PlayhouseSquare is humming at the start of a new season, and there are two excellent reasons to celebrate at the epicenter of fine arts. Great Lakes Theater has reimagined Shakespeare’s Richard III, and PlayhouseSquare presents the groundbreaking ballet “Sleepy Beauty.”
At the Hanna Theatre, Great Lakes Theater has put “Richard III” in a new setting. The steel truss and glass setting that anchors the production in no way contains the unrestrained passion that pervades the production. Only Shakespeare could create a character who vows to woo the widow of the man he murdered … and that’s just the start of the show.
Joseph Hanreddy’s direction is contemporary in more ways than the costumes. Messengers deliver information on cellphones and apartment intercoms, and a computer appears in a battlefield strategy session in a tent. It is Lynn Robert Berg who cajoles supporters and enemies to do his bidding, and as he gains power, switches to more overt ruthlessness. His main supporter, Buckingham, is a marvelously colloquial David Anthony Smith. The images of blood pouring out ritually every time a murder happens will stick with you. And the sound design, usually unobtrusive, mirrors the nuances of the performance emotions.
“Richard III” runs in repertory with “Sweeney Todd” through Nov. 2.
At the Palace Theatre, the Broadway series continues with Matthew Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty.” This is the ballet with music by Tchaikovsky, but given a new interpretation. Subtitled “A Gothic Romance,” this production has been called “Tchaikovsky meets ‘Twilight.'” Forget the Princess Aurora you remember from the fairy tales and the Disney animated movie. In this interpretation, baby Aurora first appears in an 1890 setting. Growing up, her romance and spell remain intact until the year 2011, when she is awakened. The plot has a happy ending, with her wedding.
You don’t have to love ballet to enjoy this production, but you will have a greater appreciation for the art after you’ve seen “Sleeping Beauty.” Innovative Bourne enchants us from the start with a puppet baby with her doting parents. Corps of angels take over the stage with dance that is ballet but so athletic that we gasp at their energy. The gothic set, reminiscent of the Victorian era, stays through all of the scenes – a reminder of the production’s roots.
In a nod to contemporary culture, when Leo the Royal Gamekeeper and Aurora are reunited, they don’t march off to church to be married. Instead, the final image sends them to a bed. Beds are props that link all of the production’s segments.
“Sleeping Beauty” runs through Oct. 13 at the Palace Theatre.