High School Drama Teacher Creates Musical Theatre Sensation in "Hamlet 2"

News   High School Drama Teacher Creates Musical Theatre Sensation in "Hamlet 2" "Hamlet 2," director-writer Andrew Fleming's new film comedy about a zealous high school drama teacher who cooks up a sequel to Shakespeare's tragedy — spiking the plot with time travel, rock songs and Jesus Christ as a main character — opens in limited release Aug. 22 prior to nationwide release Aug. 27.

The R-rated Focus Features picture was much talked about at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, and preview audiences howled with laughter at such songs as "Rock Me Sexy Jesus."

Fleming, director of the films "Threesome" and "Dick," co-wrote the original screenplay with Pam Brady ("South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut," "Team America: World Police"). It stars British actor Steve Coogan ("Night at the Museum," "Tropic Thunder"), Catherine Keener ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin"), David Arquette (the "Scream" movies), Amy Poehler ("Saturday Night Live"), and Academy Award nominee Elisabeth Shue as herself.

Steve Coogan and Skylar Astin in "Hamlet 2"
photo by Cathy Kanavy

Coogan plays Dana Marschz, a failed actor-turned-high school drama teacher. "Shortchanged in the talent department, Dana still harbors ambitions and passions," according Focus production notes. "At work, that is; his personal life, with his dissatisfied wife Brie (Keener) and their boarder Gary (Arquette), leaves much to be desired. At Tucson, AZ's West Mesa High School, Dana sees himself as an inspirational teacher. But his adaptations of popular films, as performed by his top students Rand and Epiphany (Skylar Astin and Phoebe Strole, both stars of Broadway's Spring Awakening), are not resonating. When his latest — re-creating Erin Brockovich — is dismissed by the 9th grade drama critic and his department is targeted for closure, Dana must reach deep into himself for creativity." He conceives a musical sequel to Hamlet "that will disdain both political correctness and dramatic credibility. Rallying and rousing his class, Dana casts a wider net by recruiting transfer students like Ivonne (Melonie Diaz of "Be Kind Rewind") for key roles. With rehearsals underway, objections from school officials and the community are soon raised, but Dana will not be denied his freedom of artistic expression. Dana gets unexpected support from ACLU attorney Cricket Feldstein (Poehler) and his favorite actress, Elisabeth Shue. Above all else, he fervently believes that his opus must be staged, and nothing can break his optimistic spirit."

Among song titles in the film are "Move Your Groove," "Gay as the Day is Long," "Raped in the Face" and "Rock Me Sexy Jesus."

"Hamlet 2" co-stars Sklyar Astin and Phoebe Strole
photo by Cathy Kanavy

When asked in production notes if the movie will encourage kids to put on a show, director Fleming quipped, "If we can prevent one more production of Godspell, we've done something positive." Co-writer Brady said, "Society would never be hurt by more musicals, and can only benefit from homemade ones."

Coogan said in production notes, "On some levels, 'Hamlet 2' is a parody of inspirational-teacher movies, 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips' and 'Dead Poets Society' and 'Dangerous Minds.' Dana is pretty idiotic at times, but he does what he says he's going to do — ultimately, inspire his students."

The creative team includes casting by Pam Dixon Mickelson, CSA; executive music producer Ralph Sall, composer Ralph Sall, costume designer Jill Newell, editor Jeff Freeman, ACE, production designer Tony Fanning, director of photography Alexander Gruszynski, ASC, executive producers Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, Andrew Fleming, Pam Brady, Michael Flynn. Produced by Eric Eisner, Aaron Ryder, Leonid Rozhetskin.

Playbill.com Stage to Screens columnist Michael Buckley spoke to Fleming, Astin and Strole for his Aug. 24 column. Look for it Sunday.

Visit www.Hamlet2.com.

Andrew Fleming, Steve Coogan and Catherine Keener in "Hamlet 2."
Andrew Fleming, Steve Coogan and Catherine Keener in "Hamlet 2."
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