'Bernhardt/Hamlet' offers modern Broadway twist on French diva

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The life of French actress Sarah Bernhardt arrives on Broadway in a new play that brings a contemporary twist to her career as an woman who broke the rules of male-dominated theatre.

“Bernhardt/Hamlet,” a comedy starring British actress Janet McTeer, focuses on Bernhardt’s 1899 performance in Paris as the first woman to play Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Bernhardt, a 19th century diva who ran her own theatre company, slept in a coffin, and kept a lion and an alligator, was 55 years old at the time.

"She was incredibly bold and she just felt like an amazing person," said McTeer.

American playwright Theresa Rebeck uses Bernhardt to look at issues like fame, love, aging, and the place of women in celebrity culture and wider society.

"She was somebody who knew how to rattle the culture. But it was such an extraordinarily intellectual, passionate and feminist way to rattle the culture 120 years ago," said Rebeck.

"It became interesting to me to explore a person who was so fearlessly that," she said.

Bernhardt died in Paris in 1923 at age 78.

“Bernhardt/Hamlet” has its opening night on Broadway on Sept. 25.

(Reporting by Alicia Powell; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)