Off Broadway Reviews
With music and lyrics by Shaina Taub and a book by Taub and Public Works director Laurie Woolery, who helms this production, As You Like It provides a delectable infusion of good will that is bound to fill you with cheer and high spirits, at least for as long as its 90-minute duration.
Per the mission of Public Works, the performance brings together a mix of experienced stage actors and an ensemble made up of dozens and dozens of community members from all five boroughs of the city. And while the collective of New Yorkers may not be experienced theater pros, every moment of their on-stage presence represents an outpouring of love, with a communal spirit I haven't seen since the original Broadway production of Hair, which, to bring things full circle, happens to have been the very first show to be offered by the Public Theater back in 1967.
So, how much of Shakespeare can you expect to see? Let's just say that, despite some playful tinkering, the bare bones of the narrative remain. Rosalind (Rebecca Naomi Jones, a delight) and her devoted cousin Celia (Idania Quezada) run away from the court of Celia's usurping father, Duke Frederick (Eric Pierre; you know he's evil because Taub has given him a Darth Vader-like theme song that accompanies his every appearance). They wind up in the Forest of Arden, where Rosalind's father, the tender-hearted Duke Senior (Darius de Haas), deposed and exiled by his brother, is holed up with his commune of followers. More significantly, also hanging about in the forest is Rosalind's heartthrob Orlando (Ato Blankson-Wood, a thorough charmer), another escapee from a treacherous sibling. Will Rosalind and Orlando overcome convoluted plot twists and gender mix-ups and wind up together in the end? What do you think?
There is an altogether lovely rusticity to this production, perfectly suited to the play and the locale. To this end, Taub has provided a mix of pop and folk tunes, with appreciative nods to Shakespeare with numbers titled "All the World's a Stage" and "Under the Greenwood Tree." There's also a marvelous toe-tapping clap-along spirited song about the utopian world of the forest. Titled "In Arden," you could think of it as this show's version of "Aquarius" from Hair, with such lines as "We shall answer to adversity with kindness" and "We shall hear the language of our hearts and bones." In brief, no one enters the Forest of Arden without being changed for the better. Except, perhaps, for the philosophic Jaques (a captivating Shaina Taub herself), who already is at one with nature.
Moments of surprise and delight are sprinkled throughout the evening, not the least of which stem from the design elements, from Myung Hee Cho's fairy-tale set, to puppetry by James Ortiz (the creator of Milky White in the current production of Into the Woods), and, notably, the crystal-clear sound design (credit the show's sound designer Sun Hee Kil and the Delacorte's 2022 sound system designer Daniel Lundberg). A polished band of five, conducted by Andrea Grody, does a splendid job of accompanying the show's musical numbers.
It should be noted that this musicalization of As You Like It was originally produced for the 2017 season at the Delacorte, although its scheduled short run was made all the briefer by a particularly rainy week that resulted in cancellations. Thankfully, someone had the good sense to preserve it for just the right moment, to be offered up again just when we could all use this very special gift, an ebullient celebration of Shakespeare and of the very best of the spirit of the city of New York.
As You Like It