Review: It Takes A Village To Bring ‘As You Like It’ To Life At the Delacorte
By Mercedes Vizcaino, Contributing Writer, September 7, 2017
The most renowned actors around the world have interpreted countless iterations of Shakespeare’s wildly popular comedy As You Like It. The Public Theater’s Public Works initiative brought its inspiring rendition as a musical adaptation to the Delacorte Theater with a mélange of surprises. The show’s creators, Shaina Taub (music, lyrics, performer), Laurie Woolery (director), and Sonya Rayeh (Emmy-nominated choreographer), present a modern twist with a huge cast brimming with diversity that included professional actors, as well as performers from the Bronx Wrestling Federation, Freedom Dabka Group, Harambee Dance Company and The Sing Harlem Choir; the combined forces numbering over 200 onstage.
The story revolves around feuding families: Duke Frederick (Antoine Jones) and Duke Senior (Darius de Haas), his daughter and heroine Rosalind (Rebecca Naomi Jones), and Orlando (Ato Blankson-Wood), the disinherited son of Duke Senior’s friend and Rosalind’s love interest. Rosalind and Duke Senior have been banished from the court by power-hungry Frederick, escaping to the Forest of Arden to seek refuge from Frederick’s dictatorship. While Rosalind and the Duke find love and acceptance in a new community, Celia (Idiana Quezada), Frederick’s daughter, comes along for the ride.
The opening scene begins with Duke Senior’s melancholic noblemen singing “All the World’s a Stage,” professing that life is one big stage and men and women are just performers in their own lives. Jacques’ (Shaina Taub) assessment holds true centuries later with present social media, as everyone is playing a role and presenting the best version of themselves online. As the play progresses, we see Jacques’ perception of life evolve. The themes of love, aging and death are acted out predominantly in Shakespearian verse, but in some instances, the dialogue references modern day forms of communication such as texting and slang; it works well with the play’s dynamic.
The play briefly covers the romance that ensues between Rosalind and Orlando. Had there been more scenes showing the growing affection for one another, the characters’ chemistry might have appeared stronger. The songs and lyrics were standouts in this work. One memorable character is Touchstone, the jester (Joel Perez), who accompanies Rosalind and Celia into the Forest of Arden. Perez commands the stage with his presence and performance. This adaptation succeeded in bringing Shakespeare’s play about conflict, drama, hope, and life’s inevitable adversities, to life on stage.
A Musical Adaptation of William Shakespeare’s, As You Like It presented by the Public Theater’s Public Works at Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre on September 1-5, 2017. Written by William Shakespeare. Adapted by Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery; music and lyrics by Shaina Taub. Directed by Laurie Woolery; choreography by Sonya Tayeh; scenic design by David Rockwell; costume design by Andrea Hood; lighting design by David Weiner; sound design by Jessica Paz; puppet design by James Ortiz; hair, wig and makeup design by Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas; music contractor: Dean Sharenow; orchestrations by Mike Brun; vocal arrangements by Shaina Taub; music direction by Andrea Grody; co-bandleaders Mike Brun and Shaina Taub; production stage manager: Michael Domue. Cast: Ato Blankson-Wood, Darius de Haas, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Joel Perez, and Shaina Taub. Community partners: Brownsville Recreation Center, Center For Family in Sunset Park, Dreamyard Project, Fortune Society, Military Resilience Project, and alumni partners Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, The Children’s Aid Society, Domestic Workers United; Cameo Groups Bronx Wrestling Federation, Freedom Dabka Group, Harambee Dance Company and The Sing Harlem Choir.
Cover: The company of ‘As You Like It;’ photo: Joan Marcus.