Great Performances | Shakespeare Live! from the Royal Shakespeare Company
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Courtesy of Helen Maybanks © RSC

Watch Sunday, January 8, 2017 at noon on WMHT-TV 

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 2016, The Royal Shakespeare Company hosted a glittering jubilee party with an all-star cast. 

Many iconic characters, speeches and scenes from Shakespeare’s best-known plays are featured, telling the story of Shakespeare’s life and career. 

From the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, hosts David Tennant and Catherine Tate are joined by an eclectic roster of performers including Akala and Hip Hop Shakespeare, Roger Allam, Benedict Cumberbatch, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Ian Bostridge, Judi Dench, Anne Marie Duff, Paapa Essiedu, Joseph Fiennes, Alexandra Gilbreth, Rory Kinnear, the cast of Horrible Histories, Rufus Hound, Henry Goodman, John Lithgow, Ian McKellen, Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra, HelenMirren, Alison Moyet, Al Murray, Pippa Nixon, the Orchestra of the Swan, Gregory Porter, the Royal Ballet, Antony Sher, The Shires, David Suchet, Rufus Wainwright, and Harriet Walter, for a very special evening. Even RSC President Prince Charles joins the fun for an impromptu acting class on the proper way to emote Shakespeare’s classic words, “To be, or not to be.”

The once-in-a-lifetime cast was assembled and directed by Gregory Doran, Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and took place in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

Beyond the many dramatic highlights of the evening, the show is filled with music and dance.

Country duo The Shires perform a special interpretation of Shakespeare’s poem “Under the Greenwood Tree”; Henry Goodman and Rufus Hound give their own rendition of

“Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from the musical “Kiss Me Kate”; and the Midlands Youth Jazz

Orchestra perform Duke Ellington’s “Black and Tan Fantasy” which is used for an Othello-inspired dance courtesy of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Akala and his award-winning music theatre production company Hip Hop Shakespeare perform a brand new composition; while dancers from the Royal Ballet will perform Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” accompanied by the 65-piece Orchestra of the Swan.

Musicians Rufus Wainwright, Gregory Porter and Ian Bostridge offer songs inspired by Shakespeare: Rufus Wainwright sings Sonnet 29; a filmed performance of Gregory Porter sings “When That I Was And A Little Tiny Boy”; and there is a haunting rendition of “Come Away, Death” from Ian Bostridge accompanied by Sir Antonio Pappano, recorded at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare is buried.

Reviewing the evening in The Guardian, Robert McCrum found it “an apt and vivid reminder of the playwright’s chameleon brilliance, his astonishing powers of assimilation, and the way in which the inspired juxtapositions of his language and poetry can ignite the cortical synapses of the imagination like no one in our literature.”

Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph noted, “McKellen’s fiery delivery of lines about refugees from Sir Thomas More or Rufus Wainwright’s beautiful version of the sonnet ‘When In Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes,’ sent shivers down the spine. Roger Allam as a raving Lear, Harriet Walter as a dying Cleopatra and Helen Mirren as Prospero provided a last-minute embarrassment of tragic riches.”