Review by Brittany Crowell
Most are familiar with Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It: the deception of appearance to test one’s love, the pining shepherdess, the forest of Arden, the many weddings, and of course Jaques’ lost soliloquy. You will find much of this in the Public Theater’s Public Works presentation of Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery’s musical adaptation of the familiar comedy, but you will also find so much more.
At the top of the piece, Jaques (played by a calmly contemplative Taub) muses “All the world’s a stage / and everybody’s in the show / nobody’s a pro..” setting the stage for a translation that, if even plausible, goes deeper than its Shakespearean source. Characters costume themselves in more ways than one in this interpretation, which focuses on the roles that we perform with each other and the fear of showing others our true selves.
In Taub and Woolery’s As You Like It, Rosalind’s costuming of herself as a gent to test Orlando is more than just a trail of love, but reveals to us the universal fear of welcoming someone into the trials and tribulations of loving your light and dark sides for the decades to come. Rebecca Naomi Jones finds wonderful balance in the role, embracing the energy and comedy of the piece, while also opening her heart to the audience and letting us into Rosalind’s trepidation and vulnerability. In the moments before she determines to reveal herself and be wed, Rosalind sings: “I’ll start crying at random while we’re having fun / and die laughing when you’re trying to sleep / I’ll be jealous of anything private of yours / but I’ll bury my own secrets deep.” As she sang, I wasn’t the only person in the audience who had a partner poke and smile at them, the familiarity of her fear universally true, and the vulnerable pronunciation of it bringing us closer together.
While reverentially deep, the piece is also pattered with light moments: the lovesick Orlando (played by a lustrous Ato Blankson-Wood) sings out his notes to Rosalind with boy band backup dancers and occasional rap breaks; Touchstone (performed with immaculate comedic timing by Christopher M. Ramirez) pines after lumberjack Andy in choreographed romps; and Phoebe (Bianca Edwards) and Silvia (Brianna Cabrera ) are beautifully mis-matched in love. The musical was equally entertaining to those who studied and appreciated Shakespeare as it was to the gaggle of ten year old girls sitting next to me; while they may not have picked up on the subtleties in the text, they followed the journey just as closely: rooting for Orlando in the boxing match, cheering for the couples as they found each other.
Being a Public Works piece, this programming also aimed to emulate the city of New York with an ensemble pulled from the community. Seventy people graced the stage for the blue ensemble (there is a different ensemble for different performances) and each ensemble channels the humanity within the message of this piece, helping to bring that energy to life.
As You Like It at Shakespeare in the Park is a beautiful, communal healing experience. Your journey through Arden will leave you feeling revitalized and will alleviate some of the fear of being human by reminding you that we are all in this together; love is what makes life magic; and also, the messy parts are often the best parts. If you’re able, get in line (details HERE) and spend an evening at the Delacorte Theater with these wonderful people and hear this beautiful story.
AS YOU LIKE IT – adapted by Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery
Music & Lyrics by Shaina Taub
Original Choreography by Sonya Tayeh
Choreography restaging and. Additional choreography by. Billy Griffin
Directed by Laurie Woolery
The complete Equity cast of AS YOU LIKE IT includes Damion Allen (William), Tristan André (De Boys/Attendant), Amar Atkins (Understudy Duke Senior/Duke Frederick/Agent), Ato Blankson-Wood (Orlando), Lori Brown-Niang (Agent/Puppet-deer), Sean-Michael Bruno (Understudy De Boys), Brianna Cabrera (Silvia), Darius de Haas (Duke Senior), Bianca Edwards (Phoebe), Danyel Fulton (Understudy Jaques/Rosalind/Phoebe), Emily Gardner Xu Hall (Jaques Standby), Pierre Harmony Graves (De Boys/Arden Dancer/Young Orlando Dad), Rebecca Naomi Jones (Rosalind), Jonathan Jordan (Andy), Trevor McGhie (Understudy Orlando/Oliver), Mike Millán (Understudy Touchstone/Andy/William), Bobby Moody (De Boys/Arden Dancer), Renrick Palmer (Oliver), Eric Pierre (Duke Frederick), Idania Quezada (Celia), Christopher M. Ramirez (Touchstone), Edwin Rivera (De Boys/Attendant), Kevin Tate (Understudy Andy/William/De Boys), Shaina Taub (Jaques), and Claudia Yanez (Understudy Celia/Silvia/Phoebe). They are joined nightly by two rotating ensembles of community members from all five boroughs to perform together on The Delacorte stage in this enchanting comedy, as well as a cameo group performance by the Bronx Wrestling Federation.
Scenic design by Myung Hee Sho; Costume design by Emilio. Sosa; Lighting design by Isabella Byrd; Sound design by Sun Hee Kil; Hair, wig, and makeup design by Leah J. Loukas; Puppet design by James Ortiz; Prop Manager, Corinne Gologursky; Sound system design by Daniel Lundberg; Fight direction by Lisa Kopitsky; Music director, Andrea Gody; Orchestrations by Mike Brun; Music coordination by Dean Sharenow; Casting by Heidi Griffiths and Kate Murray; Production stage management by Kristen Gibbs; Line Producer, Audrey Frischman; Company manager, Heather Fichthorn; Production manager, Lico Whitfield. Presented by The Public Theater: Oskar Eustis, artistic director; Patrick Willingham, executive director; in cooperation with New York City. Running at the Delacorte Theater through September 11. https://publictheater.org/news-items/buckets/Features/shakespeare/brave-new-shakespeare-challenge—as-you-like-it/