WORLD PREMIERE! Never trust a ghost. Let the Gravediggers take you back in time to reveal the tale you’ve never heard behind the greatest play in the English language. Skullduggery: The Musical Prequel To Hamlet follows the twisted love triangle of Claudius, Gertrude and Hamlet Sr. as it spins, song by song, the unlikely journey of these lovers from innocent youth to the climactic moment of Hamlet Sr.’s “most foul” murder. Centuries-old questions shall finally be answered: What really happened to Yorick? What happened to Ophelia and Laertes’ mother? The missing pieces will connect with revelation upon revelation. Ghosts will rise, revolutions waged, and the bones of Shakespeare’s masterpiece dug up from the earth and exposed in the moonlight. All sides shall be told. All bones shall be heard. After all, a grieving son’s point of view can’t always be trusted.
Talkback with cast & crew follows the Sunday, Oct. 23 matinee!
What SKULLDUGGERY character are you? Take the quiz and find out!
"If there is such a thing as perfection, this is it." -Discover Hollywood
"...a not to be missed theatrical event. It’s a Broadway worthy production right here in our own backyard." -Hollywood Revealed
"It is top to bottom a beautiful production that shows L.A. equity stage at its very best."- thetvolution
"It's an artful working of the score that creates a musical world just slightly off enough to catch your ear because it isn't at all traditional." -Musicals in L.A.
"...a rowdy and irreverent precursor to Shakespeare’s revenge play, Hamlet. The musical comedy is a smart contrast in tone that opens up a clever pathway for foreshadowing later events and introducing the quirks of Shakespeare’s dramatic characters..." -Shakespeare in L.A.
John Bobek as Claudius
Leigh Wulff as Gertrude
David Haverty as Hamlet Sr.
Brendan Hunt as Yorick
Jeff Sumner as Delver
Matt Valle as Puddles
Cj Merriman as Dull
Rebecca Larsen as Berta
Curt Bonnem as Polonius
Alyssa Rupert as Ophelia
Pat Towne as Osric / Ghost King
Michael Shaw Fisher as Claudius / Delver
Kristyn Chalker as Gertrude
Jeff Scot Carey as Hamlet Sr.
Joe Fria as Yorick
Gregory Guy Gorden as Puddles
Lauren Van Kurin as Dull
Emily Clark as Berta
Jeremy Aldridge as Polonius
Angela Sauer as Ophelia
Neil Taffe as Osric / Ghost King
Kristen Klehr - Marimba
Gordon Wimpress - Guitar 1
Andy Moresi - Guitar 2 / Mandolin
Michael Teoli - Bass / Tuba
Sean Rainey - Percussion
Drew Talley - Marimba Sub
Craig Ferguson - Guitar 1 Sub
Matt Lake - Guitar 2 Sub
Federico Orlandini - Bass Sub
Jon Butterworth - Percussion Sub
Produced for Sacred Fools by - Brian W. Wallis
Associate Producers - David Mayes & Allison Faith Sulock
Stage Manager - Suze Campagna
Assistant Director - Monica Greene
Arrangements & Additional Music - Michael Teoli
Asst. Musical Director - Dwight Rivera
Lighting Designer - Andrew Schmedake
Scenic Designer / Lead Painter - DeAnne Millais
Costume Designer - Linda Muggeridge
Associate Choreographer - Marianne Davis
Projection & Sound Designer - Ben Rock
Prop Designer - Brandon Clark
Dramaturge - Guy Picot
Vocal Coach - Natascha Corrigan
Stageheands - Alyson Schultz & Princella Baker Jr.
Makeup Consultant - Angela Lingrosso
Sound Consultant - Bobby Stapf
Lead Builder - Tor Brown
Builders - Scot Shamblin & Nathan Shoop
Master Electrician - Michael Franco
Scenic Artist - Joyce Hutter
Casting Coordinator - Lauren Van Kurin
Production Photographer - Jessica Sherman Photography
Poster Art - Gabe Leonard
Poster & Title Text Layout - Jack Townsend
- Sacred Fools Company Member
MICHAEL SHAW FISHER’S musical prequel to Hamlet, SKULLDUGGERY, currently playing at the Sacred Fools Theater in Hollywood, is an emancipation of one of history’s most epic stories. Fisher takes Shakespeare’s greatest play and extracts the core, bringing the characters to life in a most vibrant and colorful way. In particular, Fisher shines a light on Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle and the villain of the original story, showing us his human perspective.
