A groovy tuner: Chicago Shakes' Beatles-centric 'As You Like It' is pretty fab

  • Rosalind (Lakeisha Renee), left, and Orlando (Liam Quealy), second from right wearing a red tank shirt, fall in love at first sight in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's 1960s-set, Beatles-infused production of "As You Like It."

    Rosalind (Lakeisha Renee), left, and Orlando (Liam Quealy), second from right wearing a red tank shirt, fall in love at first sight in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's 1960s-set, Beatles-infused production of "As You Like It." Courtesy of Liz Lauren

  • Deborah Hay plays the melancholy Jacques in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's "As You Like It."

    Deborah Hay plays the melancholy Jacques in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's "As You Like It." Courtesy of Liz Lauren

 
 
Updated 11/3/2021 10:32 AM

"As You Like It" -- ★ ★ ★

If you're going to see Chicago Shakespeare Theater's buoyant, Beatles-infused production of "As You Like It," be on time.

 

Better yet, arrive early, so you don't miss the preshow. Commencing about 10 minutes before the curtain, it unfolds as a pro-wrestling tournament (with attendant gimmicks and theatrics), a nod to the match that begins William Shakespeare's cheery comedy.

Considering how much time characters spend wrestling with emotions, misplaced affection and sibling relationships in this frothy celebration of love, adversaries facing off inside a ring is a fitting prologue to the production, which originated at Canada's Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival.

Orlando (Liam Quealy) serenades his disguised love Rosalind (Lakeisha Renee) in The Beatles-infused "As You Like It" running through Dec. 5 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Orlando (Liam Quealy) serenades his disguised love Rosalind (Lakeisha Renee) in The Beatles-infused "As You Like It" running through Dec. 5 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Notably, adapter/director Daryl Cloran incorporates into his production 23 Beatles tunes. Most of the songs suit the story, which mostly adheres to Shakespeare's original, with one exception (more about that later).

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Cloran sets the play in the 1960s, sunnily evoked by Carmen Alatorre's kaleidoscopic costumes (complete with fringe vests, love beads and bell-bottoms) and Pam Johnson's set featuring a groovy VW bus that serves as a backdrop for the first-rate band.

Most of the action takes place in Arden Forest, where aging flower child and deposed Duke Senior (Kevin Gudahl) has established a commune with his loyal lords after his usurper, younger brother Frederick (also played by Gudahl), banished him from court. Soon after, Frederick banishes Senior's daughter, Rosalind (Lakeisha Renee), who disguises herself as the boy Ganymede and departs for Arden accompanied by her beloved cousin Celia (Melanie Brezill) and the quipster Touchstone (Kayvon Khoshkam).

Adapter/director Daryl Cloran's production of "As You Like It" pairs William Shakespeare's comedy with 23 Beatles songs. It runs through Dec. 5 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Adapter/director Daryl Cloran's production of "As You Like It" pairs William Shakespeare's comedy with 23 Beatles songs. It runs through Dec. 5 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

There, Rosalind/Ganymede encounters Orlando (a disarming Liam Quealy), who fled the court shortly after meeting Rosalind to escape his inexplicably hostile brother Oliver (Tony Carter). Smitten with Rosalind following their brief meeting, Orlando accepts Ganymede's offer to advise him on wooing her.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Meanwhile, lovesick Silvius (Michael Dashefsky) pursues the indifferent shepherdess Phoebe (Heidi Kettenring) who only has eyes for Ganymede, while Touchstone dallies with the sweet but dim goatherd Audrey (Lachrisa Grandberry).

On the periphery is Jacques (the terrific Deborah Hay), a melancholy sage whose appearance recalls Andy Warhol and whose despondent demeanor suggests a person keenly aware of the decline that awaits us all. Preceded by an aching performance of "The Fool on the Hill," Hay's "seven ages of man" soliloquy is buoyed by Gudahl's expressive reaction. The production's most consequential scene, it concludes with "Let It Be," a benediction for the brokenhearted sweetly sung by understudy Michael Kurowski at Friday's performance. Kudos to Cloran and music supervisor Ben Elliott for crafting such a moment.

The Forest Lords of Arden: Austin Eckert, left, Jeff Kurysz, Adam Wesley Brown, Michael Daniel Dashefsky and Kurt Schweitz play The Beatles hits in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of "As You Like It," adapted and directed by Daryl Cloran.
The Forest Lords of Arden: Austin Eckert, left, Jeff Kurysz, Adam Wesley Brown, Michael Daniel Dashefsky and Kurt Schweitz play The Beatles hits in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of "As You Like It," adapted and directed by Daryl Cloran. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Numbers like Quealy and Renee's charming "Can't Buy Me Love," Brezill and Carter's "Good Day Sunshine" duet and Quealy's giddy "Do You Want to Know a Secret" -- had the audience clapping, swaying and singing along.

That said, not every song works. And while Cloran has a rock-solid foundation in Brezill, Grandberry, Hay, Kettenring and Quealy, not every cast member can carry a pop tune. Then there's Rosalind's speech -- conspicuous by its absence -- urging Orlando adopt a pragmatic response to matters of the heart. One wonders what the engaging Renee could have done with that character-defining speech from the most reasoned Rosalind who rightly observes that "men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love." She's right. And let's face it, we need more than love. Still I wonder, wouldn't it be great if love is all you need?

• • •

Location: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, (312) 595-5600, chicagoshakes.com/

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 1 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 5. Also, 6:30 p.m. Nov. 21 and 2 p.m. Nov. 26. No performance Nov. 25

Running time: About 2 hours, 45 minutes, with intermission

Tickets: $49-$90

Parking: Validated parking in the adjacent Navy Pier garage

COVID-19 precautions: Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, identification and masks required

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