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NEW YORK — At the beginning of the The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a king and his three nobleman vow to renounce the company of women in favor of several years of contemplative study, including “readings of Elizabethan plays in their original, uncut form without the addition of new and completely unnecessary songs.”
It’s their loss, as evidenced by this exuberant new musical adaptation of the Bard’s classic early comedy. Adapted and directed by Alex Timbers and featuring a score by Michael Friedman — who previously collaborated on the acclaimed and similarly irreverent Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson — this delightfully antic show is a perfect midsummer night’s entertainment.
It’s definitely not for Shakespeare purists, however. While virtually all the play’s major’s plot points and characters are included, it features only a smattering of the verse, which mixes in uneasily amidst the modern, colloquial lyrics of the songs in the pop/rock score performed by an onstage band. And it’s been condensed to a fast-paced, intermission-less 100 minutes.
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John Lee Beatty’s set design of a rustic lodge, complete with an outdoor bar, hot tub, gazebo and deck chairs, is a delight all by itself. It’s the setting for the five-year college reunion of the King (Daniel Breaker) and his compatriots Berowne (Colin Donnell), Longaville (Bryce Pinkham) and Dumaine (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe). Their plans for celibacy are rudely interrupted by the sudden arrival of four young women from their past: the Princess (Patti Murin, who played the title role in Broadway’s Lysistrata Jones) and her attendants Rosaline (Maria Thayer), Maria (Kimiko Glenn) and Katherine (Audrey Lynn Weston).
A principal subplot involves a buffoonish Spanish duke, Armado (a hilarious Caesar Samayoa), who is desperately in love with the beautiful bartender Jacquenetta (Rebecca Naomi Jones). Other characters figuring in the story include the town sheriff, Dull (Kevin Del Aguila), who makes his rounds while riding a Segway; the libertine Costard (Charlie Pollock), a stoner dude wearing a floral Tommy Bahama shirt; and a pair of wacky professors, played by Jeff Hiller and SNL’s Rachel Dratch.
Featuring amusing sight gags — the King and his men solemnly throw their beer, bong and condoms into a trunk to signal their newfound seriousness, and later perform a stylized dance in the guise of East German performance artists, while the women dress as Spanish dancers and are seen drinking Big Gulps — the slapstick proceedings are the wackiest seen in the park since 1980’s The Pirates of Penzance.
It’s all a great deal of fun, although its stylistic incoherence would probably play less well in a more formal indoor venue.
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The youthful cast puts it over with terrific comic elan, especially in the comic musical numbers. Breaker is endearing as he drags a woman from the audience and serenades her with “The King’s Sonnet.” Samayoa hilariously delivers the love song “Jacquenetta,” later reprising it in a bawdy, hip-hop infused version, while Jones scores with the sharp-edged “Love’s a Gun.” The score also features a delightful interpolation of the cheesy Mr. Big song “To Be With You,” performed by the king and his men in crooning, boy-band style.
By the time an actual high school marching band, complete with tubas, hits the stage for the rollicking conclusion, the show, for which tickets are free, has thoroughly won us over. There’s nothing at all laborious about this Love’s Labour’s Lost, which marks a refreshing change of pace from the Public’s usual faithful productions.
Venue: Delacorte Theater, Central Park, New York City (runs through Aug. 18)
Cast: Daniel Breaker, Kevin Del Aguila, Colin Donnell, Michael R. Douglass, Rachel Dratch, Andrew Durand, Bradley Gibson, Kimiko Glenn, Jeff Hiller, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Justin Levine, Patti Murin, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Bryce Pinkham, Charlie Pollock, Caesar Samayoa, Maria Thayer, Audrey Lynn Weston
Book adapted and directed by Alex Timbers
Songs by Michael Friedman
Set designer: John Lee Beatty
Costume designer: Jennifer Moeller
Lighting designer: Jeff Croiter
Sound designer: Acme Sound Partners
Choreographer: Danny Mefford
Presented by The Public Theater
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