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A CurtainUp Review
Love's Labour's Lost
By Les Gutman
First things first: this is not the Love's Labour's Lost of your grandmother, much less your sixteen times great-grandmother. Purists would no doubt find it more palatable had the creative team changed its title along the lines of such musical adaptations as The Boys from Syracuse or West Side Story. They did not, but audiences should nonetheless arrive expecting not a faithful presentation of what Shakespeare wrote (although significant chunks of it have been "sampled" into this script), but rather a broad adaptation of the play that honors, first and foremost, its spirit. In the play's opening moments, the King (the equally superb Daniel Breaker) takes aim directly at the purists, making clear what will soon become obvious -- that Timbers, Friedman et al know exactly what they are doing.
This production is hugely entertaining, sometimes impossibly funny and with only a few bumps along the way that keep it from being endlessly engaging. It's a fun night in the park, a very fun night I would say. Shakespeare wrote the play with quite a lot of fairly heavy poetry, lubricated by a number of comic interludes (as was his practice) to provide relief. Here, the condition is largely inverted: most of the show's few stumbles are in incorporating those pre-existing comic elements.
The cast is quite impressive, and almost all of the actors are given a moment to shine. Led (both literally and figuratively) by Breaker, the king's courtiers, Berowne (Colin Donnell), Longaville (Bryce Pinkham) and Dumaine (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), who, with him form one side of the play's central balance, are uniformly excellent. Donnell has the most to do, and does it with polish. Patti Murin (best known from her turn as Lysistrata Jones) similarly leads her court, which includes Rosaline (Maria Thayer), Maria (Kimiko Glenn), Katherine (Audrey Lynn Weston) and Boyet (Andrew Durand). In this piece, the balance, at least in terms of exposure, falls heavily on the side of the boys.
Laced into the "romantic" plot at court is the story of the travails of the fantastico, Armado (Caesar Samayoa), and his pursuit of the enthralling Jaquenetta (Rebecca Naomi Jones), here rendered (and regrettably under-utilized) as a bar maid. Armado is attended by his Sancho Panza surrogate, Moth (Justin Levine, who sneaks away from his primary duties as the show's music director for this purpose, and to fine effect). This subplot has been reworked with some very clever and funny ideas, as well as with a healthy dose of meta-theatrics, but its design is better than its execution. The show's other comedic characters fall flatter than they should. The cast's closest claim to a non-stage, celebrity, Rachel Dratch, late of SNL, has a thankless task here as Holofernes, the academic, who together with her colleague, Nathaniel (Jeff Hiller), seem to be clogging more than lubricating the play. (Should the show have a future life, and I hope it does, I would hope this element would be a prime candidate for the chopping block.) Dull (Kevin Del Aguila) is most notable for riding a Segway throughout, perhaps the show's dumbest choice, and my other nominee for excision. Finally, there is Costard (Charlie Pollack), who seems perhaps to have wandered into the play by way of the set of Breaking Bad, and who doesn't really make all that much of an impression.
Michael Friedman's songs for the show borrow heavily from pop sources. In one exceptionally hysterical case, "borrow" would be an understatement. Yet they often also rely on the characteristics we'd associate with more traditional musical theater songwriting. The music is not especially ground-breaking, and the lyrics sometimes seem a little too lazy, but the songs are nonetheless overwhelming smart, and really serve as the spine of this production on just about every level. They are very ably supported by a top notch band, led by Levine. One song also figures in a coup de théâtre that, like many other surprises and sight gags in this production, ought not be disclosed in this or any other review.
Like the principal collaboration between Timbers and Friedman, the designers of this show (including especially the costumes of Jennifer Moeller) have produced results that are "of a piece," and similar credit should also be given to the choreographer, Danny Mefford. Together, the creative team, joined by the enthusiastic and able cast and musicians, have certainly met the challenge of bringing this less-often revived play into the park and the 21st Century. Happily, this brings the Delacorte's summer to a successful and winning conclusion.