The bard gets a jazzy shot of '30's Hollywood musical comedy in Kenneth
Branagh's Upcoming Adaptation of 'Love's Labour's Lost'
On day one of rehearsal for Love's Labour's Lost, director Kenneth Branah
had the entire cast watch the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers classic 'Top Hat'.
"All the lights came up, and they reacted with a mixture of horror,
depression, and elation," Branagh says. It was a fitting start to the
making of Labour's, one of Shakespeare's lesser-known comedies, which
Branagh set in the 1930's, with musical numbers by Cole Porter, Jerome
Kern, George Gershwin, et al. The movie is scheduled to be released next
"Someone once called Love's Labour's Lost a fashionable play that's 300
years out of fashion," Branagh says. "It's rarely done, partly because of
the ornate language, which we have cut and replaced with songs." But how do
lines by Shakespeare and Irving Berlin flow together? "Shakespeare talks
about people feeling as though they're in heaven," Branagh says, "and that
allows you to go into the song 'Heaven/I'm in heaven/and my heart beats so
that I can hardly speak..."
Alicia Silverstone, who stars in the film, thinks the adaptation is
seamless. "If you hadn't read Love's Labour's Lost," she says, "you would
think that Shakespeare wrote it this way."
In the play, four young men (Branagh, Alessandro Nivola, Adrian Lester and
Matthew Lillard) swear off romance in favor of study, until four seductive
young women (Silverstone, Natascha McElhone, Emily Mortimer and Carmen
Ejogo) make them reconsider. For many of the actors dancing and singing
were new territory. "Ken never asked if we could sing," says Lillard
(Scream). "At some point, I think I volunteered the fact that I could dance
a little but I couldn't sing a lick. My fear was that he was going to hear
me open my mouth and send me home." But after three weeks of
musical-comedy-Shakespeare boot camp, the actors were ready. Well, almost:
Lillard never did get used to his dance belt. "It's the undergarment you
wear," he says. "There's nothing like being in a full top hat and tails and
having a dance belt run up your ass."
Branagh, a veteran Shakespeare adapter (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing,
Hamlet), never let his company forget the cardinal rule of performing
musicals. "At all times," he told them, "whatever happens, whether the pool
is leaking or the top hat and tails have been trod upon - smile, smile,
smile! No one's interested in your pain, darling. Eyes and teeth, all the
Always present in spirit were Branagh's muses, Fred and Ginger. "I said [to
the cast], "They're geniuses and we're not. but if we can capture the
twinkle in the eyes and feet of those performers, then we'll recapture
something that gives people a great deal of joy."
1) "We had various contact-lens alarms," says Branagh of the movie's Esther
Williams-style swimming-pool number.
2) Branagh says of The Truman Show muse McElhone, "She came in saying,
'I've been cast in femme fatale parts-I want to be silly and mad and crazy'."
3) "He's funny and intelligent and can dance and sing halfway to mofo,"
Lillard says of Branagh, "and then direct on top of it all."
4) "People have a certain image of Alicia because she's so young," Branagh
says. "But she was a natural Shakespearean."