Bard meets big band on Langley’s TWU stage

Adding singing and dancing into a Shakespearean play has been a challenge for Angela Konrad.

But the Walnut Grove director, teacher, and dramaturge said taking a play that’s hundreds of years old and propelling it forward into the 1930s – complete with the musical stylings of Cole Porter, swing and dancing reminiscent of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, as well as beautiful costumes and a stylish art deco set representative of the era – has successfully been achieved at Trinity Western University.

“I have a habit of working singing and dancing into all my plays so I obviously love those aspects,” said Konrad, the chair of the TWU theatre department who unveils her adaptation next week with the opening of Much Ado About Nothing.

The play, which runs from March 11 to 22, is definitely not what Bard fans might typically expect.

“This show is so much fun. Who doesn’t love a battle of the sexes? The singing and dancing, the slapstick, the glam, the heart – this really is a show with something for everyone,” Konrad told the Langley Advance.

Since auditions in November, she has been working with students about 20 hours a week getting ready for next Tuesday’s opening.

Even having worked in theatre for more than 20 years – most at home as a director working with TWU and Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre – this production has been a test of Konrad’s talents.

The school’s theatre faculty works together to plan the season, everyone having a voice. But ultimately, Konrad said, she was the one responsible for choosing this month’s play. While it’s been a challenge, she’s had no regrets.

“We try to do Shakespeare every couple years or so, as it is such an important part of an actor’s training. I directed Romeo and Juliet a few years ago and wanted to try my hand at a comedy,” Konrad explained.

“I love Much Ado because it reveals the many faces of love and because the women are so smart and sassy. It’s one of those plays that feels so contemporary, despite the fact that it’s hundreds of years old. The relationships are timeless and true to life,” she added.

So what prompted the theatre veteran to transform Much Ado, given she’s never tackled this Shakespearean classic before?

“I knew right away that I wanted to include music in the show and I had a very talented grad – Julie Casselman – offer to write music for me. I had worked with her on Romeo and Juliet, which she also acted in, so I knew I would like her work,” Konrad said.

Much Ado About Nothing tells the story of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved couples, Beatrice and Benedick. They are a pair who know how to crank up the chemistry with their witty wordplay.

They’re perfect for each other, and everyone knows it – everyone except them. While they try to prove they hate each other, their friends cook up a deliciously elaborate deception to make them fall in love. All is fair, and funny, in love and matchmaking!

“As the play begins with the men returning home from a battle, it seemed helpful to anchor it to a familiar war. I liked the idea of the Second World War as this was a significant period for the empowerment of women,” Konrad added.

Fair to say her production of Much Ado will be filled with fast-talking dames, smooth-talking gangsters, slapstick, and sass, said the director, joking that some might wonder if it’s Shakespeare or a “screwball comedy.”     

“Much Ado About Nothing has a style of quick-witted banter between the sexes that is the hallmark of the screwball comedies of the late 1930s/early 1940s. Think Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby – these strong, mouthy women and men who claim to hate each other but everyone watching knows the sparks aren’t just about conflict,” Konrad said.

Those movies became the inspiration for her adaptation.

“The movies were an escape from the dark years of the Depression and the war and this production is something of an escape, too,” she said. “A wonderful fantasy world where people speak – and sing  – what they are actually thinking.”

Making that all possible has been a challenge, without question, said Konrad, who was asked to qualify what her biggest challenge was in directing this production.

“Managing it all,” she said. “To work on Shakespeare is a challenge. To adapt the script is a challenge. To add singing and dancing is a challenge. To work with a composer to create original music is a challenge. To work with a choreographer to create original dances to that music is a challenge. Add in all the technical elements, and let’s say it’s never boring.”

Much Ado runs from March 11 to 22 at TWU’s School of Arts, Media + Culture, 7600 Glover Rd., Tuesdays through Saturday at 7:30 p.m, plus Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.

Tickets range from $8 to $18, and are available at www.twu.ca/theatre or by calling 604-513-2121 ext. 3872.

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