Skullduggery takes place years before the birth of young Hamlet. Claudius is a meek and poetic teenager when he and his brother, the imposing Hamlet Senior, meet Gertrude for the first time. Emotions run high among the three youngsters and an attraction between Claudius and Gertrude is apparent. With the kingdom is on the brink of war swift choices must be made. Claudius’ sickly demeanor makes him more of a battlefield liability than a viability and he is soon left behind while Hamlet and their father, known only as “The King,” leave for war. Seven years later Hamlet Senior returns to Elsinore and takes Gertrude as his bride, leaving his brother nursing a broken heart.
Time passes. Chaos ensues and the country is forced to reconcile with the new, warmongering king.
While this may sound dark and gloomy, Skullduggery is also a light-hearted musical romp with songs such as “Never Trust A Ghost,” “Girl Talk” and “Snake In The Garden.” The play attempts to reveal answers missing from the original Hamlet. What really happened to Yorkick? What fate befell Ophelia and Laertes’ mother. The skeletons in Shakespeare’s masterpiece all come come out to play and ultimately, Claudius is faced with his most difficult decision. To kill or not to kill?
JOHN BOBEK as Claudius convincingly transforms from a poetic teen, filled with puppy love, to a murderous villain and the nemesis of Shakespeare’s classic play. DAVID HAVERTY creates an ominous force as Hamlet Senior, while LEIGH WULFF’S brilliant and melodic Gertrude brings them together and helps to reveal the humanity in the villain.
JOE FRIA (substituting last week for Brendan Hunt) as Yorick is a stunt-laden spectacle while CURT BONNEM as Polonius and REBECCA LARSEN as Berta, bring a lighthearted, comedic essence to the production.
The Scenic Design by DEANNE MILLAIS and the costumes by LINDA MUGGERIDGE bring character and a sense of reality to the incredible story.
Fisher’s intelligent play, (he wrote the script and the music), SCOTT LEGGETT’S sure handed direction, NATASHA NORMAN’S fluid choreography and MICHAEL TEOLI’S impressive musical direction, (leading a tight 10 piece band), make Skulduggery a not to be missed theatrical event. It’s a Broadway worthy production right here in our own backyard.
© 2016 Hollywood Revealed
The swain of Avon –
And toe tapping ditties.
One must admire the chutzpa Michael Shaw Fisher displays in Skullduggery for which he composed the music, provided the lyrics and wrote the book for this – wait for it!
Musical prequel to Hamlet!
Creatively speaking, that’s a heck of a lot of minefields to plow into headfirst.
The audience is at first inclined to hunker down, close their eyes and wait for the inevitable explosion preceding his body parts raining down on them. But then, something strange happens.
There’s no “boom.”
And as eyes are cautiously opened, they see a most remarkable sight.
Michael Shaw Fisher, in the midst of the deadly mine field, tap dancing.
Fisher, a self-confessed “bardophile,” showed his chops in his one-man musical Shakespeare’s Last Night Out at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe. With Skullduggery he establishes himself as a certified “triple threat.”
The first act opens “30 years before the events of Hamlet,”, with two loving brothers Claudius (John Bobek) and the senior Hamlet (David Haverty) at the court of Elsinore as their overbearing, abusive father prepares to lead the kingdom, and his sons, into war.
Claudius, a sensitive soul who writes poetry to his beloved Gertrude (Leigh Wulff), dreads the thought, but he is “too much in the sun” to refuse his father. It is only through the intercession of Hamlet, Sr., who brings down the wrath of their father on himself, that Claudius is spared the horrors of war.
Fisher knows his Shakespeare, and populates his stage with beguiling spins on familiar characters such as Polonius (Curt Bonnem) while inventing new ones such as the sharp-tongued randy Berta (Rebecca Larsen); Mrs. Polonius who is definitely the brains in the family.
