CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Shakespeare Theatre's Age of Aquarius Beatles Musical ('As You Like It')

Jennifer Lines (center) and cast in As You Like It, Shakespeare Theatre Company. Photo: Teresa Castracane Photography

Shakespeare Theatre Company is offering its own cheery December production, in answer to all the Nutcrackers and Messiahs and carol sing-alongs, to drive away the winter doldrums. It has revived an updating of Shakespeare's As You Like It, set in the 1960s and first conceived by Daryl Cloran for Vancouver's Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival. Seen Wednesday evening at Harman Hall, this antic, technicolor production weaves together a critical mass of Beatles songs, often just salient excerpts, with the Shakespeare text. The grafting process required some heavy cuts to the play, which could be a plus or a minus, depending on your disposition.

The updating works best in the Forest of Arden, where the exiled Duke's lines about life in the woods do sound convincingly like something a hippie might say: "And this our life, exempt from public haunt, / Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, / Sermons in stones, and good in everything." Life is groovy, man, and nature is our university. The tie-dye brightness of a VW bus as backdrop and the band's costumes bring Woodstock to mind. The Dukes, the older usurped in rule by the younger, become Dames, both played convincingly by Jennifer Lines: the usurper as an establishment figure, costumed like Jackie Kennedy, and the elder a long-haired flower child. The decision to amp up the wrestling bit in Act I into a WWE extravaganza, expanded into a preshow entertainment, while fun (with exciting fight direction by Jonathan Hawley Purvis, complete with believable piledrivers), tired long before it was over.

Various 60s types are evoked in the costuming of the characters (colorful costume design by Carmen Alatorre): Orlando, turned into a loveable spaz by Jeff Irving, channels Elvis in his dance numbers; Kayvon Khoshkam's Touchstone wears glittery sunglasses and elevator shoes, a combination of Elton John and Austin Powers; Chelsea Rose's Rosalind and Naomi Ngebulana's Celia sport beehive hairstyles like Natalie Wood; Andrew Cownden's downer Jaques seems like a mash-up of a beat poet and Andy Warhol. The whole affair, kept at a jumpy tempo by Cloran's direction, has the attention span you might expect from an episode of Laugh-In.

If your idea of fun is sitting through two and a half hours of Beatles karaoke, you will surely enjoy the evening. The Forest of Arden has a cover band, made up also of cast members, under the musical direction of Ben Elliott, who plays the country rube Silvius with adorable backwardness. The singing is of varied quality, with the best song of the twenty-three (!) songs turning out to be "Let It Be," sung beautifully by Evan Rein as Amiens and with soft harmony from others in the cast. Audience participation is encouraged, with the cast pausing just long enough mid-lyric for someone in the house to supply a word that everyone knew should be next. Shakespeare included a number of celebrated songs in As You Like It, set by numerous composers over the centuries. This perhaps helps to justify turning it into a musical pastiche, but it is a shame to lose all the Shakespeare songs in the process.

Few would argue that As You Like It is one of the bard's best plays, but if you are expecting to hear all of your favorite scenes, you may be disappointed. The most famous speech, Jacques's "All the World's a Stage," survives the cuts, a rare sober moment as recited by the grumpy Andrew Cownden in what is otherwise a noisy performance continually undercut by pop song interruptions. In the scene in which characters roast Orlando's painfully sophomoric poetry ("If a hart do lack a hind, / Let him seek out Rosalind"), the doggerel is switched out for some of the more insipid lines from Beatles songs. That this works, more or less, is not exactly a strong argument for replacing so many of Shakespeare's words with Beatles songs.

As You Like It runs through January 7.

No comments: