The Tempest Review – Shakespeare Set to Song

Peter Van Norden and Ensemble Cast in THE TEMPEST - Photo by Frank Ishman
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Probably one of the most unusual of Shakespeare’s plays – and one of his last  written in 1610/1611 – was THE TEMPEST, a tale of magic, enchantment, romance, comedy, poetry – and music. THE TEMPEST is both a tragedy and a comedy about political manipulation and how it may play an outsized part in people’s lives – for good and for evil.

Erin Pineda, Adrian LaTourelle, and JD Cullum – Photo by Frank Ishman

Given the Bard’s inclusion of more music in THE TEMPEST than in any other of his plays, it is not surprising that THE TEMPEST has become popular with composers. In fact, several composers wrote incidental music for THE TEMPEST, including Jean Sibelius, Arthur Sullivan, Hector Berlioz, and even Engelbert Humperdinck. At least 46 operas or semi-operas from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are also based on THE TEMPEST. And let’s not forget about orchestral works for concert presentation like Tchaikovsky’s fantasy of the same name. Even ballet and stage musicals have drawn from Shakespeare’s foray into magic. With a nod to the inherent musicality of THE TEMPEST, the Antaeus Theatre Company presents a new interpretive production in 2023.

Elinor Gunn and Peter Mendoza – Photo by Frank Ishman

The place is an island somewhere in the Mediterranean, and the time the 1940s. The action takes place during a radio program. Following political upheaval in Milan, Prospero (Peter Van Norden), the Duke of Milan, finds that his title is now in the proud possession of his devious brother Antonio (Bernard K. Addison). Prospero decides that a quick exit to parts unknown with his toddler daughter Miranda (Anja Racic) is in order. After the boat they are sailing on encounters a terrible storm, the pair find themselves shipwrecked on an uninhabited island. Well, almost uninhabited. For this is where the monster Caliban (JD Cullum), son of an evil witch, lives. Along with Ariel (Elinor Gunn) a sprite who becomes servant to Prospero in repayment of a debt. In his solitude and unremitting anger, Prospero spends the next 12 years on this enchanted island honing his skills in magic, raising his child, and dreaming of the perfect revenge.

Saundra McClain and Peter Mendoza – Photo by Frank Ishman

When he discovers that the king, his brother, and his nephew Ferdinand (Peter Mendoza) are on a ship, it is time to exact that revenge. All Prospero needs to do is conjure up a turbulent tempest which will insure that the ship is torn asunder and its occupants are tossed onto the shore of the mysterious island. What will happen? Shakespeare seems to have had a wonderfully fun time figuring that out.

Peter Van Norden, Bernard K. Addison, Peter Mendoza, and Anja Racic – Photo by Frank Ishman

Helmed by Nike Doukas, Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST takes on a new life as a radio show with music included. Musical forays range from boisterous numbers to poignant pieces designed as nostalgic reflections of past times. When they enter, audiences are greeted by Sebastian (John Allee) pounding on the piano, Francisco (John Harvey) hitting the percussions as if he might call up the dead, and Caliban accompanying the raucous medley with his guitar. Other cast members join in with vocals, wacky dance steps, and sound makers to set the beat. In the midst of this crazed dreamtime party, Shakespeare’s tale weaves its way through the land of the fantastique.

Peter Mendoza, Peter Van Norden, and Anja Racic – Photo by Frank Ishman

The Antaeus Theatre Company seems to work hard to make the anti-Shakespeare contingent (always present among even educated and enlightened theater-goers) feel comfortable in this new environment where everybody is having FUN. This may be the most creative of the theater group’s adaptations – and also certainly the loudest. By the way, this reviewer didn’t realize the strong musical skills some of the company members have. Also overheard after the show: An audience member commented that, even though she does not really enjoy Shakespeare, she loved the music and dance. Perhaps that was the point: to improve accessibility to the Bard’s literary contributions. As always, the talented company offered its excellent and cogent interpretations of Shakespeare’s sometimes obscure lines and historical references; besides that, they seemed to be having genuine fun doing it. Shakespeare buffs may be conflicted by the current adaptation – enjoying the lines but not sure about the frequently blaring music. This version of THE TEMPEST is worth seeing, if only to appreciate Shakespeare’s creativity and adaptability.

John Harvey, Elinor Gunn, Peter Van Norden, and Saundra McClain – Photo by Frank Ishman

THE TEMPEST runs through July 30, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Mondays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays (no matinees on 7/1, 7/29; dark Monday 7/3). The Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center is located at 110 East Broadway, Glendale, CA 91205. Tickets are $40. For information and reservations, call 818-0506-1983 or go online.


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