Much of what follows foreshadows Shakespeare’s play, ghostly warnings from a murdered father, the death of Yorick (Brendan Hunt), and the forced marriage of Gertrude and Claudius, returned from the war victorious and king.
The second act is set “One month before the events of Hamlet.” Hamlet, Sr. is now the overbearing tyrant who keeps Gertrude in a loveless marriage and his brother in service to his every whim.
There are plots of revolution and of lovers fleeing from the kingdom, but destiny will out, and destiny is a bitch; Hamlet, Jr. is on his way home from college. Trouble brewing.
Fisher adds twists and surprises to the pathway that leads a couple of guys to a cold battlement and a nasty run-in with a dead king’s ghost.
Coming in to the Sacred Fools’ theatre the audience is immediately impressed by the shadowy and artful set of DeAnne Millais, which serves as an inkling of things to come.
Producer Brian Wallis and director Scott Leggett have given Skullduggery a superb mounting throughout. They are aided in this by Natasha Norman’s first rate choreography, Linda Muggeridge’s costume design and Andrew Schmedake’s lighting design.
It is top to bottom a beautiful production that shows L.A. equity stage at its very best.
This striding for the best extends to the cast.
CJ Merriman, Jeff Sumner and Matt Valle as the “zanies” open the evening with a rip-roaring rendering of “Hammy” and fill in for besotted revolutionaries and timid dungeon guards where needed. Bobek as Claudius, Larsen as Berta and Alyssa Rupert as the hot to trot Ophelia, turn in a trio of stellar performances. Brendan Hunt who has delighted audiences in Absolutely Filthy and other Sacred Fools crowd pleasers continues pleasing those crowds with admirable aplomb and Pat Towne as Osric and Ghost King brings a presence and a voice that could fill the Forum to overflowing.
But without a play worthy of all this beautiful stagecraft and talented acting, Skullduggery would be nothing but diamonds and silk draped over a foul smelling rabid wolverine.
Well, I’m happy to say there is no wolverine under all that finery. What one finds is a smart, funny and totally enjoyable work that deserves to be added to repertory seasons along with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and the Bard’s own masterpiece.
The book is clever and faithful—for all its departures and double-dealings—to its source.
The score offers a variety of melodies, all of which are of merit, and there are moments in Fisher’s lyrics that approach poetry itself, “They dance like burning paper in the breeze.”
If I had to find fault with the show, and let’s face it, I’m a critic that’s what I’m supposed to do, it would be to question one casting choice and the number of songs included in the evening.
While I can’t say there was a single tune that played flat, the show feels a bit overburdened by 28 numbers.
That said, this was a wonderful show, and if feathers were passed out for adding to the bonnets of all those deserving of them, I doubt you’d find an eagle from here to the Rockies that wouldn’t be plucked bald.
Kudos to the Sacred Fools, Michael Shaw Fisher and all involved.
© 2016 thetvolution
SKULLDUGGERY: The Musical Prequel to Hamlet, a Rowdy Good Time
I love a good prequel, especially when a contemporary playwright decides to take on the back story of a hallowed play by the likes of William Shakespeare. I mean, come on. Daring to tread on that playing field takes some guts because you know before you begin that audiences are going to have high expectations of your work. They also know where you need to end your story in order for Shakespeare’s to begin so getting there must be highly inventive and worthy of its foregone conclusion.
LA-based playwright Michael Shaw Fisher proves he’s up to the task in his latest new work Skullduggery: The Musical Prequel to Hamlet, a rowdy and irreverent precursor to Shakespeare’s revenge play, Hamlet. The musical comedy is a smart contrast in tone that opens up a clever pathway for foreshadowing later events and introducing the quirks of Shakespeare’s dramatic characters, like Ophelia’s (Alyssa Rupert) madness and Polonius’ (Curt Bonnem) convoluted conversation. It also allows for a slew of new characters to emerge that are completely unpredictable. You never know what this bunch of crackpots will do next.
