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Reciting Shakespeare while admiring Dudamel

Orlando Bloom, Anika Noni Rose, Malcolm McDowell and Matthew Rhys, drawn by the Bard and the maestro, perform in an L.A. Phil Live program.

March 12, 2011|By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times
  • Orlando Bloom as Romeo.
Orlando Bloom as Romeo. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

Juliet, also known as Anika Noni Rose, had a question for Romeo — Orlando Bloom, by any other name.

"Do you feel like as a film actor now that people don't expect or ask that much of you?" Rose asked Bloom.

The costar of "The Lord of the Rings" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" paused half a second. "Uh, yes," he replied. "For quite some time."

Bloom's response speaks to why he, along with fellow thespians Rose, Malcolm McDowell and Matthew Rhys, are reciting brief selections of Shakespearean texts while cavorting around Walt Disney Concert Hall this weekend. They'll be brushing up their iambic pentameter alongside Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, performing three Shakespeare-inspired pieces by Tchaikovsky: "Hamlet," "The Tempest" and "Romeo and Juliet."

Part full-fledged symphonic concert, part semi-staged theatrical vignettes, the program, which opened Thursday night, will be repeated Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Sunday's performance will be beamed live to about 450 specially equipped movie theaters across the United States and Canada, as the second of the orchestra's L.A. Phil Live series of high-definition concert simulcasts, which began in January.

But for the four actors, all with film credits — McDowell has more than a half-dozen this year alone — the big screen wasn't the lure. Instead, they agreed at a Thursday interview, it was the chance to perform some of the Bard's greatest hits, in an iconic funhouse space of a building, with a conductor they'd all admired from afar.

"I saw two documentaries on Dudamel in the last year," said Rose, who won a Tony for her performance in the musical "Caroline, or Change" by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori. "I put it on pause and I called my manager. I was like, 'You've got to get me work with this guy, I have to go sing with this man!'"

Rose said she was particularly struck by video images of Dudamel working with youth orchestras. "His heart is just so beautiful," she said.

Rhys, a classically trained Welsh actor who's tackling two of Hamlet's tortured monologues, said he liked the idea of fusing different audio and visual media into one art form. The interplay of music and text in the program, Rhys said, "gives you a great freedom as a listener, to imbue whichever part or whichever emotion you want on the music."

McDowell echoed that point. "After hearing the music, when you're out there, you feel like singing!" he said. "It's one of the rare occasions where all the art — the music and the spoken word — come together, but not together as sort of music in the background, like they would in a movie or a play or something."

By all accounts, Tchaikovsky greatly admired Shakespeare and even sought to learn English so he could read his plays in their original language. But the Russian composer's three single-movement works are best understood as impressionistic, motif-driven responses to Shakespeare's plays rather than full-scale musical narratives.

To aid their task of bridging two great artists' imaginations, and two different cultural sensibilities (High Renaissance, Late Romantic), the actors and director Kate Burton were given practically the full run of the Frank Gehry-designed hall. Rhys wanders melancholically amid the orchestra rows. (He and McDowell had an amicable spat over whether Hamlet's line should be "too, too solid flesh" or "too, too sullied flesh." Consult your annotated quarto for further details.)

McDowell, playing the wizardly Prospero of "The Tempest," the vengeful ghost of Hamlet's father and the Prince who pronounces the Veronese lovers' tragic coda, looms over the audience from beneath the pipe organ, facing down toward Dudamel.

"I'm watching the maestro himself, and I must say, a sight to behold it is," McDowell said. "I'm always a little worried I'm not going to see the cue light blinking because I'm so involved in what he's doing, and his very sure expressions."

Rose appears dramatically backlit on an upper aisle doubling as the Capulets' balcony. And Bloom, in his best Errol Flynn swashbuckling mode, dashes through the audience then leaps up onto the wooden frame surrounding the orchestra, where he giddily spins on his back as the love-struck Romeo.

"It really reminded me of being back at drama school, actually," Bloom said. "I remember we did a production … when I was at school and we really utilized all of our space. And I was like, 'God, there's so much to do here [inside Disney Hall], and there's so many areas to run around and jump off and climb up on.' And I'd sort of thought about Romeo and climbing and balconies. And I walked in the space it was like, 'Yes! Scored!' It was perfect."

Rose, who grew up hearing all kinds of music played in her childhood home, said that L.A. Phil Live could bring classical music to a new generation of young listeners. "There was a time when if your parents didn't introduce you to classical music, Bugs Bunny did," she said.

Her colleagues agreed, although Bloom acknowledged the prospect of performing this week "was absolutely terrifying, as well as immensely exciting."

"It's pretty special to be able to say we did a little bit of Shakespeare in the Disney Hall with Gustavo Dudamel," he said.

reed.johnson@latimes.com

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