Review: Kronborg—The Hamlet Rock Musical

Powerful Work

Review | by Doug Gallant

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Remounting a production at the Charlottetown Festival after an absence of 45 years, particularly one that had been as popular during its initial two-year-run as Kronborg, comes with certain inherent challenges. Two in particular stand out.

Will a new audience find the same magic in the music and the script as those who flocked to the initial production? 

Will those who were there at the beginning find that magic again? 

The answer to both those questions appears to be a resounding yes.

The festival’s producers had an inkling that would be the case when a concert version of this Cliff Jones’ rock opera was presented two years ago. Their decision to press forward and remount the show was proven to be the right call Friday night when the season premiere of Kronborg—The Hamlet Rock Musical was greeted with thunderous applause and howls of delight from an audience that in some instances took enthusiasm to the next level.

Having seen the original production more than once I could conceivably compare the original production to the production now gracing the festival stage role by role, number by number. But I won’t do that because that isn’t really fair to either those who made the magic happen then or those tasked with capturing our attention and our hearts at this moment in time. 

What I will say though is that this season’s production of Kronborg, like its predecessor, truly deserves to be seen. Everything I go to the theatre for is wrapped up here in a well-directed and highly entertaining package.

The script, which recounts Shakespeare’s classic tale about Danish prince Hamlet’s plot to avenge the murder of his father, has been handsomely crafted and Jones’ musical score — which features many songs from the original production plus a number of new songs — is bold and adventurous. Big marks as well to Robin Calvert for her choreography and to the show’s design team.

With songs as powerful and emotionally charged as “That It Should Come To This,” “I Cannot Turn To Love,” “An Eye For An Eye” and “If Not To You,” the music of Kronborg calls for actors who possess both serious vocal chops and the ability to infuse each piece of music with the level of emotion that Jones intended when he wrote them. But this year’s festival company is awash with people who can check off both boxes.

The majority of the show’s major musical numbers were entrusted to homegrown festival star Aaron Hastelow, who shone brightly as Hamlet in the concert version two years ago and has an even stronger grip on the role now. Hastelow, who earned major kudos for his work in Jesus Christ Superstar last season, is proving to be the go-to guy for the festival for roles like this.

No less impressive were Cam MacDuffee, who delivers a rock-solid performance as Claudius, bringing just the right amount of treachery to the role and Alana Hibbert, who absolutely nails the role of Gertrude. Hibbert has a truly amazing voice and in Kronborg she really gets the chance to use it. 

Kimberly-Ann Truong makes a delightful Ophelia. 

These actors have been entrusted with the lion’s share of the music, but several other festival cast members definitely get our attention, most notably Andrew McAllister (Marcellus) and Jacob MacInnis. Nice work as well from Michael Torontow (Polonius), Brendon Wall (Ghost King) and Gray Monczka (Laertes). It’s a strong cast.

Big thumbs up for Mary Francis Moore’s direction and the work of musical director Craig Fair who spent countless hours producing the vocal and orchestral arrangements for Jones’ music.

Kronborg—The Hamlet Rock Musical played until July 20.

Doug Gallantreview