Paul McCartney, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson Put on Star-Studded Shakespeare Benefit Reading

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From left: Sir Paul McCartney, Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks and Ben Donenberg, founding artistic director of Shakespeare Center LA

Actors read “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles event.

One famous Brit -- Paul McCartney -- and talented company -- Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson and Val Kilmer -- came out to celebrate the work of another famous Brit, William Shakespeare, on Wednesday night at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The message: Thou art support the theater!  

The event was the the 23rd annual Simply Shakespeare benefit reading of The Two Gentlemen of Verona put on by the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles (SCLA).

Proceeds raised will go to the SCLA and its arts based veterans and inner-city youth employment programs. It will also benefit arts education and professional union contracted productions at the Japanese Garden at the West Los Angeles Veterans Medical Center.

Along with the aforementioned talent, other members of the celebrity cast participating in the reading included Martin Short (Damages), Christina Applegate (Anchorman 2), Eric McCormack (Will & Grace), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), Stephen Root (Boardwalk Empire), Lily Rabe (American Horror Story), Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom) and William Shatner (Star Trek).

“It was unbelievable,” said McCormack, who played the role of Valentine, looking elated after the success of the reading.  

His reaction is understandable. He was sitting in the company of McCartney (who read for Sir Eglamour), Hanks (Launce) and Wilson (Lucetta) after all.

The finished product might have come off as polished, but SCLA artistic director Ben Donenberg admitted that the source material was one that was tricky to work with.

“This is a Shakespeare play that’s a problem play -- the relationships are problematic in modern contemporary society,” Donenberg said.

Wherefore dost thy source material be so problematic? Mayhaps because, as Donnenberg explains, one of the women getting married is severely mistreated by her new husband, and her marriage is therefore unconvincing to a contemporary audience.  Mind thee, this is a society living in a divorce-centric world where marriages have a 50% or so success rate.

This is where McCartney came into play. Donenberg imagined that woman walking away from her problematic relationship to the tune of “Let it Be.”  He reached out to McCartney, asking if he would be willing to lend some of his music to the performance and if he wanted to participate: “He was very gracious,” Donenberg said.

The inquiry hath paid off. McCartney was fain to accept the offer. He performed, and his music played throughout the reading. Not to mention, he proved to be incredibly enticing to other actors. “He didn’t even get to McCartney,” Alexander quipped. “He said Paul and I was there.”

According to Kilmer, who played the roles of Panthino and Vito, there might even be an acting career in the foreseeable future for this quarter of the fab four.

“This young guy Paul McCartney, I think with practice and dedication, he’s going to make it. He’s got some potential,” Kilmer joked.

Jokes aside, the evening of Shakespeare -- “He’s our greatest poet,” Kilmer said -- paid off. Seats went for $1500, though donations varied, and many were higher than the entry amount, and the show was sold out.

“Anything that teaches anyone about theater, particularly the classics where I came out of, is a good thing,” McCormack explained. “It’s a dying art.”

If the success of the night and Shakespeare’s track record -- his plays have been around since the late 1500s -- are any indication, though doth not worry, McCormack.