Last night, I saw Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery's musical adaptation of William Shakespeare's As You Like It performed in the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
First of all, I have to give a shout out to the understudies. Amar Atkins stepped in to perform the normally thankless role of Duke Senior, but provided such warm charisma that he was the center of attention whenever he was on stage.
Another understudy, Trevor McGhie, played the male lead of Orlando, who usually takes a back seat to his love interest, Rosalind. At one point, a character in this adaptation refers to Orlando as "Romeo's understudy," which seems about right. McGhie was wonderful, though, and he even managed to make Orlando's unlikely win in a wrestling match believable.
The shepherd Silvius got gender-swapped to Silvia, played last night by understudy Claudia Yanez. I was initially unsure of how the reversal in gender would work, but the adaptation pulled it off just fine, and Yanez was delightful. Honestly, these three understudies might have been my favorite performers in the whole cast. Whatever events brought them to the stage, the audience benefited.
Taub, who previously wrote the songs for a similar production by The Public Theater of Twelfth Night, played a role as well, just as she took on the motley of Feste in Twelfth Night back in 2018. She didn't play the fool Touchstone, though. (That role was filled hilariously by Christopher M. Ramirez.) Instead, Taub appeared as the melancholy Jacques, who has some of the best speeches in the original play.
Some of those speeches are musicalized by Taub, often quite wonderfully. On the whole, I enjoyed her adaptation of Twelfth Night much more, but I've always considered it a better play than As You Like It, which can get downright silly at times. This adaptation leans into the absurdity of the play though, and the songs help with that. I would love for a cast recording of the show to be released, as it has some of the best music by Taub that I've heard yet.
Director Laurie Woolery took a heavy hand in reducing the script to a lightening-quick 90 minutes without an intermission. She previously directed a 90-minute version of The Tempest I saw pre-pandemic (which I rather enjoyed). The Tempest is a much shorter play, though, and with the addition of extensive song-and-dance numbers, this adaptation leaves very little of Shakespeare's poetry intact. (We probably get more of Shaina and Laurie in this adaptation than we get of Bill.) With the joyful spirit of the outdoor production, however, you won't mind one bit.