Now Who Wears The Scarlet Letter: shAme the musical
Updated: Nov 27, 2020
On November 18th and 19th, ArtLab and ShowTown Productions presented virtual readings for their developmental lab of Mark Governor’s shAme, based off of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
I was so thrilled for the opportunity to attend this invitation-only performance, and am so excited to share my thoughts with all of you.
This developmental lab was directed by three-time Tony Award Winner Kathleen Marshall, with music direction by Cynthia Meng, editing by Mindy Elliott, Kevin Trent, and Angela Latimer, with Howie Michael Smith as the director of photography, with orchestrations by David O.
The superstar cast is led by Adam Pascal, Lilli Cooper, and Jame Snyder, and features Jessica Jaunich, Jaygee Macapugay, Kevin McAllister, Kevyn Morrow, Andrew Polec, Aurelia Williams, and Samantha Williams.
This new musical follows a storyline similar to that of the novel originally published in the 1850s. Set in Puritain Boston in the 1640s, it follows Hester Prynne, a woman who has had a child with a man who is not her husband. Forced to wear a red A on her chest, she is ostracized from society and works to find a new start for herself and her child.
Mark Governor has created a stunning original take on this classic story, bringing it to life in a sung-through adaptation featuring a myriad of contemporary music styles. Each lyric is stunning, providing an in-depth look into the individual characters and the community in which the story takes place. It’s thrilling to see how the rock score compliments the underlying tension of the Puritanical community.
Every single song is entertaining and beautiful, we hope that an album is released soon!
The world of musical theatre needs Hester Prynne as a leading lady, and Lilli Cooper is fantastic. This is Hester’s story, her search for redemption, acceptance, and the opportunity to start over. Cooper brings a reserved sense of hope to this tragic character, and shows the audience a strong woman who is fearless in the face of persecution, but also knows the restrictions of the time and the place she is in. Cooper had so many brilliant moments within this piece, but “Our Only Escape” was hauntingly beautiful.
Adam Pascal is thrilling as the vengeful Chillingworth. His performance is charming, despite being the character the audience is ready to hate as the story unfolds. Vocally, he stuns, and he expertly wields the duality of his character.
Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale has one of the most well-written characters in classic literature, and like this adaptation in general, is extremely well-done. James Snyder is charismatic and plays the layers of the character brilliantly. No Redemption is another incredible moment in the show, and Snyder is angry and vulnerable, which is such a powerful combination.
In this adaptation, the creative team made the choice to increase the age of Hester’s daughter to thirteen, instead of eight like the original novel. This was a brilliant choice, and Samantha Williams is incredible in the role. Her vocals are insane, and her performance of “Main Street At Noon” is showstopping, and one of my favourite moments in the entire show.
shAme features a strong ensemble of six performers who serve as townspeople, spirits, and narrators. One of the best pieces of the performance was how they served as a “Greek Chorus” of sorts, explaining certain pieces of the show to the audience.
This entire group of actors provides a masterclass in storytelling through song, and it is amazing to watch!
This reading was pre-filmed over a two week period, then streamed to an audience via Stellar. Cast members were sent the necessary tools to record their own audio and video, which were then edited into the virtual performance presented this week.
This video incorporated wonderful technical elements which served the story and enhanced the reading. A gorgeous array of virtual backgrounds were featured, and the stage directions were presented across the screen, giving the audience more detail and transporting them into the world.
During the talkback following the performers, it was revealed that the performers on screen were performing with only a backtrack in their ears. It was incredible to see how strong the connections were between the performers when they couldn’t see or hear each other!
I’m calling it now. shAme is going to be the next cult hit musical, and my new musical theatre obsession.
By the end of the opening number, my first thought was “Okay, so when are we getting a cast album?” Musically, this show is incredible, and I could listen to this cast sing all day. Every song is worthy of being put on repeat, and I’ve had a few of them stuck in my head all day long.
(I’m also a huge nerd when it comes to classic literature and the way this adaptation has been put together is BRILLIANT.)
The piece is riveting, and despite knowing how the story ends (I mean, it was written in the 1800s), I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for what would happen next, and completely invested in the hope that Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl would receive a happy ending.
This is also a show that fits so well into today’s society as it speaks to female strength, persecution, oppression, and social justice, as well as providing timeless themes of hope, acceptance, love, and redemption.
I also have to commend the brilliant performers, because this company was strong! We mentioned it earlier, but if we had not been told that it was all filmed and recorded solo, I honestly wouldn’t have known!
The way they were able to connect with each other as well as the audience sight unseen is a testament to their craft, as well as the brilliant work of the creative team who made this happen WITHOUT BEING IN THE SAME ROOM! I am constantly amazed by how the theatre community is finding new ways to thrive during these uncertain times.
Excited about shAme? Curious to find out where it’s going next? Want more information?
Be sure to follow @artlab.productions on Instagram, they have some exciting behind-the scenes fun to share. Stay tuned here as well, I will definitely be sharing any and all updates as this show begins to grow!
There are many exciting things to come from shAme, and I can’t wait to book a ticket to wherever it goes next! (And eventually, live, in-person, and on Broadway!).
I also wanted to say a huge thank you to ShowTown Productions for the opportunity to witness this new piece of theatre, we had such a brilliant evening!
Previously Published on Break A Leg