Review | “As You Like It” jubilantly redefines “community” theater


‘Spoiler alert: it’s a happy ending,’ warns writer and performer Shaina Taub in her upbeat, upbeat 90-minute musical version of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy ‘As You Like It’, which is produced by the Public Theater this summer. final production of Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

Taub and director Laurie Woolery’s adaptation was first produced by the Public Theater in 2017 as part of its acclaimed Public Works series, in which professional actors join ordinary New Yorkers from across the five boroughs. in pageant-style musicals inspired by the classics, which have ranged from Shakespearean adaptations to Disney’s “Hercules.”

“As You Like It” was originally slated to receive a full Shakespeare in the Park run (again, with a huge cast of community members) in 2020. Following the pandemic shutdown, the Public Theater has instead produced a documentary about the 2017 production titled “Under the Greenwood Tree,” which is still available for free viewing online.

Taub (who previously musicalized Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”) is quickly establishing herself as a leading composer. “Suffs,” her musical about the women’s suffrage movement, sold out on Off-Broadway in the spring. She is also currently working with Elton John on a Broadway-bound musical “The Devil Wears Prada.”

“As You Like It” is ideal for a musical adaptation. In fact, the piece itself already contains several songs. The plot (full of romantic angst, adventure, sports, and eccentric secondary characters) was left untouched.

Rosalind (Rebecca Naomi-Jones, who struggled vocally during my performance, but otherwise makes a brave heroine) falls in love at first sight with sweet Orlando (a serious Ato Blankson-Wood) and is then banished from the royal court by her corrupt uncle. Joined by the jester Touchstone (mischievous and flashy Christopher M. Ramirez) and dressed as a man, Rosalind departs for the Forest of Arden, where her exiled father, the Duke Senor (Darius de Haas, moving and magnet), is in residence. with his band of followers, including the philosopher Jaques (Taub, with pigtails and a cap).

Taub’s folk-pop score is well-integrated and surprisingly contemporary, finding places for the protagonists to express themselves more fully, humorously adding R&B backing vocalists for romantic proposals, and transforming the “Everyone’s a Stage” soliloquy to both an opening number and a recurring theme.

The production is full of new touches, including the seamless integration of same-sex relationships, hippie-like followers of Duke Senor (who might have come out of the Public Theater’s 2008 revival of “Hair”), depicting deer with life-size puppets galloping across the stage and treating the wrestling match between Orlando and Charles as a full-fledged WWE spectacle (complete with a wrestling ring, costumes, entrance music, and cheering fans).

It’s hard to think of a recent production of the play itself that was as satisfying as this one. If it has a downside, it’s the fact that it makes viewers envious for not being part of the large and diverse cast of community members (which has been split into two rotating casts).

Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Visit for directions and information on obtaining free tickets. Until September 11.


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