„It is the biggest challenge I have ever faced.”
/Janek Ledecký, author Hamlet The Rock Opera/
After ten years of holding a top position in pop/rock music, Janek Ledecky was mixing his sixth solo album in 1997, when the producer of the album, Martin Kumzak, suggested the idea of a musical version of Hamlet. Janek thought „why not?” before realizing just how crazy the idea was. Many composers around the world have tried to compose an opera or musical of Hamlet, but all have failed. Yet, Janek became obsessed with the project even though he had never before composed a musical. His friends and colleagues called him crazy, much like the hero of our play. When no producer would touch this project, the craziness grew. Janek built his own theatre in Prague and produced it himself. He’d used his last dime, even sold his motorcycle, but somehow the craziness paid off. In November of 1999 the musical Hamlet opened in the brand new Kalich Theatre and ran an unprecedented 650 performances! It went on to play more than 150 performances in Slovakia. Three successful CDs followed /highlights, complete recording and symphony album/. A book about its creation became a huge success in the Czech Republic.
Encouraged by this great success, Janek Ledecký completed his new musical, Galileo, based on the life of the famous Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. The most eagerly anticipated premiere of 2003 in Prague, it ran more than 400 performances at the Kalich Theatre and was successfully revived with Hamlet in 2008.
The William Paterson University sociology professor, Vince Parillo, on loan to Charles University in Prague, came to Kalich Theater to see what he could not believe was possible. The most famous theater play, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, transposed to a rock musical. He was so excited by the Prague production that he decided to do anything he could to bring Janek’s work to the United States. And he did.
The whole American voyage started with readings at Leonia Theater in NJ in April 2002 and then in September 2003 at Lamb’s Theater on Broadway with such stars as Louise Pitre from Mamma Mia, John Hickock and Delisco from Aida and Jeremy Kushnier from Rent as Hamlet. George Harvilla, a poet awarded by the 2000 Hemmigway’s annual poet’s award, was brought on to do the English lyrics or better „transpoetrisation”. The show was awarded by TRU organization as one of the best readings of 2003. But the most important result was that Robert Johanson, respected theater director, decided to join the team. He worked as Artistic Director for the most prestigious Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey for almost twenty years adapting and directing more than 150 plays there, on Broadway, NY City Opera and in other US theaters. Robert liked the material, but his only condition was to ask Janek to make changes for a „US” adaptation. So Janek with Martin Kumzak, arranger and orchestrator, met with Robert and they found immediately that Robert’s ideas were all based on his theater experiences and his huge love for Shakespeare.
This new version premiered in April 2004 to great success at the Abingdon Theater in New York again with Jeremy as the Hamlet, Josh Tower – Simba from The Lion King as Horatio, PJ Benjamin – „Mr. Cellofane” from Chicago as Polonius, Tony Award winner Jan Maxwell as Gertrude and many other famous Broadway names. Then the new Hamlet returned to Prague in English during the summer 05 to even more critical success and a beautiful DVD containing the whole production was filmed.
The General Manager of Korea’s EMK Productions, Sophy Kim, saw this Hamlet production and negotiations began immediately to bring it to Seoul where it’s success has been astonishing with over 450 performances and plans to run it for more years!
February 1st ,2012, saw the opening of the Japanese version in Tokyo directed by Tamiya Kuriyama with Yoshio Inoue as Hamlet. After 30 performances the show moved to Osaka and Nagoya. It totally sold out and received standing ovations every evening. Toho production plans to open it next year again.
On March 22nd, Janek introduced the world version for the first time to a Czech audience in the Prague theatre Broadway. It was performed in Czech, of course. It was rated as the greatest event of the last theatre season.
Excited by their collaboration, Janek and Robert Johanson have just finished a new rock opera IAGO based on Shakespeare´s Othello that hopes to have its dual World Premiers next year in Japan and the Czech Republic.
In April 2017, the fifth Korean version of the Hamlet the Rock Opera premiered at D-Cube Sheraton Theater in Seoul. It was the tenth anniversary of Hamlet release in Korea. This time with the biggest stars of K-pop in the leading roles. All performances were hopelessly sold out.