Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Hamlet, Carmen, Castaway Connection

An Admission

—by Adena Schutzberg

I know it's not cool to admit this, but I'm a big fan of Gilligan's Island, the silly TV sitcom from the 1960s. As I kid I watched it in syndication on lazy weekday afternoons when I didn't have anything better to do. The seven castaways lived in an idyllic world of sunshine on a remote island in the vicinity of Hawaii. Despite the unique events of each episode, the closing credits always left the residents exactly as they'd always be, stranded on the island. It was on this TV show that I first encountered the music from the opera Carmen, one of the pieces we'll play at our March 7 concert.

The Producer (Season 3, Episode 4)

In what many consider the show's best episode, The Producer, the self-important movie director Harold Hecuba, played by Phil Silvers, crash lands on the island. He may well be their ticket home, but one castaway, movie star Ginger Grant, is slighted by Hecuba and refuses to return to civilization should they be rescued. To convince Grant and Hecuba of her talent, the castaways produce a musical version of Hamlet, set in part to the music of Carmen. In the end, Hecuba steals the idea and returns to Hollywood to develop it, without the castaways.

The best part of the story is the "show within the show," performed on the bamboo stage, first by the castaways, then by Hecuba, playing each of the roles. At six, when I probably first saw this episode, I knew nothing of Hamlet nor Carmen. When I later heard Carmen, probably in high school, I'm sure I thought, "Hey, that's the music from that Gilligan's Island musical!"

The five-minute castaway produced musical version of Hamlet.

Why is this version of Hamlet/Carmen so Sticky?

I can, even today, sing nearly all the parts from this product from memory. I can even recall some of the Hamlet dialog! Why did this mini-musical make such an impression on me at six?
  1. Carmen has some really catchy tunes. Even my housemate, who understandably closes the door to his office when I practice, said "Hey, I know that piece you are practicing. What is it?" When I said Carmen, he made the connection. I was disappointed he did not reference Gilligan's Island.
  2. The lyrics are funny and rhyme. This advice from Polonious to his son Leartes is a bit like Dr. Seuss for the slightly older set:
    Neither a borrower, nor a lender be, Do not forget, stay out of debt!
    Think twice and take this good advice from me.  Guard that old solvency!
    There's just one other thing you ought do do! To thine own self be true!
  3. The staging is memorable. I always enjoyed the inventions on the island. The pedal-powered car was one of my favorites. For the staged production there was a hand-cranked record player providing the background music from Carmen. (While it's not discussed, I assumed the rich couple had the recording with them on the three hour boat tour when it left Honolulu.) Further, the castaways build a stage, with open flamed footlights.

What will you think of when you hear The Concord Band play Carmen?

I confess that when I practice the arrangement of Carmen the band has selected, the Gilligan's Island lyrics run through my head. When did you first hear Carmen? What does the music make you think of? Come hear it in a whole new way at our Winter 2020 concert!


Adena Schutzberg has been a member of the Concord Band clarinet section since 2005 and has been a regular contributor to this blog. She is a recognized author and expert in geospatial technology, working as Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) Program Manager at Esri. She is an avid runner, having completed multiple marathons and 100-mile ultra endurance events.

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