Though the works of the great William Shakespeare premiered onstage in the late 16th and early 17th century, they continue to leave a significant mark on contemporary theatremakers. Here are some of the witty, dramatic and out-of-the-box plays and musicals inspired by Shakespeare’s stage works and poems.
As You Like It by Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Dramatic Comedy / 5f, 6m)
A ravishing new musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic story of chance encounters and self-discovery, As You Like It is an immersive, dreamlike tale of faithful friends, feuding families and lovers in disguise. Featuring an original folk-pop score by Shaina Taub, with a flexible-sized cast and 90-minute running time, As You Like It is appropriate for all audiences and groups. Fall under love’s spell with this magical story!
The Boys From Syracuse (David Ives Adaptation) by Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, George Abbott and David Ives (US)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy)
This musical adaptation of Rodgers & Hart’s musical take on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, updated by David Ives, was the first musical ever adapted from the Bard’s canon. Perplexed wives, disgruntled courtesans, outraged constables and an audience roaring with laughter are left in its wake before this show’s tangled web is unraveled.
Dreamland by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 4f, 4m, 18 any gender)
Its Shakespeare with aliens! An over-the-top, B-movie-style musical comedy with a score that blends contemporary musical theatre pop with the smooth sounds of the 1950s, Dreamland is a musical riff on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set during the declassification of Area 51.
Kiss Me, Kate by Cole Porter, Sam Spewack and Bella Spewack (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 3f, 7m)
The battle of the sexes takes center stage as former spouses Fred & Lilli feud onstage and off during a musical presentation of The Taming of the Shrew. Sophisticated, romantic and hilarious, Kiss Me, Kate provides theatrical fireworks as the Golden Age of Broadway clashes with the Bard of Avon.
Oh, Brother! by Donald River and Michael Valenti (US)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 10f, 16m)
Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors – substantially revised, augmented with song and dance and set in the modern Middle East – provides an evening of hilarious slapstick comedy.
Return to the Forbidden Planet by Bob Carlton (US)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 4f, 7m)
Inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, this high-energy jukebox musical is packed with rock ‘n’ roll classics. This sci-fi retelling will take you to a planet inhabited by a sinister scientist, a robot on roller skates and an uncontrollable monster.
Twelfth Night by Kwame Kwei-Armah & Shaina Taub (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 4f, 7m)
Named one of the best theatrical productions of 2018 by Time, The Hollywood Reporter and The Washington Post, Twelfth Night is a rousing contemporary musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy about mistaken identity and self-discovery. Featuring an original jazz-funk score by Shaina Taub, with a flexible-sized cast and running 90 minutes long, Twelfth Night is appropriate for all audiences and groups.
Two Gentlemen of Verona by John Guare, Mel Shapiro and Galt MacDermot (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 3f, 6m)
Based on Shakespeare’s comedy of the same name, Two Gentlemen of Verona tells the story of lifelong friends Proteus and Valentine, who leave their rural hometown to experience life in urban Milan. This ebullient rock musical adaptation features a score from Galt MacDermot, composer of HAIR.
Your Own Thing by Hal Hester, Danny Apolinar and Donald River (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 2f, 5m)
Your Own Thing is a rock musical loosely based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Set in the late 1960s in the land of Illyria (which looks very much like New York City), it is a tale of separated twins, mistaken identities, love triangles and “doing your own thing.”
Bernhardt/Hamlet by Theresa Rebeck (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 3f, 8m)
In 1899, international star of the stage Sarah Bernhardt set out to tackle her most ambitious role yet: Hamlet. Theresa Rebeck’s play rollicks with high comedy and human drama, set against the lavish Shakespearean production that could make or break Bernhardt’s career.
The Bomb-itty of Errors by Jordan Allen-Dutton, Jason Catalano, Gregory J. Qaiyum, Jeffrey Qaiyum, Erik Weiner (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 4m or f)
A hip-hop theatre retelling of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, this 90-minute show is part play and part rap concert, refreshingly current while retaining the integrity of the original. The cast can be expanded from 4 to 20 actors. Winner of the Jefferson Award and Best Show at the HBO Comedy Festival.
Imogen Says Nothing by Aditi Brennan Kapil (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2f, 7m)
This revisionist comedy in verse and prose features Imogen, a character who only appears in the first folio of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, speaks no lines, and is probably a typo. In a new feminist light, this show investigates the voices that have been absented from our canon and the consequences of removing them.
In Juliet’s Garden by Judith Elliot McDonald (US)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 7f)
Juliet Capulet invites four other heroines of Shakespeare’s classics (Katharina, Portia, Ophelia and Desdemona) to lunch in her favorite garden in Verona to discuss “issues” they all have with their plots. This lively 50-minute one-act comedy sparkles with wit and an in-depth understanding of the characters of these indelible ladies, and their effects on audiences over the centuries.
Into the Breeches! by George Brant (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 6f, 2m)
This surprisingly modern and moving comedy, set during World War II, explores the power of art and community, even in the darkest times. While Oberon Play House’s director and leading men are off at war, the director’s wife sets out to produce an all-female version of Shakespeare’s Henriad.
Ken Ludwig’s Midsummer/Jersey by Ken Ludwig (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 10f, 5m)
Midsummer/Jersey is the hilarious high-octane retelling of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream set on the boardwalk of a seaside town in modern-day New Jersey. The story revolves around the impending marriage of the Governor of New Jersey, the love affairs of four beach-bound high school crushes, a lively crew of fairies, and the staff of the local beauty salon (run by Patti Quince and Stylist Nikki Bottom).
Ken Ludwig’s Shakespeare in Hollywood by Ken Ludwig (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 4f, 8m)
It’s 1934 and Shakespeare’s most famous fairies, Oberon and Puck, have magically materialized on the Warner Bros. Hollywood set of Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The mischievous magic of moviedom sparkles in this hilarious comic romp.
Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 3f, 5m)
Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, 1833. Edmund Kean, the greatest actor of his generation, has collapsed on stage whilst playing Othello. A young black American actor has been asked to take over the role. But as the public riot in the streets over the abolition of slavery, how will the cast, critics and audience react to the revolution taking place in the theatre?
The Shakespeare Conspiracy by Andrew Shepherd (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 8f, 8m)
Dive into a lamentable, epic, comic and romantic tragic comedy in a world where Shakespeare’s heroes and villains are real. The RSC is a branch of the government. Shakespeare’s characters have been waging a secret war after being inexplicably being brought to life over 400 years ago. If the rules of theatre are broken, it will bring about the end of the world.
Shakespeare in Love by Lee Hall, Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 6f, 18m)
Based on the Academy Award-winning film, this enchanting, hilarious, romantic stage play reimagines William Shakespeare’s creative process – and explores his inspiration – as he writes Romeo and Juliet. A special edition for high school performers and audiences is also available. (US/UK)
William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead by John Heimbuch (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 2f, 8m, 1 boy, 8 any gender)
John Heimbuch’s wonderfully witty play, set in London, is a “true and accurate account of the Elizabethan zombie plague.” Shakespeare’s Henry V opens at the Globe Playhouse in 1599. As the affliction spreads through London, the Globe is placed in quarantine and the
survivors within must fight for their lives. Can they escape? Is there a cure? Is artistic integrity ever worth dying for?
Header image: 2022 Public Theater production of As You Like It (Joan Marcus)