By Margret Echeverria
Shakespeare? Adapted, you say? And it’s a musical?!! Oh, I approach these things with such dread. I saw an “adapted” version of Titus Andronicus once and slept through the whole damn thing. But dread becomes joy for The Public Theater Public Works presentation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It adapted by Shaina Taub & Laurie Woolery now playing at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, through September 5, which will do the opposite of sedate you. The story leaps off the stage with sizzling choreography by Sonya Tayeh, the tenderest of vocal arrangements by Shaina Taub and playful direction by Laurie Woolery. You have one more night to see this, so this reviewer advises that you put this review on your mobile phone and walk to the Delacorte now to gleefully stand in line for tickets.
Updates to the story begin with some gender trading. Jaques is played by Shaina Taub herself who opens the show with a beautiful song beginning with that familiar line, All the world’s a stage . . . . and the lyrics take us to the clear eyes of childhood when we did not look for a fight, but rather loved everyone first. As You Like It finds it’s conflict in sibling rivalry – silly quarreling between two humans who could not be more alike. Taub and Woolery shake out this division and expose our modern dilemma in which we trade youth for judgement, prejudices and delusional limits to our lives. Grown ups foolishly assign groups with whom we associate and those with whom we do not.
In Shakespeare, when families quarrel, people get banished to the forest. Duke Frederick (Antoine Jones) banishes Duke Senior (Darius De Haas) to Arden. Duke Frederick also finds Rosalind (Rebecca Naomi Jones) and her lineage to father, Duke Senior, to be too much to bear and for this banishes her. Accompanying her cousin Rosalind, Frederick’s daughter, Celia (Idania Quezada) sneaks off to Arden, too, dragging along with her the delightful court clown, Touchstone (Joel Perez) who looks for all the world’s thirst for charm like the late Freddy Mercury. Oliver (Marc Randolph Henry), oldest child and sole inheritor of the Sir Rowland De Bois estate, banishes his younger brother Orlando (Ato Blankson-Wood), when he fails to have him killed in a royal wrestling match. This match is with Bronco, Frankie Flow and Caveman of The Bronx Wrestling Federation — now THIS is updating we can use, People!! Caveman is not to be missed; so nimble, so goofy!
Before running away to the forest, Orlando and Rosilind meet at the wrestling match and fall hopelessly in love in an instant because this is a Shakespeare comedy. Blankson-Wood is smokin’. How hot does that temp rise? Honey, he can sing and do several push ups at the same time without pausing to suck in extra oxygen. He also comes with back up a la ’90’s boy band in day glow pants. His voice is so smooth and his smile will make your belly tingle. Jones is beautifully expressive. There is humor in the slightest movement of her fingertips and when her eyes well up with love for Orlando, ours do, too.
The love stories don’t stop with R and O; it is contagious like a plague! And the gender trading continues when Touchstone meets not Audrey as in the original writing, but Andy (Troy Anthony), a shepherd of Arden. Perez struts his rock star mojo in a naughty and hilarious seduction.
There is a marvelous scene where Perez sneaks through a grand party, like a jewel thief in pin stripes, trying to catch his lover’s eye as Anthony coyly dances with and is courted by the drole, William (Matthew Vazquez). Two more lovers from the original writing are modernized from Silvius, a love sick shepherd, to Silvia (Ariel Mapp) a sexy-cute shepherdess suffering the same ill and the object of her affection, Phoebe (Mayelyn Perdomo), a spikey punk shepherdess in fish net stockings, who’s name becomes a verb in another of Taub’s clever songs.
And Arden . . . Arden is a glorious utopia. Love, food and dancing abound. It’s wonderful to see the way the Public’s productions in Central Park bring the ideal of the public park into the show. Community and peace are the message gently massaging the city’s rigidness right out of us. The urge to reach over, take a stranger’s hand and say, Love be with you, is quite powerful. It is an incredible ensemble of diverse and intriguing faces that is gathered for this production emphasizing this community feeling. Children dance, giggle and eventually encircle one brother guiding him to embrace the other brother. The wedding dancers, Freedom Dabka Group, nearly had me jumping out of my seat, I was so enthralled to see them as Dabka dancing sends fire right into one’s solar plexis. Of course it all ends well; this is a Shakespeare comedy where the love all works out.
You can take your kids to this show and they have a good time. My surely teenager was thrilled to be in the audience. And there are some good lessons here about love. As You Like It is the one where Shakespeare gives us that wise contemplation of marriage and how vulnerable we become at the thought of showing our real selves to a life-long partner who may abandon us when we are ugly, but then comes the revelation that love makes magic real. Cheer your young students up as they return to the drudgery of school days this week and take them to the park for some theater.
As You Like It – by William Shakespeare; adapted by Shaina Taub & Laurie Woolery; directed by Laurie Woolery
WITH: Shaina Taub (Jaques), Rebecca Naomi Jones (Rosalind), Ato Blankson-Wood (Orlando), William Anderson (Adam), Mark Randolph Henry (Oliver), Lori Brown-Niang (Bronco’s Agent), Idania Quezada (Celia), Sue Newman (Hisperia), Joel Perez (Touchstone), Daniel Hall (Announcer), Antoine Jones (Duke Frederick), Patrick O’Hare (Referee), Darius De Haas (Duke Senior), Eddie Bottoms (Papa Corin), Ariel Mapp (Silvia), Mayelyn Perdomo (Phoebe), Troy Anthony (Andy), Catherine Watson (Martext), Vivian Jett (Miss Amiens), Matthew Vazquez (William), Naomi Pierre (Young Girl).
Music & Lyrics by Shaina Taub; choreography by Sonya Tayeh; scenic design by David Rockwell; costumes by Andrea Hood; lighting by David Weiner; sound by Jessica Paz; puppet design by James Ortiz; hair, wig & makeup by Dave Bova & J. Jared Janas; music contractor, Dean Sharenow; orchestrations by Mike Brun; music director, Andrea Grody; co-bandleaders, Mike Brun & Saina Taub; production stage manager, Michael Domue; artistic director, Oskar Eustis; executive director, Patrick Willingham; associate artistic director, Mandy Hackett; director of new work development, Jeanie O’Hare.
Through September 6 at the Delacourt Theater in Central Park. Free tickets are distributed on each performance day via the free lines at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. People waiting for free tickets must line up along the path designated by The Public Theater staff and The Parks Department. Free tickets are distributed at 12PM (noon) every day that there is a public performance. The Public Theater General Info: 212.539.8500. This production runs 90 minutes; there is no intermission..