Los Angeles Theater Preview: A SHAKESPEARE JUBILEE (The Wallis in Beverly Hills)

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by Tony Frankel on April 24, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles


It promises to be one of the most enchanting nights of theater in a long time. On Saturday April 28 at 8:00, some of London and Hollywood’s greatest names will gather at The Wallis in Beverly Hills to revive the Shakespeare Jubilee with excerpts from some of Shakespeare’s greatest hits. But don’t just expect Shakespeare’s words from plays and sonnets. A cast of 34 (including Harry Hamlin, Armin Shimmerman, Joely Fisher, Jane Carr and Michael York) will also offer songs (Cleo Laine’s “Shakespeare and All That Jazz”); arias (“O figli, o figlio miei…” from Verdi’s Macbeth); and improvisation (by Impro Theatre).

“Shakespeare is every actor’s first love,” says Shakespeare scholar Louis Fantasia, who is the writer and director of the event. “And this jubilee will show why, as we honor the Bard’s understanding of human nature and celebrate the jubilee organized by David Garrick in 1768, that honored Stratford’s famous citizen. And what better way to do this than introducing Britain’s greatest playwright to Beverly Hills’ most beautiful theater.”

When the small town of Stratford-upon-Avon rebuilt its new Town Hall in 1768, the Council approached David Garrick with an irresistible proposal. Garrick was the foremost Shakespearean actor/manager of the day, a Bard worshiper and the self-appointed guardian of the Shakespeare flame. It was proposed that he should donate to Stratford “some very handsome bust, statue or picture of Shakespeare.” In return, Garrick would be made an Honorary Burgess of the town.

Inspired with a new idea, he decided to stage a formal tribute to Shakespeare in the form of a Grand Jubilee in Stratford itself. It would last several days and may just convince a wider audience of the preeminence of his great hero among dramatists. From September 6-9, 1769, the scheduled program included an oratorio, various grand meals, a ball, fireworks display, masquerade and a pageant featuring a procession in Shakespearean costume. All went well the first day, but heavy rains and flooding tore through the town thereafter. Even after the event, considered a fiasco and a flop — and given the fact that none of his Shakespeare’s plays were performed during the Jubilee —  great things were to come of the Jubilee. It had held the attention of England for three days but its influence rapidly spread to Europe, immediately influencing the works of Herde and Goethe in Germany, and eventually giving rise to hundreds of other worldwide Shakespeare festivals following 1769.

In Stratford-upon-Avon, every major Shakespeare anniversary has been celebrated there, including the annual birthday event. The very existence of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre complex owes something to Garrick , the 1864 Festival having inspired Charles Edward Flower to begin campaigning for a permanent Memorial Theatre in the town. More than that, scholars point to David Garrick as certainly one of the catalysts that created the God of Literature he had venerated for most of his life.

Perhaps after the event this Saturday night, you may write a letter like that of James Boswell, Esq, describing the event. His second paragraph is taken from The London Magazine, Sept. 1769, pp. 451-54:

“Allow me amongst so many others to describe Shakespeare’s jubilee at Stratford-upon-Avon … For what was the Stratford jubilee? not a piece of farce and rhodomontade, as many of the envious foes of our Roscius attempted to make us believe, but an elegant and truly classical celebration of the memory of Shakespeare, that illustrious poet, whom all ages will admire as the world has hitherto done. It was truly an antique idea, a Grecian thought, to institute a splendid festival in honour of a bard. My bosom glowed with joy when I beheld a numerous and brilliant company of nobility and gentry, the rich, the brave, the witty, and the fair, assembled to pay their tribute of praise to Shakespeare; nor could I help thinking that they at the same time paid a very just compliment to Mr. Garrick, the steward of the jubilee, who has done so much to make our nation acquainted with the inestimable riches of their own stage, in possessing so illustrious a dramatic author with such amazing variety and wonderful excellence as Shakespeare.”

painting of scene at the High Cross, Garrick Jubilee,
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire; artist unknown

A Shakespeare Jubilee
written and directed by Louis Fantasia
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Bram Goldsmith Theater
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd in Beverly Hills
plays Saturday April 28, 2018 at 8:00
for tickets, call 310.746.4000 or visit The Wallis

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