To Be Or Not To Be – But That’s Not The Only Question For Kronborg

Kronborg The Hamlet Rock Musical

The Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island has brought Kronborg, The Hamlet Rock Musical back to The Charlottetown Festival, some 45 years since its debut.

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Kronborg is a loose musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s much-admired Hamlet and known to be the first Canadian musical to appear on Broadway. Mary Francis Moore has done a tremendous job reviving the show, which is set to open next week.

Some People Want Shakespeare

The musical doesn’t seek to pretend to be Hamlet, but one wonders why not. Penned as it is, Cliff Jones’ book leans on the bard sparingly. Yet one of its most potent moments, Polonius’ farewell speech to his son Laertes, draws on “to thine own self, be true”. It is poignant as much for the anticipation that it is coming and for the moral and psychological undertones Shakespeare has gifted us.

Kronborg could benefit for a much more indulgent use of Shakespearean language. To those who enjoy Shakespeare, Hamlet arguably has the richest source of fabled dialogue. So without wanting to criticize Kronborg for not being something it does not try to be, one can’t help but feel the book could do with a good dose of Shakespearean.

It is, in the end, why many people go to watch Shakespeare.

Directorially, the musical is cleanly devised, although it has a handful of clumsy moments and awkward blocking that detract from what is overall a well-crafted piece, especially impressive given the complexity of a lot of the choreography.

The staging had some finely inspired moments. The Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon moment during the fencing duel is one. Polonius’ murder, and Gertrude’s revisited lamenting over it, another. Yet there were times when Kronborg failed to carry the emotional weight one might expect of a Shakespearean tragedy. It was easy to find oneself wondering if they were still watching an adaptation of a tragedy.

Kronborg is not a knock-out punch, but a fine production worth watching. The standout performance came from the most unlikely of sources, Jacob MacInnis’ relatively minor character in Horatio. There were times one felt MacInnis solely carried the gravity of the Shakespearean tragedy from which Kronborg was drawn on his shoulders. Fittingly, Horatio brought the story to its finality, and an underutilized actor was given the moment he deserved.

Kronborg does not pretend to be Hamlet. One can’t help but wonder how much more satisfying it might be if it did. Perhaps that is the question.

Kronborg, The Hamlet Rock Musical opens June 28.

Images via Pixabay