William Shakespeare, the Bard, is one of the greatest of creative spirits the world has ever known. Playwright and poet extraordinaire, he is remembered and revered worldwide for his prolific output and poetic lines that stymied one’s imagination. In any one of his given works of art, from Hamlet to Julius Caesar, to Othello, to The Twelfth Night, to Macbeth, to A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Romeo and Juliet, one can recall quotes that have been used profoundly in plays, films, literature, TV shows, and in general life conversations, idioms, so familiar, such as “fight fire with fire;” “wear your heart on your sleeve,” “laughing stock,” and “the world is my oyster.” To mark Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, and coincidentally, the anniversary of his death, April 23rd, 400 years ago, Britweek (a non profit organization, started in Los Angeles in 2007) held a fantastic tribute at the Wallis Annenberg Theatre in Beverly Hills, entitled “Murder, Lust & Madness.”
Quite apropos for the occasion of the opening night of Britweek, this show, hosted by Joely Fisher, featured a star studded cast of celebrities and world class performers, singing and dancing Shakespeare’s praises. Of particular note, was Stacy Keach, with a rendition of “All the World’s A Stage, from As You Like It; and a Westside Story Duet of “Tonight,” featuring Jen Lee & Randy Guiaya; of which Leonard Bernstein was inspired by the story of Romeo & Juliet. This annual festival brings a taste of British culture to LA for all to savor and appreciate; in fact the after party reception offered culinary treats and drinks, courtesy of Macallan Scotch and Belvoir Fruit Farms. Shakespeare’s legacy and teachings encapsulated his concern with the battle between royals and commons, with a following for generations and generations bar none.
In a pre-show red carpet interview, with some of the featured cast, I learned of the magic that makes Shakespeare truly immortal. Stated actor Jimmy Akingbola, “the ability to relate to people ’round the world, with a word, character, sonnet, imagine how every decade we glean new meaning, like the phrase ‘to be or not to be…” Timothy Odmundson, who currently stars as King Richard in the ABC tv series, Galavant, stated that Shakespeare’s language is visceral and emotional. “He’s everything I want to be as a classical actor.” Karen David, who began her career on London’s West End, in the cast of the original Mamma Mia, talked about Shakespeare’s universal relateability and her passion to portray his characters. She enthusiastically explained how she can “eat, sleep, and breathe in Shakespeare!” Hostess Joely Fisher expressed her excitement in serving as co-host with Ioan Gruffud, in a night of navigating a course of lust, madness, and murder, and nostalgically recalled playing Juliet while a high school student right here at Beverly Hills High.
The title of one of Shakespeare’s classic works “As You Like It,” resonates with us all. Yet we don’t only ‘like’ Shakespeare, we love him, forever onward.
For more information on Britweek activities visit http://www.britweek.org