When Kenneth Branagh presented an award at the June 4 Tony ceremony, one might have wondered what the actor and filmmaker, who has never yet performed on a Broadway stage, was doing there. There's an easy answer: he was plugging his new film, a 1930s musical-comedy recreation of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, opening in Los Angeles and New York June 9.
The production, co-starring 1995 Drama Desk Award nominee Alessandro Nivola, Alicia Silverstone and Tony Award winner Nathan Lane, has more in common with Kiss Me, Kate than, say, Contact, as Branagh and company tackle classic 1930s and '40s tunes for the soundtrack. These include Nivola, Branagh, Matthew Lillard and Adrian Lester warbling Gershwin's "I'd Rather Charleston," "I've Got a Crush on You" and "You Can't Take That Away From Me," Jerome Kern's "I Won't Dance, Don't Ask Me" and Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek."
There's even a Porter song, albeit not from Kate -- "I Get a Kick Out of You," sung by Royal Shakespeare Company vet and two-time BAFTA nominee, Timothy Spall. Britain's great classical actress, Geraldine McEwan, joins Richard Briers (her co-star in The Chairs) for a slowed-down, melancholy "The Way You Look Tonight." And, of course, one wouldn't cast Lane without letting him belt out a great Ethel Merman standard, Berlin's "There's No Business Like Show Business."
Inspired during the filming of Woody Allen's "Celebrity," Branagh interpolated these songs and dance numbers throughout Shakespeare's comedy of a prince (Nivola) and his companions (Branagh, Lillard, Lester), who swear to give up love and instead devote themselves to study. A princess (Silverstone) and her ladies-in-waiting show up, however, and prove distracting to the gentlemen's plans. Around their conflict, Shakespeare peoples the play with the clown Costard (Lane), the comic couple Don Armado (Spall) and Jaquenetta (Stefania Rocca) and the older, wiser lovers, Nathaniel (Briers) and Holofernia (McEwan). (If you don't remember this final pairing from the play, you're not forgetting anything - Holofernia is a male character as Shakespeare wrote it.)
British opera choreographer Stuart Hopps staged the dances, whose references range from Esther Williams and Bob Fosse to a traditional Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers top hat and tails number for "Cheek to Cheek." "Love's Labour's Lost" will play at the Paris Theatre in New York City and Laemmle Royal Theatre in Los Angeles.
-- By Christine Ehren