Chicago Shakespeare Theater returns following its pandemic hiatus with director Daryl Cloran’s rad production of AS YOU LIKE IT. Cloran’s vision for this classic pastoral comedy combines the renowned lyricism of Shakespeare’s text with the songs of some more modern iconic British wordsmiths — the Beatles. This take seamlessly interweaves the play’s text with the Beatles songs, and Cloran chose a play that fits naturally with the famous band’s music. Given that Shakespeare’s language is innately lyrical, it lends itself well to a pairing with other notable lyrics. At the same time, that can be a tricky balance. Not so with this production. Cloran balances text and song beautifully, and thus this is a show that’s sure to please fans of both Shakespeare and the Beatles.
Cloran’s production is set in the 1960s with fabulous costumes by Carmen Alatorre and set design by Pam Johnson that easily transport audiences back in time. The ‘60s, of course, has a particular aesthetic, and the ensemble’s wardrobe absolutely captures that. For example, Alatorre reimagines the court jester Touchstone (Kayvon Khoshkam) as a cross between Elton John and David Bowie. Her costume designs are equally inventive across the board. Johnson’s set makes the play’s famed Forest of Arden into a ‘60s technicolor dream, replete with a Volkswagen-like van and plenty of flower power. Cloran’s vision and the design elements work in tandem to make the Shakespeare-meets-the-Beatles storytelling come to life in the most entertaining way.
For context, AS YOU LIKE IT centers on Orlando (Liam Quealy, leaning well into the part of starry-eyed and longing young lover). His older brother Oliver sends Orlando off to a wrestling match with the famous Charles (Austin Eckert, delightfully braggadocious and pugnacious) in the hopes that he won’t make it through. Of course, Orlando wins the match — and catches the eye of Rosalind (Lakeisha Renee). Though Duke Frederick (Kevin Gudahl) has usurped his younger brother and Rosalind’s father Duke Senior (also played by Gudahl in a clever move of double casting), his daughter Celia (Melanie Brezill) decides to stand by her cousin. Rosalind disguises herself as a self-assured young man named Ganymede and Celia as his sister Aliena. And off they go to the Forest of Arden. Orlando separately flees to the forest with his servant Adam (Steven Pringle). Many mix-ups in the forest ensue — including a notable side plot involving lovestruck shepherd Silvius (Michael Daniel Dashefsky) and the apple of his eye Phoebe (Heidi Kettenring, who seems like she was born to sing Beatles music).
Although Cloran’s production is still best described as a play with music, he uses the Beatles’ songs to build character and heighten the emotionality of Shakespeare’s storytelling. It’s also useful that AS YOU LIKE IT involves the classic Shakespearean trope of the star-crossed or wistful lover many times over. Given that the Beatles have so many songs about love, the music fits the characters elegantly.
For example, after Orlando meets Rosalind for the first time, he wistfully sings “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” It’s a lovely musical moment to capitalize on those feelings of love at first sight, and Quealy conveys all of Orlando’s curiosity, adoration, and awkwardness into the song. LIkewise, the production introduces the Silvius/Phoebe plot by having Dashefsky sing a pleading version of “Love Me Do.” In both instances, the Beatles’ lyrics beautifully fit the heightened emotional state of the characters.
While those might seem like rather logical choices, Cloran’s production also uses some more unusual Beatles songs quite inventively in the production. For example, Jacques (Deborah Hays), Duke Senior’s melancholy court attendant, shares that she has come up with a terrific new song that encapsulates her state. The song? “I Am the Walrus.” Hays’s performance is a real highlight. She finds a balance between genuinely sad and amusingly daffy. And of course she’s tasked with performing one of Shakespeare’s most iconic monologues, “All the world’s a stage…”
The production includes roughly 20 Beatles songs, and I think Cloran could have cut a bit more of the play’s text to accommodate the music. The first act, like the Forest of Arden itself, becomes meandering as time goes on. The second act, however, is tight and keeps the musical numbers coming quickly and launching us swiftly toward the play’s neat conclusion.
On the whole, Cloran’s production cleverly unites Shakespeare’s text and the Beatles’ music to come together (pun intended) in a lively and original version of AS YOU LIKE IT.
AS YOU LIKE IT plays at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 East Grand Avenue, through November 21. Tickets are $49-$90. Visit ChicagoShakes.com/AsYouLikeIt.
Please note that Ayana Bria Bakari takes over the role of Celia beginning November 14.
Photo Credit: Liz Lauren
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com