“Hello, Scott Joplin! I would like you to meet William Shakespeare!” Director Edward Morgan must have had that dream one night, and from it has sprung a very entertaining version of “As You Like It” by William Shakespeare, presently playing as part of Great Lakes Theater in the Hanna Theatre. This production is set in the midst of the second Industrial Revolution, and is infused with songs from the era in perfect and sometimes hilarious harmony.
As stated by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the plot involves the fact that Duke Ferdinand has been forced into exile from the court by the usurping Duke Frederick (Dougfred Miller*). He takes refuge in the Forest of Arden with a band of faithful lords. Rosalind (Betsy Mugavero*), his daughter, is kept uneasily at court as a companion to her cousin Celia (Christine Weber*), Frederick’s daughter. Orlando de Boys (Torsten Johnson*), the youngest son of the late Sir Rowland de Boys, has been kept in poverty by his brother Oliver (J. Todd Adams*) since his father’s death. Orlando decides to wrestle for his fortune at Frederick’s court, where he sees Rosalind and they fall in love.
The Duke banishes Rosalind, fearing that she is a threat to his rule. Celia, refusing to be parted from her cousin, goes with Rosalind to seek Duke Ferdinand in the Forest. For safety, they disguise themselves – Rosalind as the boy Ganymede and Celia as his sister Aliena – and persuade the fool Touchstone (Dustin Tucker*) to accompany them. Upon hearing of a plot by his brother to kill him, Orlando also flees to the Forest and takes refuge with the exiled Duke. Posting love lyrics through the forest, Orlando encounters Rosalind disguised as Ganymede. She challenges his love-sick state and suggests that he should prove the strength of his love by wooing Ganymede as if he were Rosalind.
Elsewhere in the Forest love also blossoms: the shepherd Silvius (Juan Rivera Lebron*) suffers unrequited love for Phoebe (Jodi Dominick*), who has fallen for Ganymede, while Touchstone is pursuing the goat-herd Audrey (Atlie Gilbert). Oliver, sent into the Forest to hunt down Orlando, has his life saved by his brother, becomes filled with remorse for his past behavior, and falls in love with Aliena. Frustrated by the pain of his love for Rosalind, Orlando is unable to continue wooing Ganymede, so Ganymede promises he will conjure up the real Rosalind and that all the lovers will finally be wed. Sounds like a job for Olivia Pope.
This play with music sparkles and shines throughout; aided by glorious pace. The company is very solid. Johnson and Mugavero make a beautiful pair. Johnson, with his classic chiseled looks, brings clear diction and honesty to his delivery. Mugarvero guides the play with emotional depth and cunning delight. Oliver brings a fantastic arc in his character, matched by the bewitching presence of Weber. Both performances were very strong and enjoyable. Tucker was an audience favorite with brilliant comedic timing and a face that must take hours to unwind after a performance. He reminded me of a young Red Skelton, with a dash of Danny Kaye. Cracking me up further is Gilbert, who reminds me of Elly May Clampett, funny and ditzy and just perfect. Silvius with his howling “PHEEE-BEEEEE” was hilarious as he pursues the Anne Oakley of Arden, Dominick. Both play the farcical with aplomb joy, and Dominick is the only person I know that can get laughter just moving a set piece.
But the talent doesn’t end or drop. Also filling the stage with Bardvado is David Anthony Smith*, who has mastered delivery to an art, and makes the Seven Ages speech sound like it is just hot off the press. Dougfred Miller* brings a strong audience connection and masterful control to the proceedings. Aled Davies*, Tom Ford*, Patrick John Kiernan, Eric Damon Smith*, M. A. Taylor*, and Andrew Voss fill the scenes with delightful characterizations and musical froth that just engulf this production with joy. Special note to Eric Damon Smith*, for a glorious tenor voice.
Director Edward Morgan rocks. Nathan Motta handles the music direction beautifully. Martin Cespedes brings life and gaiety to the jitterbugging residents, helping to bring the evening to a high celebration. Joe Court: great sound design. The Lighting Design (Rick Martin) was excellent. I loved the industrial flats that turn into the forest. Scenic design by Russell Metheny is very creative and beautiful. Costume Design is spot on by Kim Krumm Sorenson. And the Fight Choreography (Ken Merckx) was great with very innovative use of the space and ropes.
My opinion of “As You Like It” is: I think you will.
Kevin Joseph Kelly
*Members of Actor’s Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
April 4 – April 19
7:30pm Wednesday (April 16 ONLY)
7:30pm Saturdays (1:30pm Matinees on April 12 and 19)
$13-$70 Reserved Seating
Order Tickets Online
1501 Euclid Avenue, Suite 300
Cleveland, Ohio 44115