Instead of simply the skull of a jester we meet in passing in Hamlet (“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio”) Yorick (scene-stealing Brendan Hunt) is a real person – a falling-down drunkard with more than his fair share of secrets. Hunt doesn’t even have to try to be funny. All he has to do is try to stand up and it becomes a study in how to create an unforgettable character. When his arm gets stuck in a set piece or he slips while walking across the stage, it’s a lesson in improv you can’t pass up.
Hamlet Sr. (David Haverty), appearing in Hamlet as a ghost only, is still alive, and three boisterous roustabouts (Jeff Sumner, Matt Valle and Cj Merriman) who will take up new careers as gravediggers before Skullduggery is over will reveal all the mysteries heretofore unsolved.
When this show works it works really well and a lot of that is due to the understanding they (and Hunt) have of how to bring the material to life. In truth, it’s the fusion of their acting chops and director Scott Leggett’s terrific ability to wring the funny out of Fisher’s writing that makes Skullduggery so much fun.
Each of the three has a distinct personality and role in their lively trio. They sing, they dance, they move like wraiths cloaked in black à la Martha Graham and, whenever they appear, they buoy up the merriment. Leggett’s adept staging and Natasha Norman’s cheeky choreography are a delicious combination that this show wears well.
Skullduggery takes place thirty years before Hamlet begins when brothers Claudius (John Bobek) and Hamlet are young men. Claudius and Gertrude (Leigh Wulff) have fallen in love but when Hamlet goes off to war with their father and dear old dad is killed on the battlefield, Hamlet returns and marries her while Claudius is away at school. Seven years later, Claudius comes home to Elsinore and learns the bitter truth. Yorick’s uncanny ability to predict the future eventually convinces Claudius to join him in his drunken revolution to overthrow the now King Hamlet and take back what he lost.
Where Hamlet follows the perspective of King Hamlet’s son, Skullduggery is really Claudius’ story of what led up to the murder. Bobek (as Claudius) is a likable leading man with a strong singing voice whose journey begins hesitantly, and is at times quite comical, with his hypoglycemic fainting spells a regular occurrence. As he gains confidence, his earnest demeanor propels him forward until he takes bold action to achieve his desired end. Haverty goes from battle-ready to war-weary and his few moments of vulnerability add depth to a very traditional character.
As their object of affection, Wulff looks the part of a regal queen but is acting as though she is in an entirely different play. A scene can be serious in a musical comedy but it still needs to have an intensity behind it that is consistent with the style of the play. And, whether or not an actor is miked (they are not here), it is critical that the audience hears their dialogue. In this case, we can’t hear her and the acting is so internal that it comes across as flat. Rebecca Larsen (Berta) does the same thing in her scenes although her wisecracks do land when we can hear them. Both have a bigger problem swallowing their vocals during their songs which gives them an uncomfortably thin, reedy sound, neck veins straining to reach the notes.
It’s too bad because Fisher’s score is an appealing combination of musical styles that includes everything from electro-funk, Lennon-esque tunes, and Sondheim-inspired verses to Renaissance folk, drinking songs, and sea shanties. I even heard something resembling The Pink Panther hidden in the mix. When it goes all out rock, it’s even better.
Musical director Michael Teoli uses instruments you don’t often hear together in a musical to create some cool sound paintings and eerie effects in his arrangements for the show. He features marimba, mandolin, and guitar, and even tuba on “Twenty-Three” at the top of Act II to recap the story and move the audience forward twenty-three years. Vocal harmonies, especially the intentionally dissonant phrases, are deceptively simple and add subtle texture. It’s an artful working of the score that creates a musical world just slightly off enough to catch your ear because it isn’t at all traditional.
Lyrically there are nods to popular Shakespeare phrases and a good bit of punning if you listen closely. You’d have to see the show a second time to catch all the Shakespeare in-jokes Fisher has included so keep your ear tuned.
Sacred Fools’ new Hollywood venue is a step up from their previous location for this kind of musical adventure and the creative team has done some impressive work here. DeAnne Millais’ polished scenic design features open wooden panels, a curved staircase, and some highly effective scene painting (by Joyce Hutter) to bring the Elizabethan era’s stone and bone to life. A cabinet of skulls does double duty stage left while a fabric panel hanging stage right makes tapestry changes via Ben Rock’s rich video projections to further enhance locations. Gorgeous costumes by Linda Muggeridge look expensive under Andrew Schmedake’s saturated lighting design.
