Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Classical Theatre Lab's As You Like It: The Musical

Paul D. Masterson (Orlando), Rachele Gueli (Celia) and
Jessica Pennington (Rosalind) Photo credit: Chad Restum

Love is in the air in The Classical Theatre Lab’s outdoor summer offering, As You Like It: The Musical, now playing in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park. Produced in the round with a few simple benches for set pieces and folding chairs for the audience, this cheerfully optimistic tale transports you to the Forest of Arden where two young lovers have sought refuge. Rosalind (Jessica Pennington) arrives after being banished by her uncle, Duke Frederick (Steve Peterson), and Orlando (handsome Paul D. Masterson) takes to the woods when he learns that his brother (Noah Gillett) has vowed to kill him.

Mistaken identities, professions of love gone awry and all manner of comical situations follow as they and a myriad of colorful characters cross paths in the woods. That Arden also contains a band of singing and dancing merry men wielding giant cheese wheels and baguettes only adds to the fun.

Director Tony Tanner brings his version of As You Like It in at about 90 minutes and serves it up in the outdoor courtyard of the Great Hall. That’s an easy length for the whole family to enjoy and with the sky overhead and a cool breeze in the air, you couldn’t pick a better way to pass a summer evening. July performances take place at 6:00 pm in Plummer Park and August shows in King’s Road Park are at 4:00 pm, except for August 7 which is at 11:30 am.

Pennington is deliciously feisty as Rosalind, biting into the Bard’s text with aplomb. She experiences love as a vexing and perplexing jumble of contradictions and her education of Orlando on the subject of how to woo a woman (while she is disguised as a boy) is a delight. So, too, is Matthew Henerson’s Touchstone, the witty fool who accompanies Rosalind and her cousin Celia (Rachele Gueli) into the forest. His likeable, wise guy observations make for plenty of laughs as he pokes and prods at the foolishness of those around him.

Tanner has also written some charming songs for his adaptation, like the a cappella opening number, “It Was A Lover and His Lass”, a comical brother duet in which Duke Frederick and Orlando sing of the perils of having a brother, and a Rosalind/Celia duet that has them pondering “How Would I Like To Fall In Love Today.” Orlando raps “Oh Rosalind” in the forest and also has a hysterical country song where he realizes he’s falling in love with “the boy”, and Rosalind shines in a number of bold songs that find Pennington in great voice.

At times some of the supporting characters lack the volume needed to be heard in the outdoor venue and underplay their performances, but that aside, this gentle introduction to one of Shakespeare’s easiest to understand romantic comedies is exactly what a summer night calls for. Enjoy!

As You Like It: the Musical is produced by Alex Wells and presented by the City of West Hollywood and The Classical Theatre Lab. Performances at the two venues are free but reservations are recommended. Click Here for more information or call 323-960-5691.

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