“To be or not to be” is the most famous question in all of drama. And it is around this central question that the history of Kronborg—The Hamlet Rock Musical hangs upon.
Like Hamlet returning to Denmark, this celebrated Canadian musical is returning to The Charlottetown Festival, 45 years since it was first produced here. The production runs June 28 to July 20 in the Homburg Theatre at Confederation Centre of the Arts, Charlottetown. Preview shows are on June 21 and 27.
The rock production has been revived by Director Mary Francis Moore and Music Director Craig Fair, as well as the Festival cast, crew, and orchestra. But it was a winding road back to Charlottetown and the Festival.
First commissioned as a CBC radio play in 1973, the original title was Kronborg: 1582, named for the Danish castle and year Shakespeare’s original revenge tragedy takes place. Cliff Jones, the musical’s creator, says that his inspiration came from when he first heard the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack, which married anthemic rock music with rich storytelling. The Kronborg remount follows last summer’s Superstar as the next big Festival show on the Centre mainstage. Both productions star Aaron Hastelow from Prince Edward Island.
After the original radio production in 1973, the play moved to the stage at Confederation Centre. Its first staging at the Festival in 1974 was a hit leading to an eastern Canadian tour with Brent Carver as Hamlet and Beverly D’Angelo as Ophelia. In the following years Jones and other directors would tackle this production through diverse variations including a month-long Broadway engagement as Rockabye Hamlet (1976), and a 14-month run in L.A. in the early ‘80s as Something’s Rockin in Denmark.
It wasn’t until years later when Jones crossed paths with Adam Brazier—the Centre’s artistic director—that Kronborg was given a new lease on life and turned into a concert performance at Historic St. Mary’s Church in Indian River in 2017. Jones came back to Charlottetown for the show while recovering from a serious health scare with Legionnaire’s disease.
When the Kronborg writer came in for rehearsals it gave him a new purpose. “I saw what they were doing with this incredible company and with Craig Fair’s new arrangements and musical direction. It made my life worth living again; it renewed me.”
For Jones, he pondered, “Can it get any better than this?” It turns out it certainly can. The new show is set to run for 15 nights this summer on the main stage.
When asked what endures about Kronborg all these years later, the writer says, “It’s always carried a special combination of being a fun, entertaining experience but also being faithful to Shakespeare’s story—to thine own self be true.”
The production is sponsored by SYSCO Food Services. Confederation Centre is supported by the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Government of PEI, and the City of Charlottetown. The Charlottetown Festival is sponsored by CIBC.