Making Shakespeare a good time isn’t always easy but Skullduggery: The Musical Prequel to Hamlet accomplishes that goal and delivers an exhilarating crowd-pleaser. The laughs are infectious, the fun factor high. Maybe every Shakespearean tragedy should come with a comedy prequel.
© 2016 Shakespeare in L.A.
I have seen many productions at the Sacred Fools Theatre Company and have enjoyed everyone of them, except for this one. I absolutely LOVED their latest entitled SKULLDUGGERY. If there is such a thing as perfection, this is it.
This is a must see show for some many reasons: fantastic cast, extremely funny, clever, excellent acting, directing, writing-book and music and did I say Fantastic cast. To pull off Shakespeare is hard enough, but to pull off a musical comedy prequel of the well known tragedy, ' Hamlet' and have it work, takes extreme talent and that is what everyone involved in this production has.
'Skullduggery' is called a musical prequel to Hamlet aka Never Trust A ghost. It follows the twisted love triangle of Claudius (the wonderful John Bobek who got better and better as the show progressed), Gertrude (Leigh Wulff, who unfortunately, I have to say, was not that great in the vocal department, but made up for it with her acting) and Hamlet Sr. (the fabulous David Haverty) as it spins, song by song, the unlikely journey of these lovers from innocent youth to the climactic moment of Hamlet Sr.'s (don't worry it isn't a spoiler, unless you've never read the play) ' most foul' murder.
And I must not forget three of the most important characters known as the Gravediggers, who serve as a Greek chorus. They are played impeccably by Jeff Sumner, Cj Merriman and Matt Valle. Not only can this trio sing, but their comedic timing is as good as it gets.
Director Scott Leggett nailed this show on every level. The choreography created by Natasha Norman is surprising and just wonderful, while the book lyrics and music by Michael Shaw Fisher makes you want to hit the rewind button and hear the songs over and over again.
One of the standout numbers, that is repeated throughout the show, is a duet performed by Claudius and Gertrude entitled 'Outside Elsinore'.
Speaking of standouts, Berta (the very funny, and very talented, Rebecca Larsen) and Curt Bonnem, as her hubby Polonius are pitch perfect in their performances. There's also a sub plot involving Polonius who wants to keep his 23 year old daughter, Ophelia (the funny Alyssa Rupert) who refuses to admit that she's no longer a baby...
But if I was forced to pick the most outstanding performance given by an actor in this show, it would have to go to, Brendan Hunt as Yorick/the Ghost/and the Player. When people talk about the 'it' factor, this guy has that and so much more.
The Band is great and the costumes are beautiful. In fact I'd like to have a few of Gertrude and Ophelia's outfits in my closet. If this is the only play you see this year, make sure it's SKULLDUGGERY.
© 2016 Discover Hollywood
Skullduggery: The Story Before Hamlet
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” – Polonius
Los Angeles playwright and composer Michael Shaw Fisher of Orgasmico Theatre Company has designed a new musical: a fill-in-the-blanks prequel to one of Shakepeare’s most popularly referenced plays, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. The show is now in extension at Sacred Fools Theater Company through November 19th.
Mostly written as a fan-fiction, Skullduggery resonates with an uncanny believability, adding a humanizing, three-dimensional view to the familiar characters in Hamlet. It also answers a 400-years-old question of why this might have all come about in the first place.
A departure from his previous hard core, camp rock, Fisher’s new operetta is delicately composed in a modern, non-repetitive through style, intentionally quiet and soft . The result is a uniquely imaginative chronicle-like musical event.
Footlights recently caught up with the creatives of this show.
Can you explain the intention of Skullduggery’s musical style?
Fisher: When I wrote this I was doing Exorcistic, a pretty standard rock musical with dialog and bits and music. It was much like something like you would get with Pippin for instance, which has stand-alone songs that don’t usually develop the story (Morning Glow, Extraordinary, Corner of the Sky), but rather tell you a state of where the character is in. Beauty School Drop Out from Grease would be another example.
