The St. Louis Symphony plays Tchaikovsky’s rarely performed Hamlet, Fantasy Overture after Shakespeare, op. 67, Saturday and Sunday. It is a fiercely dramatic work, managing to project the tormented inner psyche of a madly appealing young rebel, as conceived by William Shakespeare. Leave it to Tchaikovsky to know how to convey a tormented inner psyche.
There have been any number of great stage and movie Hamlets, but my friend Kim Winkler reminded me of a lesser-known interpretation of the melancholy Dane when she sent me the picture above. Those of us of a certain age may remember the extraordinarily popular sitcom Happy Days, which featured Henry Winkler (now you get the Winkler connection) as the lovable hood Fonzie. In one episode, Fonzie actually played the lead in a theater production Hamlet. When youngsters in the audience began to make light of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, the Fonz dropped character and spoke to the audience about his own personal questions about mortality. Yes, this happened on a mainstream 1970s network TV sitcom.
Thursday afternoon I interviewed Maureen Thomas. The interview can be heard during intermission of the Symphony’s Saturday night concert broadcast live on St. Louis Public Radio 90.7 KWMU. As the Symphony’s Shakespeare Festival continues, she is the featured actress for AMidsummer Night’s Dream, performing Shakespeare’s words while the orchestra plays Mendelssohn’s music. She’s been doing this show with guest conductor Hans Graf for many years, beginning back when he was conducting the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Maureen plays about a dozen different characters, portraying the all-to-human young lovers, the Rude Mechanicals and assorted members of the spirit kingdom without the aid of costume, masks or props, conveying Shakespeare’s comedic menagerie with voice and gesture alone. She admits that the music helps a lot, with actress and orchestra combining to portray the many moods, emotions and funny business.
We were well met, as the Calgary native knows the land of my youth, northern Idaho and Montana, and the curious interactions of those who live not too far from the border from each other.