Skullduggery The Musical Prequel to Hamlet is being given its World Premiere by the Sacred Fools Theater Company in Hollywood. The dictionary defines skullduggery as underhanded or unscrupulous behavior; trickery. Michael Shaw Fisher’s work as writer of the book, music and lyrics leans more towards trickery with his crafty lyrics and puns (often using phrases from the bard’s original). A fun time can be had in Elsinore before Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet appears in the final scene. As director Scott Leggett states in his program notes, “Hamlet is told almost entirely from Hamlet’s point of view…and the perspective of a grieving son cannot always be trusted.” Three would-be gravediggers (Jeff Sumner, Cj Merriman and Matt Valle) get things off to a merry start with “Hammy,” while delivering clever bits of lyrics and some slick footwork (courtesy of choreographer Natasha Norman) with skulls and bones. Their second act opener, “Twenty-three” is even funnier.
We are in Elsinore, 30 years before the start of Shakespeare’s play. We meet the doomed trio of Hamlet (David Haverty), the warlike older Prince of Denmark, Claudius (John Bobek), his younger, studious brother given to poetry and bouts of hypoglycemia and Gertrude (Leigh Wulff), the object of Claudius’s affection. When their father is killed in battle and Hamlet ascends the throne, Gertrude is forced to marry Hamlet, choosing duty over love, sending Claudius into decades of despair. Polonius (Curt Bonnem) is a good friend and confidant of Claudius as his wife Berta (Rebecca Larsen) is of Gertrude. Also around is Yorick (the very funny Brendan Hunt), a drunken soothsayer, who leads The Drunken Revolt, but really just wants to be the Fool at Court. The second act takes plays just one month before Shakespeare’s play begins and we meet the already slightly deranged and suicidal Ophelia (the right on Alyssa Rupert). A troupe of players and even ghosts start appearing, a very unmerry trio of them, and the plot starts ratcheting up to the conclusion.
It’s a fun ride if a bit overlong. The show could be trimmed at least 20 minutes and made leaner and funnier. The dialogue is sharp as are the lyrics. The music is melodic and ranges from opera to seaside shanties and sounds great as played by the 10-member band under the musical direction of Michael Teoli. Although they are not as loud as some bands in small theatres, at times they do drown out the singers and make it difficult to really hear the lyrics. Some of the cast, especially Wulff, needs more power in her vocals or a body mic. She has a lovely voice but at times she’s undecipherable. Bobek does very well as does Hunt. Larsen and Rupert have the strongest voices in the cast and they really sell their numbers. Leggetts’s direction is tight for the most part but the pacing does flag at times. Along with script/song cuts and quicker pacing, this show could fly merrily along. DeAnne Millais’s scenic design gives many playing spaces for the various locales. Linda Muggeridge’s costumes are a plus as is Andrew Schmedake’s moody lighting design.
Sacred Fools Theater Company, 1076 Lillian Way in Hollywood. Ends Nov. 5. 310-281-8337 or www.sacredfools.org