…THIS is the true sequel to the Bard’s greatest work. My friend Brittany and I were discussing Hamlet over hushpuppies at dinner. As one does. Anyway, we were talking about the differences between Shakespearean comedy and tragedy, because WillShake was a formulaic writer, and wondering how we could make a comedy out of the rubble left by Hamlet’s bloodbath. I mean, there are- what?- three survivors? Horatio, Fortinbras, and Reynaldo. Horatio is clearly the most important one, and I’m not just saying this because I have a huge literary crush on the man. So, we have come up with a new chapter in the story of Denmark.
HORATIO: THE MUSICAL. An all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza! You think tearing down a kingdom is hard? Try rebuilding it! Watch our hero navigate the treacherous waters of politics and love as only Shakespeare could write it! Something is fabulous in the state of Denmark!
The plot: Several months have passed since the death of Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Laertes, Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Sigfried, Roy and the tiger. We start with an aerial view of the kingdom of Denmark, which flies us down to a graveyard where our handsome hero, Horatio, is pondering the death of every single person he knows. The orchestra swells and he breaks into an cheerful song-and-dance routine around the tombstones (“I’m in a Funk and I’ve Got No Direction, ‘Cuz All Denmark is Dead and I’m the Only Exception.”)
While leaving the graveyard, he runs into Billy Crystal The Gravedigger and their conversation provides much-needed exposition (“Much-Needed Exposition.”) We learn that Fortinbras has moved permanently to Denmark from Norway to work on his tan and that Horatio is his most trusted Danish advisor. Reynaldo, the former manservant of the dearly departed Polonius, has become a trusted advisor as well. Fortinbras has entrusted them with an important task: to find him a wife. According to the Gravedigger, that will take a miracle.
We cut to Fortinbras, who is being fitted for a new doublet and is describing to Reynaldo the kind of wife he would like (“She’s Got to Be Able to Drink Me Under the Table.”) Horatio returns to the castle and the three of them do the Charleston for no apparent reason. Suddenly, Osric runs into the room, throwing off the syncopation and causing Fortinbras to chide him. In a very witty manner. Osric takes the verbal emasculation like the paragon of manliness we all know he is (from the three whole lines he had in Hamlet the play) and then tells the three heroes that someone has just wandered onto the castle grounds. It’s a surprisingly alive and sane Ophelia.
It’s a comedy, that’s how.
Anyway, as soon as Ophelia walks into the room, Horatio, Fortinbras, and Reynaldo fall horribly in love with her. Osric rolls his eyes and sings his only number (“I Thought She Was a Headcase.”)
Cue training-style montage of the three men trying to win the affections of the fair former loonie and failing. Reynaldo tries his Gallic charm, Horatio soliloquizes and tries to use logic (“I’m Your Dead Love’s Best Friend, So We’re Practically Married Already”), and Fortinbras buys her oxen and has peasants shot for her.
Flustered by the stalking constant attention of her three suitors, Ophelia takes a three-hour-tour in the North Sea to collect her thoughts. Unfortunately, her ship is blown off course and ends up in Greece. This is Shakespearean geography, people. If he can invent entire countries populated by fairies and idiots, I can have a lucky wind blow a sailboat from Denmark to Greece. The men, of course, take chase, arguing the whole time (“She’ll Never Love You Because You’re a Putz.”). They reach the coast of Greece some three weeks after Ophelia does, but as they near land, Fortinbras and Horatio have moved past words and are now dueling, with Reynaldo looking on rather nervously. Fortunately, a squall moves in very, VERY quickly and wrecks the boat. All three men wake up on separate parts of the coast. Horatio, fearing Fortinbras will kill him if they meet, disguises himself as a woman named Bambi (“Dressed Like a Slut to Save My Butt.”) He/she then runs into Fortinbras, who is immediately smitten with Bambi (“Ophelia Who?”) and insists that “she” dress up as a youth and name “herself” Rocko because there are dangerous outlaws in the countryside that might be tempted by “her” winsome figure. This means that Horatio is a man dressed up as a woman dressed up as a man, and if that’s not Shakespeare, I don’t know what is.
Meanwhile, Reynaldo meets a wandering religious man and introduces him to the joys of wine and women.
Horatio/Bambi/Rocko and Fortinbras wander the countryside, looking for employment, when they spot Ophelia. Unfortunately, she doesn’t recognize Fortinbras or Horatio/Bambi/Rocko. Fortinbras figures she either hit her head or has lost her marbles (again). However, she is very impressed with Fortinbras and his manly ways. Too bad he can’t see anyone but Bambi/Rocko/Horatio. The two seek lodging, posing as “brothers.” They encounter Ophelia the next day, but she has regained her memory of Fortinbras and is smitten with Rocko/Bambi/Horatio.
Reynaldo and the wandering (former) religieux run into…Ophelia? She also has no idea who Reynaldo is, but joins them on their walkabout, and she eventually succumbs to his aforementioned Gallic charm (“I Don’t Know What You’re Saying, But I Think I Like It.”)
Fortinbras and Bambi/Rocko/Horatio live for a few weeks as brothers and shepherds, until the day Fortinbras catches Rocko/Bambi/Horatio in a compromising position with Ophelia. Fortinbras is betrayed, befuddled and confused (“My Woman’s with Another Woman.”) Ophelia shows up and is upset that Fortinbras is upset. Wait, what? TWO Ophelias? Everyone has a WTF moment that only gets worse when Ophelia, Reynaldo, and the religieux show up. Now there are three of them. The confused Fortinbras takes a swing at Bambi/Rocko/Horatio, and they get into a scuffle that reveals Bambi’s bosoms. Ophelia (1) is shocked, but not as shocked as she is when Bambi reveals “herself” to really be Horatio (“See, What Had Happened Was…”) Ophelia (2) starts to pummel Fortinbras for the way he was fawning over Bambi, which only makes him fall in love with the possibly abusive woman. Reynaldo and Ophelia (3) have a quickie in the woods. The religieux retakes his vows and runs away, forsaking humanity once again. Chaos reigns which culminates in six-part operatic harmony (“What in *** is Going On?”) until the old shepherd shows up to reveal the truth.
Apparently, Ophelia was one of three identical twins, the other two having been stolen away and given to the old shepherd, who, coincidentally, named both of them “Ophelia.” When Ophelia (1) was shipwrecked on the shore, the shepherd figured, “Like I’d notice one more,” and so took her in. In the end, Horatio and 1, Fortinbras and 2, and Reynaldo and 3 marry in a woodland ceremony. Bacchus, the god of drunken orgies, makes an appearance. Ideally, he would be played by Mel Brooks.
Oh, Shakespeare. So very formulaic.