Reduced Spring Classics

Against this, Brook gives some scenes, especially Hamlet's encounters with Ophelia and Horatio, a slow, intense gravity that lets the ripe language resonate to the full. And he's cast a Hamlet, Adrian Lester, who can command nearly the full range of the character's qualities, by turns dashing and coldly sardonic, tremulous and fierce, austerely calm and goofily discombobulated. It's a pity not to see Lester play the whole role—what can any Hamlet do when the director's replaced "How all occasions do inform against me" with "To be or not to be?" Except for Shantala Shivalingappa, a demure but staunch Ophelia, his colleagues are dismally below him in ability. But the real problem is that Brook has uprooted Hamlet from the organic world Shakespeare grew around him, and hasn't supplied any other meaningful space for this newly shrunken prince.


The latest adaptation of Tom Sawyer seems to have sworn some Hippocratic oath of Broadway musicals: "First do no harm." You know all Mark Twain-ish moral torments have been wiped out the minute you see Heidi Ettinger's charmingly curved storybook set, disfigured by a polished-wood lump of hilltop straight from the playground of a middle-income housing project. Twain's 1840s Missouri town is now peaceably integrated, too, and the general goodwill is topped by a romance between Judge Thatcher and Aunt Polly. Amid this sugaring, the familiar episodes—whitewash, graveyard, trial, cave, funeral—are played out, lazily but not unappealingly. The young actors, especially Jim Poulos (Huck) and Kirsten Bell (Becky), have energy and charm. Their elders, given little of note to say or do, make up as strong an acting roster as any musical ever wasted: Tom Aldredge, Jane Connell, John Dossett, Tommy Hollis, John Christopher Jones, Richard Poe, and Linda Purl. Don Schlitz's pleasant, Nashvillean songs tend to match good music with weak lyrics or vice versa; I wish the show had given them a rawer, more "country" sound. Still, a fair number of striking moments pierce the anodyne surface, and the overall good spirit, rarely ringing false, is easy to take. The theater's for excitement, but nice people make pleasant company.

Adrian Lester as Hamlet, with friend: Alas, poor Shakespeare!
photo: P. Victor
Adrian Lester as Hamlet, with friend: Alas, poor Shakespeare!

Details

Hamlet
Adapted by Peter Brook from William Shakespeare's play
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn
718-636-4100

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Adapted by Ken Ludwig from Mark Twain's novel, music and lyrics by Don Schlitz
Minskoff Theatre
Broadway and 45th Street
212-239-6200

42nd Street
By Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, based on Bradford Ropes's novel, songs by Al Dubin and Harry Warren
Ford Center
Broadway and 42nd Street
212-239-6200

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42nd Street is Tom Sawyer's dark urban antithesis—or would be if there were anything dark about it. In fact, some of Gower Champion's somber touches from the 1980 original have been quietly removed, and three added songs, staged by Randy Skinner, make the show giddier and more Hollywoodish than ever. One of them, "Keep Young and Beautiful," an epic of female flesh complete with overhead mirror for the Busby Berkeleyan formation writhing, is the show's high point as spectacle. The story, such as it was, gets a little lost in the inundation of glitz, and co-author Mark Bramble's main directorial instruction seems to be, "Yell those gag lines louder." Still, the company's talented and likable; some of the dancing leads—Kate Levering, Michael Arnold, and the brilliantly acrobatic David Elder—are true dazzlers. You don't have to be a tourist to enjoy it: 42nd Street is the working definition of musical comedy currently being parodied in The Producers.

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