This show is more like Sondheim’s Into the Woods or Sweeney Todd or Les Miserables where you have story happening through music and music signaling changes in characters. Every song in Skullduggery has a story that takes you somewhere by the end of the song. So it propels the motion forward. The music is this constant character throughout, giving everything a Shakespearean resonance. Whereas the dialog alone could never come close to the music of Shakespeare’s verse.
Stylistically, some elements of the drama play heavily with irony. This being the prequel to Hamlet, we know all the characters are going to die. Gertrude tragically at Claudius’ hands. Hamlet Sr. by Claudius. Just like Sheffer’s Amadeus where Saliere announces that he killed Mozart or in Hamilton where Burr says that he killed Hamilton. So every scene and interaction after that moment has that tension and irony, driving the energy forward, pushing us to the end of the show. The question is “How do we feel about it when we get there?”
Scott Leggett (Producer): It was clear that this was going to be both ambitious and a bit daunting. Two years ago, there were just rough demos of the songs, so I had to imagine what they would sound like when they were fully developed. Because the show covers the thirty years prior to Hamlet, we had to pay particular attention to where characters started and where they would eventually end up in Shakespeare’s play.
Michael Teoli, (Music Director): I’m actually not a big Shakespeare guy, and wasn’t too familiar with Hamlet. In 2013, Fisher sat me down and mapped out the story and relationships he had built in Skullduggery, and also compared and contrasted how the characters were perceived in Hamlet. I was hooked. It blew my mind how he was able to come up with this back story that changed the way you felt about all the characters in Hamlet… yet everything in Hamlet supports what is built in Skullduggery. In my mind, the story of Skullduggery is truth.
Who is the real villain here?
Fisher: Skullduggery serves to defend the bad guy Claudius in a sense by turning him into a protagonist from an antagonist. I’m giving him all the reasons why he may have gone astray. Why he may have killed his brother. Did he have justification? What were they? It asks, “How do we stray from the loves that we establish among people? How do they go awry? Where is the miscommunication? Where is the bitterness? From where do those things grow?” It re-conceives what a villain is.
The villain is the ambition. The villain in all of us. That’s the tragedy. It’s like the grave diggers say in the show: “We can never lead the perfect life. What our hearts project, can oft deflect and lead us to strife.”
David Haverty (Hamlet, Sr.): Hamlet, Sr. is this story’s villain. His character here has so many dimensions. We had to take him from being the loving bully older brother of Claudius, to paranoid tyrant, to the worthy King Hamlet that Prince Hamlet dies to revenge once returning to Elsinore.
How do the characters in Skullduggery play against what eventually happens in Hamlet?
Curt Bonnem (Polonius): I had to figure out how to capture the spirit of the Polonius we know, but as a younger man. The “young” Polonius is not yet the doddering, over-protective father we see later. He’s still a vital, active person in Act I of Skullduggery put into situations and events which shape the character we’ve come to know.
Leigh Wulff (Gertrude): I felt a connection to Gertrude’s overtly feminist struggle, her tough choices, her stoic yet playful and loving nature. She has intuitive street smarts that have allowed her to survive with grace and dignity.
Brendan Hunt (Yorick / Ghost / Player): The weight of Hamlet, and everything that comes after the events of Skullduggery, was unavoidable from an intellectual standpoint. But playing Yorick, a character we don’t actually meet in Hamlet anyway, there was greater freedom in just not worrying about Hamlet at all.
Jeffrey Sumner (Goodman Delver): Goodman Delver and his dimwitted co-worker Dull, actually appear in Hamlet (Act 5, Scene 1) digging Ophelia’s grave. They are classic Shakespearean clowns. Commoners who deliver clever truths that seem to out-wit those in superior positions. A Greek chorus, of sorts, foreshadowing what is yet to come and with ironic humor.
Fisher: Hamlet only has these sort of two-dimensional characters around him while he is the fully-grieving, fully-realized conscious character. He’s around types. Polonius, for instance, is based on a Comedia type. In this story these people get two hours to show and sing who they are, to contradict themselves, to argue, to be inspired and to play. And that makes Hamlet the play all the more interesting.
© 2016 Footlights
This performance is made possible in part by a grant from the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs.