Upcoming Hello Hamlet! continues Rice tradition
Inspiration comes to people in odd ways, like it did for one of Rice’s longtime theatrical traditions, descending upon a bored freshman as he stared out of the window of his Shakespeare class in 1967.
That freshman, George Greanias (Wiess ‘70), had also been cast as Fortinbras in the Rice Players’ production of Hamlet. As anyone familiar with that play can recall, the actor with the role of Fortinbras spends a lot of time sitting backstage. That much tragedy in iambic pentameter understandably led Greanias to wish revenge on the play itself.
Greanias took his good-spirited revenge by writing the script to Hello, Hamlet! over the next summer. The play parodies the characters and plot of Hamlet, as well as a few other Shakespearean plays, and incorporates well-known Broadway musical numbers into one of the most oddball, creative and absurd musicals ever performed on the Rice campus.
When Greanias arrived back on campus the next semester he had the completed script for Hello, Hamlet! in hand. As he met with members of the then-fledgling Wiess Tabletop Theatre to read the script and plan on a performance date, the group realized that the best weekend to show the play was a mere 10 days away. They rushed to rehearse the production, convinced a few girls from Brown to play Ophelia and Gertrude — as Wiess was not a co-ed college yet — and learned the songs and lines.
To everybody’s surprise, this harebrained scheme was a dazzling success. So much so that Hello, Hamlet! was performed again two years later, and then again, and again after that. When Greanias began running for public office in Houston, the play was even produced by Main Street Theater to elicit support and donations for his campaign. Hello, Hamlet! became a tradition on the Rice campus, and Wiess Tabletop Theater started performing it every four years to give every student a chance to be involved in it during their time as an undergraduate.
At the time of Hello, Hamlet!’s debut many of the institutions, traditions and points of pride Rice students hold near and dear today had not yet been invented. Beer-Bike was still in its early years. No one had thought of rotating Willy’s Statue. Coffeehouse and Pub had not been founded yet. No one had attended a Night of Decadence. Needless to say, Sid’s 80s party had not been conceived. But Hello, Hamlet! is a tradition that has been going strong for many productions.
This year Wiess Tabletop is producing Hello, Hamlet!’s 40thanniversary show. The leaders of this year’s production are updating the song list and enhancing the relevance of the show’s humor, but the spirit of Rice’s very own musical will remain true to the ambitions and performance standards of the original 1967 production. The Rice community can look forward to the swordplay, expansive show numbers and eccentric humor original to Hello, Hamlet! in March.
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