Photo by Eddy WilThis is a Hamletwhere Claudius and Gertrude "keep wassail" by doing full-blown covers, backed by a rocking four-piece band, of Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" and "Erotic City." Where Laertes talks like Pepe LePew, Gertrude like some black mama on a UPN sitcom, and Polonius like some old fogy from the hollows of the Ozarks—and where Ophelia is a guy.(In drag, naturellement.) Where every time Hamlet, in a quite fetching Carol Channing wig, pronounces one of his immortal lines, Horatio (good, good Horatio) is there to write it down, marveling, "God, it's like you're quotingsomebody all the time!" Where, nonetheless, Hamlet's "to be or not to be" speech keeps getting interrupted so he doesn't get to say it till he's dying.
This is a Hamletwhere Ophelia nixes her sweets-to-the-sweet swan song "For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy" for a nipple-revealing (he's a guy, but still) diva'd-out version of "Delirious" Liza Minnelli could appreciate. Where when Hamlet comes out reading a book, it's the Cliff's Notes to Hamlet, and where the oedipal business between Hamlet and his mom gets nicely encapsulated by a too-apt rendition of "When Doves Cry" ("Maybe I'm just like my mother/She's never satisfied").
This is a Hamletwith slide-whistle sound effects, ba-de-bum vaudeville punch lines, British music-hall nonsense, commedia dell'arte flourishes, circus acts (including a clown on nine-foot stilts who can bust a move to Prince's funk), and loose funny improvisation by a crack company who know how to work with each other. It's a production that stops the show when an actor screws up his or her lines to make sure we all know it and—amazingly—halted the proceedings when a Fullerton police helicopter flew overhead (it's an outdoor show) and filled the stage with gyrating dancers doing a routine about helicopters interrupting the show.
The choreography is energetic and whirling, the parodies of Prince songs are smart and wicked homage, and the actors' sense of timing, though precise when it needs to be, leaves plenty of space to make shit up as they go along. Everybody is hilarious, though, yes, special praise should go out to Matthew Walker's Hamlet, whose shrewd command of his part gives focus to the burlesque madness around him. It's a show with a great and light comic heart, the kind that can, like a Marx Brothers movie, relieve the burdens of the saddest heart in the world. Turns out the target audience for this terrific burlesque is the melancholy Dane himself.
HAMLET, THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE PRINCE OF DENMARK, AT THE MUCKENTHALER CULTURAL CENTER, 1201 W. MALVERN AVE., FULLERTON, (310) 979-7196. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M. $25; ALSO AT MILES PLAYHOUSE, 1130 LINCOLN BLVD., SANTA MONICA, (310) 979-7196. OPENS AUG. 4. THURS.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 4 P.M. THROUGH AUG. 28. $25.