Christopher Plummer’s Mastery of Shakespeare and Music
As the crowd stood and applauded, Plummer was handed a bouquet of roses, some of which he shared with orchestral stage mates, the crowd, and one with the charm true to Plummer, he placed cheekily between his teeth, bowed, and then walked off the stage.
A couple sat talking in the pews about Christopher Plummer in the vaulted Dominion-Chalmers United Church Saturday evening. They were retelling tales of the young actor, how he went to McGill and how he was known as something of a “playboy” about town. They laughed about a rumour of the young Plummer going through a performance at McGill completely drunk, and still doing it perfectly. Who knows if it’s true, but it wouldn’t be much of a surprise, because even now at 86, the actor oozes charisma and a mastery of his craft.
Plummer’s Shakespeare and Music was the headlining event for the Music and Beyond Festival, played both Friday and Saturday. The one-man show blended several excerpts of Shakespearean comedies, tragedies, sonnets and historical plays with classical music inspired by the author throughout the years.
Although The Sound of Music might be Plummer’s most popular role, he’s been present on screen for the last 50 years, playing in movies such as National Treasure, A Beautiful Mind, and winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the 2011 film The Beginners, a must-see if you haven’t already.
But how the couple knew him, probably like many in the church that night, was as an accomplished Shakespearean bard. They had seen him in Stratford Ontario, and Edinburgh, and countless other places, not surprisingly because Plummer has played the gamut of the poet’s most iconic roles.
Saturday night, the actor was accompanied by the Music and Beyond Festival orchestra, who first filled the church with an overture by Healey Willan from Cymbeline. Then suddenly the booming voice of Plummer burst onto the stage, and he entered, beaming, clearly in his element.
He opened with a short introductory excerpt from Hamlet, and then he weaved in and out of the music, jumping from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to Much Ado About Nothing and Taming of the Shrew. His Benedick, the male lead of Much Ado About Nothing, struggles under the overpowering wit of his female counterpart, much like Petruchio in the Taming of the Shrew, an element that Plummer exploited through a bombastic and comedic performance that garnered chuckles from the audience.
The comedies were interjected by Sonnet 130, one of Shakespeare’s most tongue and cheek love poems. It is at once a scoffing of the over-complimentary style of such sonnets like Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella that came before it, and also a perfect example of the beauty and simplicity of a Shakespearean sonnet. It was performed quite perfectly with a gently mocking tone ending in a twist with a truthful and delicate appraisal. The structure perfectly mirrored in Plummer’s performance.
“And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.”
The second half of the performance took on a more serious tone; the music became statelier as Sir William Walton’s iconic Henry V soundtrack floated around the venue. Plummer entered once again as the namesake character, a role that started his Shakespearean career in Stratford in 1956. Plummer’s Henry seemed cemented in his mind, and Hal became Henry forever as the orchestra played Walton’s Passacaglia, The Death of Falstaff.
Plummer then dipped into Romeo and Juliet, but first he introduced the play, breaking out of character as he did now and again. He told the audience that he had once played Mercutio and once played Romeo.
“And now in my old age, I’m going to play Juliet,” he said mirthfully with a little flare of his hand. The crowd burst into laughter until the actor chided them a bit, “But why not?”
He argued that she has some of the most beautiful lines ever given to a Shakespearean character. And so the actor skillfully strode into the both roles of the wistful young lovers with ease. These classic performances were bookended by Sergei Prokofiev and Beethoven, perhaps the most recognizable scores of the show.
He nearly ended with the Tempest, which many say is the Shakespeare’s final goodbye to playwriting itself, as Prospero, a role Plummer played in 2010. He lingered on the famous phrase, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
But the show ended on a jollier goodbye, returning to lively Much Ado About Nothing, marking the playfulness of the whole performance, and the playfulness of a master owning his craft.
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