He’s still rocking Broadway
There is quite the Shakespeare surge this season on the Great White Way. After last season’s acclaimed nearly-one-man Macbeth starring Alan Cumming (Cabaret), a more traditional production starring Ethan Hawke (Gattaca) and directed by Jack O’Brien (Hamlet, Hairspray) is slated to begin performances in October. And one of this season’s big celebrity vehicles is a new revival of Romeo and Juliet starring Orlando Bloom (not exactly a teenager anymore, but Legolas can pretty much do whatever he wants, can’t he?).
Theatre nerds will be pleased that the repertory schedule is back on Broadway, too. Productions of Richard III and Twelfth Night will be sharing the weekly schedule at the Belasco Theatre from October 19. Not to mention that these acclaimed productions (moving over from a successful run in London) feature all-male casts, just the way Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed in the Bard’s day. And with Tony winner Mark Rylance (Jerusalem) at the centers of these shows (playing Olivia in Twelfth Night and the title character in Richard III, you know they’re going to be good.
He’s the go-to inspiration source for modern artists
I think we can all agree that The Lion King is one of the best animated movies (and musicals) of all time. It also serves as one of the best examples of repurposing Shakespeare for the modern masses, as it took elements from Hamlet and Macbeth. The teen cult classic movie 10 Things I Hate About You is based on The Taming of the Shrew, and it is definitely a guilty pleasure highlight of the ’90s. And who can forget West Side Story, one of the greatest musicals ever written and a faithful adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Songwriters and lyricists from popular music also take material from old Willy, including Elton John (“The King Must Die”), Elvis Costello (“Miss Macbeth”), and Bob Dylan (“Desolation Row”). And those guys are smart.
His work is still being innovated centuries later
Who hasn’t seen a poster for a new local production of a Shakespeare play with a seemingly ridiculous twist? “Ok, it’s The Tempest, but the characters are wallabies and it’s set on the moon,” or, “It’s King Lear, but everyone only interacts through their social media profiles…under water,” or, “We’re doing Antony and Cleopatra, but instead of Antony and Cleopatra, it’s Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. And they’re on the moon. And they’re under water.”
Ok, they’re not all that terrible. But seriously, there’s got to be something fundamentally extraordinary about the writing if people are still creating endless versions hundreds of years later. The Bard has created text so rich and nuanced that it lends itself to re-imagination in a million ways. Sometimes, it’s as simple as setting the drama in modern times so that it can be more relatable to contemporary audiences. Sometimes, there is a giant, glowing spider web stretching throughout the audience and a guy in a bear costume doing yoga on a chandelier (hello, it represents society).
Good old Billy Shakes is a cultural juggernaut and probably always will be. Even the most respected artists today have got to give it up the master. Why don’t you take a moment to appreciate all the ways he’s made your life better?