Festival stages innovative Vaudeville version of ‘Richard the Third’

Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 1:00am
Nashville Shakespeare Festival presents a vaudeville-style production of ‘Richard the Third,’ starring Navada Shane Morgan as the leading man. Photo by Richard Frazier/richardfrazier.com

If your idea of Shakespeare is limited to stuffy monologues and Elizabethan tights, you obviously haven’t met Denice Hicks.

As artistic director for the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Hicks is widely known for her ability to breathe new life into the old Bard with often unusual and innovative interpretations. But with its Vaudeville-style production of Richard the Third, now playing at Belmont’s Troutt Theater, NSF blurs the line of comedy and tragedy, reminding us that there is no business like the “show business” of politics.

Step right up and see one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains — and a consummate showman — as he murders and manipulates his way to the throne, wielding his charm like a poison dagger. The Tudors and Yorks are portrayed as divas and clowns, injecting no small amount of melodrama into the classic tale. But even as the body count rises, Richard continues to mesmerize us with snappy patter and deadly charisma.

Navada Shane Morgan makes a memorable Nashville debut in the title role, acting as a sort of twisted ringmaster to this bloody circus. From the very beginning we are his co-conspirators, unable to resist his wicked spell.

The supporting cast includes a healthy mix of local talent, including both NSF favorites and several Belmont students. Standouts include Nan Gurley as the “poor painted queen” Elizabeth, and Brenda Sparks, who belts out a mean torch song as the scorned Queen Margaret. R. Alex Murray and Jessejames Locorriere lend a sort of dark Laurel and Hardy feel to the murderous Catesby and Tyrrel.

June Kingsbury merits special mention for her colorful costumes, as does Anne Willingham for her effective use of lighting. And with menacing shadows lurking about its proscenium stage Troutt Theater is perfectly cast as the Vaudeville palace.

But it is director Denice Hicks who deserves a standing ovation — not only for this particularly ingenious adaptation, but for her tireless commitment to making Shakespeare accessible to modern-day audiences.

As Shakespeare himself tells us in Richard the Third: “An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told.”

What: Richard the Third

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday now through Feb. 1

Where: Belmont University’s Troutt Theater, 2100 Belmont Blvd.

Cost: $20 for adults, $16 for seniors, $10 for students. Matinees are $15/$14/$8, respectively.

Info: nashvilleshakes.org, ticketsnashville.com, 255-2273

THEATER TIDBITS

• Bongo After Hours Theatre presents Sex, Dreams & Self Control!, an original one-man show created by Kevin Thornton, of the band Waves on Waves. Billed as a “humorous, yet touching coming-of-age tale,” the show offers a unique blend of storytelling, stand-up comedy and music. Performances are at 9 p.m. today through Saturday, with a special show scheduled for Feb 14. Bongo After Hours Theatre, 2007 Belmont Blvd. To learn more, call 385-1188 or visit bongoafterhours.com. $10. This show contains strong sexual content and adult language.

• The Destiny Theatre Experience is back with an encore presentation of Shawn Whitsell’s original play Never Been Home. At first glance the Anderson family seems to have it all. But the facade begins to crumble when the family gathers for the funeral of its patriarch. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday. Darkhorse Theater, 4610 Charlotte Ave. For more information, call (270) 366-6266 or check out destinytheatreexperience@yahoo.com or myspace.com/destinytheatreexperience. $15 ($8 tonight only).

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