Thursday was the opening night of Shakespeare's comedy As You Like It, officially beginning the 50th Anniversary season of Shakespeare in the Park. I had heard that tickets are most difficult to come by after reviews of the production come out, so anyone's best bet at getting in to this highly anticipated show without standing in line all day would have been attending last night— sorry. I took a gamble, since tickets aren't guaranteed, and it was completely worth it.
Lily Rabe was absolutely brilliant as Rosalind. She spoke in the tongue of the Bard more naturally than the Bard himself. Rabe lit up the stage with her captivating personality, and her banter with Renee Elise Goldsberry (Celia) was golden. If the rest of the show was poorly done, I wouldn't have noticed.
But it wasn't. Every character was excellent, the costumes were beautiful and even the set design got applause when the wooden wall turned into the Forest of Arden (I won't tell you how. Go see for yourself.).
Oliver Platt (Touchstone) stole the show every time he opened his mouth. Platt had the audience in the palm of his hand and could elicit roaring laughter with a simple facial expression. He and Donna Lynne Champlin (Audrey) were hilarious, and David Furr was a perfectly dreamy Orlando, magnificently funny in his heartsickness for Rosalind.
Even smaller roles were fantastic. Will Rogers (Silvius) was adorably awkward and desperate, and while I don't know the actor's name, the character they referred to as Senior Melancholy made me laugh out loud on several occasions.
Perhaps the greatest surprise was the music. “The music is really striking me,” said one audience member. “I wasn't expecting that at all.” The musicians were characters themselves, playing live original music written by comedian and bluegrass musician Steve Martin. I was hoping he would show up for the performance, but none of the white-haired older men I encountered had Steve's wit. His songs fit in to each scene organically and truly enhanced the experience.
While I'm sure most of the audience was as enamored with the performance as I was, some weren't so enthused. The costume and scenery was set in what seemed like the old frontier, with striped pantaloons, mismatched quilty gowns, vests, and top hats with floppy feathers. The lady behind me was very vocal with her opinion that a Shakespearean play should be done traditionally. I, however, can't imagine the play set in any other time. Perhaps it was the bluegrass music that got to me, but everything on that stage worked.
I hope the cast and crew of As You Like It have a good run this season. Judging by their first performance, I'm sure they will.
PS- If I told you this entire post was written in iambic pentameter, would you believe me?