quickly than one usually hears them. The result is a crisp, bracing new approach to some of Shakespeare's finest poetry. And Benz's playful touch early on makes his death even more profound.

Miranda Foster is a superb Gertrude, the Player Queen and a Gravedigger. She is particularly good in her scene with Hamlet, just after the murder of Polonius. Ophelia is beautifully portrayed by Carlyss Peer, whose clear soprano ignites several scenes. Christopher Saul is delightful as the fussy old Polonius, as well as a Player and Gravedigger.

The rest of the cast (Peter Bray, Tom Lawrence, Matthew Romain and Dickon Tyrell) are all excellent actors and use their considerable skills to illuminate the text. Choreographer Sian Williams creates dance and movement patterns that allow the action to flow smoothly. Kevin McCurdy, fight director, invents a stunning and very credible sword fight between Hamlet and Laertes near the end of the play.

This "Hamlet" is one of those rare productions where the whole is far more than the sum of its parts, mixing inspired direction with superior acting, creating a thrilling production whose primary appeal is that it has that precious quality: pure, unadulterated charm.

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