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Stars go from 'Bard to verse'


Kenneth Branagh

Kenneth Branagh

Kenneth Branagh

Surrounded by skateboarders and surfers, the University of California's Royce Hall is about as far as you can get from the Bard of Avon's old stomping grounds.

But some of entertainment's elite did their best to bring William Shakespeare to Southern California with an all-star reading of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

"It's a cavalcade of celebrities in here, some of whom have done Shakespeare before, some of whom not," said Tom Hanks in an interview before the event.

"And it's a one-time only. We sell it out. We rehearsed it today. We're performing it later. Hardly anyone knows what they're doing in there. So anything could happen. It could be Hellzapoppin' in here, by way of The Merry Wives of Windsor."

Among the participants in aid of The Shakespeare Centre in Los Angeles were Christina Applegate, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Eric Idle, Tracey Ullman and Kenneth Branagh, who has brought Shakespeare to the masses with such films as Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing.

"Shakespeare talks a lot about clowns," Branagh said. "He talks a lot about clowning. He's a popular entertainer. And I think one of the things that an evening like this does ... is this riotous kind of quality. So it's really pretty anarchic and lunatic.

"Now, that's all through the plays, and you really get it on an evening like this. And you've got some amazing, amazing talents here. And they keep it very loose. And it's respectful but not reverential at all.

"So, it's more like kind of a party feel to it."