Review by Doug Gallant
When Cliff Jones’ Kronborg 1582 was first staged at the Charlottetown Festival in 1974 it was like nothing audiences here had ever seen before. Certainly the Festival had staged big productions before but this was different. It was bold, it was audacious, it was adventurous and it was exciting to behold because it came at you from every direction. It was a full-fledged rock opera and it most definitely rocked the audiences who saw it during the two seasons it played here. It had everything.
The script, which recounts Shakespeare’s classic tale about Danish prince Hamlet’s plot to avenge the murder of his father, was handsomely crafted, Jones’ music was magnificent, the cast—which featured stars in the making like Brent Carver, Beverly D’Angelo and Cal and Rory Dodd—was exemplary and the production values were very high.
When longtime Festival patrons were asked in the years that followed about their favourite Festival productions, Kronborg 1582 placed high on many lists. So when the producers of the Festival announced plans for the 2017 season that included a concert version of the show the buzz began to build almost immediately.
And just as I’m certain the announcement created a high degree of excitement in some quarters, I’m also certain some people wondered if it could still create the same kind of magic 40 + years later in a concert setting.
They need not have worried.
Playing before an essentially packed house at the historic and acoustically superb Indian River Church Friday night the concert version of Kronborg 1582 left people on their feet literally screaming for more. If allowed just one word to describe what we heard it would be “spectacular.”
Deftly directed by Mary Francis Moore with musical direction by Craig Fair, who spent countless hours producing the vocal and orchestral arrangements of Jones’ music, the concert version of this much admired piece of musical theatre lacked for nothing. With songs as powerful and emotionally charged as That It Should Come To This, If Not To You, I Cannot Believe, An Eye For An Eye and The Last Blues, the music of Kronborg 1582 calls for actors who possess both serious vocal chops and the ability to infuse each piece of music with the level of emotion that Jones intended.
That’s a tall order. But this year’s Festival company is deep with talent.
The majority of the show’s major musical numbers were entrusted to PEI’s Aaron Hastelow, who shone brightly as Hamlet, Cam MacDuffee, who delivered a strong performance as Claudius, Kristen Pottle who did some lovely work as Ophelia, and Alana Hibbert, who nailed every number she had as Gertrude and took it into the stratosphere with The Last Blues.
And while they carried the heavy lumber several other Festival cast members had their moments in the spotlight as well, from Connor Lucas and Eric Dahlinger, who sang the parts of Laertes and Horatio to Susan Henley and Glenda Landry who were tasked with two of the show’s more comedic bits, Pass Them Biscuits Mama and He Got It In The Ear.
Other actors with featured roles included Evan Taylor Benyacar as Marcellus, Robbie Graham-Kuntz as Rosencrantz, Adam Sergison as Guildenstern, Hank Stinson as Sexton/Ghost and George Masswohl as Polonius.
Members of the Festival company without feature numbers provided yeoman service in the chorus.
Fair, who served as both pianist and conductor for the concert was flanked by a dozen members of the Festival orchestra who gave Jones’ music the impressive treatment it deserved.
The sound Friday night was rich and full and at times absolutely electrifying.
The Festival definitely made the right choice in choosing to revisit this classic offering.
And there is a rumour circulating that there may be one more opportunity to see this concert in September.