Members of the cast of Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather. Photo by Ron Reed.
Members of the cast of Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather. Photo by Ron Reed.

Puzo and Coppola fans will love Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather.

Based on post-show chatter though, those less familiar with this mafia tale made popular by Mario Puzo’s novel and Francis Ford Coppola’s epic film, may leave a little confused. Not surprising given playwright David Mann has crammed Coppola’s nearly three hours (and Puzo’s 448 pages) into just 80 minutes on stage.  That it also began its life at the Minnesota Fringe Festival may help explain its length, where Fringe adaptations of this type are traditionally very judicious and economical.

Hitting all the high points from the Coppola film on which it is based, Mann also injects Shakespearean elements into the proceeding. Rather than simply re-writing the film script in iambic pentameter though, Mann mashes both worlds together. The result is something both familiar and foreign, including direct homages to a couple of Shakespeare’s plays.

As Mann points out in his program notes, writing the play in Shakespeare’s style also provided him an opportunity to create a richer narrative, where a single line or facial expression in the film becomes a soliloquy.  These soliloquies are augmented by the addition of a female chorus – Lindsay Curl, Danielle Klaudt and Paige Louter – who help to fill in some of the story impossible to portray in its short run time.

However, Mann’s female chorus takes on a whole new meaning inside this production. In a traditional staging, the chorus helps to elevate the film’s very male-centric story, where the female characters are largely background players. Ironically though, in this Classic Chic Production all the characters are played by women.

As with previous Classic Chic shows, this is not a re-interpretation for a female voice. Instead, this very capable all-female ensemble play the roles as if they were men. Even as it may be impossible to divorce the feminine aesthetic completely, it is surprising how quickly one forgets Vito, Sonny, Michael and all other manner of mobsters are being played by women. It is also not difficult to imagine how a less talented cast would not be as successful.

Nicola Lipman as Don Corleone. Photo by Ron Reed.
Nicola Lipman as The Godfather, Don Corleone. Photo by Ron Reed.

Leading the charge of this fine ensemble is Nicola Lipman as The Godfather, Don Corleone.

With the role so closely associated to Marlon Brando’s performance in the film, the stakes are high for any actor. Resisting any urge to cast the role to mimic Brando’s performance, director Mindy Parfitt finds the perfect replacement in the diminutive Lipman. Confident but never brash, there is a singular familial vision that is at times chilling.

As the family member who sees the biggest transformation, Stefania Indelicato finds Michael’s resolve in first resisting and then finally giving in to the family business. Corina Akeson finds a wonderful balance between Sonny’s machismo and his underlying vulnerability.

Another highlight is Christina Wells-Campbell. Largely playing some of the comedic elements that the playwright has peppered throughout his play, Wells-Campbell finds the reality in the ridiculous. There is a moment in which she transforms from male character to waitress not only superbly executed, it is also wonderfully mind-blowing in its gender bend.

Sound designer Corina Akeson provides a suitable soundtrack with her music choices, and Heidi Wilkson keeps things simple with appropriately painted (family) trees on either side of the traverse stage.

While it is not entirely necessary to know a Corleone from a Tattaglia, it does help. My recommendation? If you’ve never seen Coppola’s film masterpiece it is available on Netflix in Canada. Watch it and then book your tickets to see Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather.

If you’re like me and are already familiar with this mafia tale, you’ll be waiting to get word of the sequel.

Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather by David Mann. Based on the film The Godfather by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, and the novel by Mario Puzo. Directed by Mindy Parfitt. On stage at Pacific Theatre (1440 12 Ave West Vancouver) until February 25. Visit for tickets and information.

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