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'Hamlet' crowns 10th season of Shakespeare in the Park

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 9, 2010 - Jim Butz is Hamlet, Rob Krakovski is the Ghost and Deanne Lorette is Gertrude in Forest Park this spring.

After 10 years of free outdoor performances of the Bard’s work, the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival wanted to celebrate big. Knowing that “the play’s the thing,” the Festival chose “Hamlet,” the world’s most famous stage production, according to new executive director Rick Dildine, to kick off the organization's second decade.

The play’s length, intricate storyline, enduring quotes and introduction of theatrical devices such as a talking ghost all help to make “Hamlet” the big magilla not only of Shakespeare’s work, but of stage productions as a whole.

“Producing it is a rite of passage,” Dildine said.

Two Decisions Make Or Break ‘Hhamlet’

Two questions loom large when considering a production of Hamlet. No, they’re not “To be, or not to be?” although that query (and many other famous lines) did originate in “Hamlet.”

“You don’t tell people you’re doing ‘Hamlet’ unless you know who’s going to direct it and who’s going to play Hamlet,” Dildine said.

There were no ifs or ands, but there was a Butz when it came to casting the part of Hamlet. St. Louisan Jim Butz, to be exact. He’s the brother of Norbert Leo Butz, known for his numerous Broadway roles including Fiyero in “Wicked” and Tony award-winning turn as Freddie in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” Jim Butz’s theatrical resume also reads well, and includes stints with companies in three states besides Missouri, a Kevin Kline award and several more Kevin Kline nominations. Everyone in a decision-making capacity wanted Butz to play Hamlet.

“The size of the role of Hamlet has always been very popular with actors. And it has intrigued artists and directors for centuries,” Dildine explained. Butz and “Hamlet” director Bruce Longworth have “a great relationship, and a great exchange of ideas,” according to Longworth. “He brings so much to the table. It makes a director’s job very easy,” Longworth said.

Ready, Set, Go!

There may be something “rotten in Denmark,” but Longworth and others involved in “Hamlet” have taken great care to make sure everything is just as it should be onstage. An open-air venue like Forest Park is hardly ideal, acoustically speaking, so sound technicians are key players. Back-up microphones dot the stage in case an actor’s body mic goes out. Butz wears two mics, just in case. Everyone behind the set is attuned to potential mic issues.

“There are a couple of sound techs backstage so when an actor leaves the stage they kind of pounce on him and try to get the mic problem taken care of,” Longworth said. “There is a whole lot going on behind the scenes, that hopefully no one is ever aware of.”

But awareness is high when it comes to the play’s set. Anyone who drives through Forest Park can’t help but notice the huge castle between the Zoo and the Art Museum. To create a natural look, set workers made the stones the same color as the park’s actual rocks. Underneath, a steel frame supports a structure made of wood, with carved and painted foam designed to add texture.

“We want the set to feel like it was meant to be there,” Dildine said. Dildine, who is enjoying his first year with the Shakespeare Festival, takes great pride in the company’s presentation of “Hamlet” and of all those involved in the effort.

“I couldn’t ask for a better production,” Dildine said.

“Seriously, this has been a dream.”

Don't wait until the last minutes to head to Shakespeare Glen. For one thing, you'll want to get a good seat. But more importantly, there's a lot to enjoy before the play gets underway. The Greenleaf Singers; From left: Andrew Thomas, Greenleaf Director Ted Jander, Kari Frazier, Heather Sliney, Boyd Jones, Nita Reddy, Alee Winkelman, Camille Marolf and Molly Koebbe) are just one of the acts that can be enjoyed starting at 6:30. Some of the performers are scheduled to entertain every day, while others may only appear on a few evenings. Want to go twice? The green show offers a lot of variety.

Nancy Fowler Larson is a freelance writer who regularly covers theater for the St. Louis Beacon. 

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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