By Rachel Mohl
This summer’s second production from Free Shakespeare in the Park is just what New York City needs right now. Public Works’ As You Like It provides hope and optimism as we close out Summer 2022, after two years of an ongoing pandemic. After seeing this cast of 70 sing and dance (yes, it’s a musical adaptation!) one cannot help but feel full of joy.
From the opening when Shaina Taub, the composer-lyricist who also plays Jaques, begins singing “All The World’s A Stage” (probably the most well-known line from the play) until the reprise at the finale, the creative songs peppered throughout are creative in connecting Shakespeare to modern-day. Additionally, while remaining true to the original plot, this production changes the gender of some of the characters to allow for a more 2022-appropriate inclusive romantic comedy.
The production is inclusive in another way as well. Through The Public Theater’s Public Works program, actors from community organizations across the city are an integral part of the cast. From children to senior citizens, these actors form two ensembles, which alternate performances, acting side by side with the professionals. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this summer, the program truly brings to life the value that “theater belongs to everyone.” The many full-cast numbers (“In Arden”, “Still I Will Love”), choreographed by Billy Griffith, are some of the best moments of the 90 minute show.
Directed by Laurie Woolery, the show succeeds in conveying the moral lessons of the play and encouraging the audience that love can truly conquer all, while also providing some beautifully emotional scenes to just enjoy. One can’t help but root for Rebecca Naomi Jones as Rosalind and Ato Blankson-Wood as Orlando to end up together, watching their wonderful rapport. Duke Senior, played by Darius De Haas, has created a community in Arden that we all might want to be banished to. The finale and epilogue tug at your heartstrings, and this reviewer might have even shed a tear or two.
Originally part of the Public Work’s repertoire in 2017, when it followed that summer’s two main productions, it had been scheduled for a full run in 2020’s lineup, only to be canceled due to COVID. Perhaps the messages of the play are even more timely now.
As You Like It is playing through September 11th at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Tickets are free and are distributed in various ways which you can learn about here: https://info-faqpt.helpscoutdocs.com/article/475-free-shakespeare-in-the-park-tickets-2022