Posted on June 23, 2013 at 9:03 pm


Last night, the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a stupendous soirée featuring an ensemble of seventeen actors and twelve musicians as well as a mighty lineup of guest performers, including Whoopi Goldberg and TR Knight. The director, Peter Flynn (who I’ve known for many years both as a wonderfully gifted theatre artist and as the husband of my beloved Andréa Burns) asked me if I would write something for the gala, preferably something related to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play which has a long and significant history at the Guthrie.

I haven’t previously collaborated much with Willy the Shake (as Joni Mitchell refers to him) because, well, it makes me nervous; every great composer in history has set his words, and what can I possibly have to say that, oh, for example, Benjamin Britten didn’t already say better than I ever could? But in looking over Hamlet’s advice to the players (Act III, Scene II), I couldn’t help nodding in agreement with his four hundred-year-old suggestions, and I was amused and giddy at the prospect that the same advice would apply to any given group of actors even now. And so I decided to give the Bard a contemporary sound, something very “me,” and I knew I’d need a performer who could both act the text and really sing his tail off.

Brian d’Arcy James and I have been working together for a really long time now, and he is to my mind the finest singing actor we have on the Planet Earth at the moment. He also has a little history with my family and Shakespeare, having sung Georgia‘s magnificent setting of Sonnet 29 on her My Lifelong Love CD. So when Peter and I found out that Brian was available, that was a no-brainer. The minute Brian was on board, I started writing.

Apparently the concert last night was a huge success, and hopefully Brian will record this craziness soon, but in the meantime, here’s my demo of what I cheekily call “Advice to the Playaz.”

Music by Jason Robert Brown
Lyric by Willy the Shake, adapted from Hamlet (ca. 1600)
All vocals and instruments: JRB
Recorded at Casa JRB, Los Angeles CA, 6/5/13