What if you set out to make the quintessential Fringe show? You might start off with some Shakespeare. Maybe make it a musical! Add some pop-culture references and ghosts. And people in their underwear!
Shakespeare Apocalypse: A New Musical, playing at the Theatre in the Round, is a jumble of everything you would put in the Stereotypical Fringe Show™. And the formula works for the most part. It’s blithe and bonny and bawdy.
The story begins with actor Peter (Philip C. Matthews). Playing a small role in Hamlet at the Guthrie, he freaks out on stage and confesses he hates Shakespeare. His breakdown is recorded by an audience member and goes viral. People around the world are emboldened and turn on Shakespeare and the great writers of the world. Then it just gets ridiculous. Shakespeare (Adam Rousar), Jane Austen (Lisa Bol), and Hemingway (Scot Moore) show up to defend themselves, in their underwear, glistening with baby oil. Bol is a comedic standout with her deadpan portrayal of Austen, and Moore lands the funniest line of the show.
The strength of the show is the original score by the composer/lyricist Keith Hovis. It has energetic original melodies. For all of the musical theater geeks, the orchestration is chock full of affectionate little Easter eggs, that lean heavily on the likes of Sondheim (particularly Into the Woods) and Rent. I look forward to hearing more of his work in the future. I would have enjoyed the music more if the cast as a whole could consistently sing in tune. It was a problem that took me out of the show too often.
The show works very well at Theatre in the Round. Director/choreograper Ben Layne takes advantage of every nook and cranny of the stage.