The Bard meets Broadway in Branagh's Ambitious New Musical
Hollywood Reporter, March 21
by Ray Bennett
To be or not to be Hamlet hardly gave him pause. Taking on Laurence
Olivier in "Henry V" barely caused a blink.
But trying to match up to Fred
Astaire and Gene Kelly in his all-singing, all-dancing version
of Shakespeare's "Loves Labours Lost" had Kenneth Branagh
quaking in his patent-leather, toe-tapping shoes.
"We are not fit to wear
their garments," he confesses.
Branagh persevered, however,
and his ode to the musicals of the '30s, wrapped around one of
Shakespeare's lightest conceits is set to open in London next
week and the United States in the summer.
Jaws dropped when he first suggested
blending the Broadway hits of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome
Kern and others with the Bard of Avon. But he says that the British
film company Intermedia, which is producing a series of Branagh's
Shakespeare adaptations, decided to just hum along.
"They took the longer view
that we were going to do three or four of these movies and they
thought it could be exciting," Branagh says. "They
decided they would live with the title, which is a mouthful to
say, and the genre."
Branagh's love of Hollywood musicals
dates back to seeing Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain"
and Astaire's "Top Hat" on television as a kid. "I
was awed by both of them," he says.
And he insists it's not a far
cry from Shakespeare's comedies to the musicals of the '30s.
"The silliness, the daftness, the youthful energy, they're
all there," he says. "'Loves Labours Lost' is really
just boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl. Shakespeare
always uses music regularly as part of the romance when words
are no longer enough."
Branagh also points to similarities
in Shakespeare's writing and the best lyricists. "We needed
the economy and the delicious word play that all these classic
songs have," he says. "The lightness of touch is so
much in keeping with the play. Shakespeare is delightful in using
puns that are apparently superficial but make his points in a
very delicate way. The songs we used are also very amusing and
light. With their detail and lightness of touch, they resonate
with everyone who's ever fallen in love."
Branagh has reduced the text
of "Loves Labours Lost" to maybe a quarter of its original
length for the film.
After Air Edel's Maggie Rodford
labored long to negotiate the song rights, however, he didn't
dare touch the songs. "We were much more respectful of Cole
Porter than we were of Shakespeare," Branagh says.
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