'Great Performances' Trailer for 'Hamlet' Resets the Bard in America

Daniel Pearce as Polonius and Ato Blankson-Wood as Hamlet discuss poetry in 'Hamlet'

Daniel Pearce as Polonius and Ato Blankson-Wood as Hamlet in 'Hamlet'

Joseph Sinnott

When Great Performances was founded in the early 1970s, the Free Shakespeare in the Park series was already an institution, with Joseph Papp starting the series in the 1950s. However, it was still young on many levels, as the theater in which it performed had not been established until the mid-1960s. It was a no-brainer for the nascent show to partner with at the time, partly due to East Coast bias, the Shakespearean cannon, and the New York factor making it easily accessible. However, by the early 1980s, the two had parted ways, and it would not be until the late 2010s that a broadcast of the live show would find its way back to PBS as a yearly tradition.

This year’s offering is the 2023 production of Hamlet, directed by Kenny Leon. Leon’s 2019 Much Ado About Nothing was a standout in Great Performances’ lineup when it was shown in the spring of 2020, and this return to the same Shakespearean universe that was set was highly anticipated by theater fans. Reviews noted the set appears to be the same one from the 2019 Much Ado, though now in a state of collapse, with many of the same iconic props now half buried. 

Leon said of his production: “A 400-year-old play exploring the need for a strong foundation of family, with music and words, Shakespeare’s Hamlet has much to say about humanity and the importance of our connectedness to each other. We set this production in 2021, filled with all of the challenges we face as Americans as we explore our need to love more profoundly both nature and its people.”

Check out the trailer.

Here's the updated play's synopsis:

Returning once again to Free Shakespeare in the Park, director Kenny Leon commands The Delacorte stage with a tour-de-force production of the Bard’s masterpiece, Hamlet, a riveting, contemporary present-day take, set in the ruins of a Georgia suburban mansion has been destroyed by a hurricane, retelling Shakespeare’s classic tale of family and betrayal, as enduring as the stars above Central Park. 

The complete cast of Hamlet includes Ato Blankson-Wood (Hamlet), Solea Pfeiffer (Ophelia), Daniel Pearce (Polonius), Nick Rehberger (Laertes), John Douglas Thompson (Claudius), Lorraine Toussaint (Gertrude), Tyrone Mitchell Henderson (Osric), Trí Lê (Barnardo), Warner Miller (Horatio), Lance Alexander Smith (Marcellus), Mitchell Winter (Rosencrantz), Brandon Gill (Guildenstern), Colby Lewis (First Player) Greg Hildreth (Gravedigger), Cornelius McMoyler (Gravedigger's Assistant), Laughton Royce (Messenger), plus Mikhail Calliste, Liam Craig, Safiya Harris, Lauryn Hayes,  LaWanda Hopkins, Jaylon Jamal, Myxolydia Tyler, William Oliver Watkins, Lark White, and Bryce Michael Wood.

Great Performances Season 51, Episode 19: Hamlet will air on most PBS stations on Friday, May 10, 2024, at 9 p.m. ET, and be available to stream on the PBS app and the PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channel the same day. The production will be available for PBS Passport members starting June 9, 2024.


Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. A DC native, Hufflepuff, and Keyboard Khaleesi, she spends all her non-writing time taking pictures of her cats. Regular bylines also found on MSNBC, Paste, Primetimer, and others. 

A Woman's Place Is In Your Face. Cat Approved. Find her on BlueSky and other social media of your choice: @anibundel.bsky.social

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