Theater review by Raven Snook
All are welcome to the enchanting Forest of Arden in Shakespeare in the Park’s inventive and exhilarating production of As You Like It. Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery’s musical adaptation takes lavish liberties with Shakespeare’s comedy, which may dismay some textual purists. But this version embraces the show’s reputation as a crowd-pleaser by not only catering to a crowd but including one, too: The professional central cast performs alongside dozens of community members from all five boroughs, ages 7 to 81, including firemen, domestic workers and the formerly incarcerated.
A product of the Public Theater’s Public Works division, Taub and Woolery’s magical and communal As You Like It was originally presented for five performances in 2017. Now it’s back for an extended run, with the swoon-worthy Rebecca Naomi Jones and Ato Blankson-Wood returning as would-be lovers Rosalind and Orlando, who are not the only missed-connection couple exiled to the woods by a dastardly nobleman. The mistaken-identity confusion of Shakespeare’s woodsy romcom is intact, but the language is frequently rewritten into bewitching songs by Taub, who also plays the melancholy philosopher Jaques. She bookends the show with a wistful reinvention of the Seven Ages of Man speech, translating Shakespeare’s observations into charming modern verse that highlights the evening’s inclusivity: “All the world’s a stage, and everybody’s in the show, nobody’s a pro.”
There are many unforgettable moments along the way: Orlando tussling with flamboyant members of the Bronx Wrestling Federation; the banished Duke Senior (a luminous Darius de Haas) gathering his flock under the greenwood tree; full-on boy-band ballads crooned by Orlando and clown Touchstone (a cheeky Christopher M. Ramirez); and, most movingly, the repeated pleasure of watching neophyte actors from all walks of life get a chance to revel in the Bard’s poetry. What’s not to like? If you prefer your classics slick and traditional, beware. But for the rest of us Groundlings, this truly feels like Shakespeare for—and by—everyone.
As You Like It. Delacorte Theater (Off Broadway). By William Shakespare. Adapted by Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery. Music and lyrics by Taub. Directed by Woolery. With Taub, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Ato Blankson-Wood, Darius de Haas, Christopher M. Ramirez. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.
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Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.