Sunday, March 1, 2015

Review: Wars & Whores: The Henry IV Musical

According to Toby Zinman, this musical version of Shakespeare's history play is a parody (travesty? burlesque?) but in spite of itself sometimes captures the emotional power of the real thing as some good actors with strong singing voices do the play justice.

Review: Wars & Whores: The Henry IV Musical

By Toby Zinman

  This rollicking musical from The Underground Shakespeare Company starts with a famous phrase from Henry IV, Part One -- “civil butchery” -- and uses it as a lyric, adding, “It makes us into men.”  So it looks, briefly, as if this musical version of Shakespeare’s history play has a political agenda.

  That soon vanishes, though, and the show continues as a parody (travesty? burlesque?) that in spite of itself sometimes captures the emotional power of the real thing as some good actors with strong singing voices do the play justice.

  Prince Hal  (Gary Kurnov) and his rival, Hotspur ( Dave Kurnov — that the actors are brothers and look very much alike adds an extra dimension) square off, and, once again, fat Falstaff (Eric Johnson) is banished, while King Henry (Rob Bobst) despairs of his profligate son.

  There are two show-stopping songs, and both belong to the outstanding Dave Kurnov: “Make Love From a Horse” and the hilarious “Talkin’ Richard Two Two-Timin’ Blues.” (Once Hotspur becomes the star of the show, the play’s meaning shifts.)

  Conceived and directed by Benjamin Kamine, with music and lyrics by Jeffrey Barg, the show survives the burden of the Rotunda’s terrible acoustics  (not to mention the hardness of the pews and the heat). 

$10. 7 p.m. 9/11 at the Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St.

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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