The Public Theater's 'Shakespeare in the Park' series, is one of the most anticipated NY theatrical events of the summer, and has a reputation for being the best outdoor Shakespeare in America. This year's production of The Merchant of Venice does not disappoint, and rumors of a Broadway transfer have been passed around. Let me outline what they'd need to do in order stage a successful Broadway transfer.
What they should do:
1) Keep Al Pacino. He effortlessly embodies the role of Shylock (the Jew) in this production, a veteran of Shakespearean theatre, and reviving the role he played in the 2004 film adaptation. Al Pacino is a big movie-star name, and is drawing in major crowds. Fans and patrons are lining up well before midnight for The Merchant of Venice's free tickets; in efforts at acquiring any random seat they can get to see Pacino's Shylock. Undoubtably, there would be no Broadway transfer without Pacino, and this discussion is all a little too obvious. He, of course, is the reason to transfer. Although Shakespeare can be hit or miss on Broadway, last year's Hamlet showed the effectiveness of star casting. I should also say that The Merchant of Venice is no Hamlet, and Al Pacino is no Jude Law, so don't expect an anywhere near repeat success.
2) Find a consistent period to adapt to. This production of The Merchant of Venice blurs between the rod-ironed Victorian era, the Renaissance, and Charles Dickens! The current production's staging is open, and creates a broad historical framework. Costumes, props, and scenery are used to identify class structures, cultures, and places distinctively, and weakens any larger design concept. It works in the park, but for success on Broadway, Shakespeare always needs a strong concept, whether traditional, contemporary or anything in between. People will ask, "What's the take on this production?" What do you think the answer should be?
3) Make it beautiful. The Merchant of Venice takes place in the streets and canals of Venice, to beautiful villas on Italian isles. Although I enjoyed the cold rod-ironed design of this production in an outdoor setting, it might be overwhelming at an indoor theatre. In the very least, it would need to be reduced. Shakespeare provides such beautiful text, it should have a scenic design to match. When Hair transferred from the park to Broadway, an entirely new set was constructed. And Hair takes place outdoors! I remember people mumbling, "How can you take that outdoor experience inside, and have the same effect?" Well, what they did was designed an an equally beautiful experience inside. The Merchant of Venice can benefit from a dreamlike lighting design, soundscape, and from whatever backdrops they can come up with. If this comes to Broadway, expect a more elaborate enhancement.
Well those are my three suggestions.
I couldn't find a way to mention that there are additions to this production of The Merchant of Venice, that are not in Shakepeare's script. The largest being, that Shylock undergoes a ritualistic Baptism as was customary in whatever time period this new production takes place in (or so someone backstage tells me). Although messing with Shakespeare's text is dangerous, I don't mind that this sequence was unnecessarily added; it becomes just one more attempt at turning Shylock into a tragic hero, by keeping strong with his faith. The after-effect garnishes a large applause from the audience. It doesn't seem forced, because the audience doesn't know it's artificial.