- Sleep No Moredir. by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle, and: Something Rotten!by Karey Kirpatrick and John O’Farrell
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The vast majority of Shakespearean productions presented today in the US are created by educational, not-for-profit, or festival theaters. Occasionally, Broadway commercial revivals are staged—usually for limited runs, and almost always featuring major celebrities like Ethan Hawke, Orlando Bloom, or Denzel Washington. Yet now there are two commercial adaptations of Shakespeare in New York: Sleep No More, an immersive show based on Macbeth, and Something Rotten!, a Broadway musical comedy that quirkily imagines what it might have been like to be one of Shakespeare’s rival playwrights in London in the 1590s. These two shows are both in open runs and have achieved significant commercial and critical success. Emursive and the British theater company Punchdrunk’s Sleep No Morehas been running for four-and-a-half years, after productions in Boston and London; Ben Brantley called it “a voyeur’s delight, with all the creepy, shameful pleasures that entails” ( New York Times, 13 April 2011, Web). Something Rotten!, with a book by Karey Kirpatrick and John O’Farrell, and music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, was nominated for Tony and Drama Desk awards for best new musical, best book of a musical, and direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw, as well as for performances by its leading actors Brian d’Arcy James, John Cariani, Brad Oscar, and Christian Borle; Borle won both the Drama Desk and Tony for his featured performance as Shakespeare.
Both Sleep No Moreand Something Rotten!have achieved commercial success by adapting the aura of “Shakespeare” into something easily accessible to a broad base of popular audiences. This has largely been accomplished through the removal of Shakespeare’s own words, since his verse and sometimes archaic language can make the plays feel difficult or elitist to some audience members. Sleep No Moreand Something Rotten!achieve their commercial success by filtering Shakespeare through other popular forms (an immersive boozy nightclub, or a musical comedy) [End Page 158]and by reconfiguring the aesthetics of Shakespeare’s dramatic structure. For most critics, it is primarily Shakespeare’s depth of characterization, revealed through the language spoken by his characters, that continues to captivate; only occasionally does he solely rely on spectacle to entertain. Sleep No Moreand Something Rotten!turn these aesthetics on their head, focusing on the spectacular—both visual and auditory—in order to enthrall audiences.
My attendance at Sleep No Moreon Friday 23 October 2015 marked the third time I had seen the show. The first time was in 2011, about a month after it opened. I went again in January 2013, this time to review the show for the CUNY Advocate. In that review, I called the show “an immersive processional experience...