As You Like It, Shakespeare Theatre Company

Have you ever looked at Shakespeare's canon and wondered, but what would it be like if you did it with the Muppets? Jim Henson's beloved creations have certainly dabbled in that well before, from sketches on The Muppet Show and Sesame Street (do yourself a favor and spend a few minutes on YouTube and thank me later). And then there's Muppet Treasure Island, and the undisputed classic, The Muppet Christmas Carol. It could be done! 

I can't help but think this is surely the inspiration behind the Bard on the Beach production of As You Like It now playing at the Shakespeare Theatre Center, and directed and adapted by Daryl Cloran. It's got all the anarchic energy of The Muppet Show's musical numbers, where Muppets sang everything from current hits to classics of decades earlier, or even a hundred years before if the joke was good enough. This time, as Shakespeare's characters run back and forth through the Forest of Arden, falling in and out of love, deposing and rethroning leaders, wrestling and soliloquizing, this time, they also pause to sing a familiar song by the Beatles. 

The cast of As You Like It. (Teresa Castracane Photography)

I admit, I tend to prefer Shakespeare that trusts Shakespeare to do the heavy lifting, and I worried that by resorting to beloved hits to take over in the crucial moments, that's exactly what this production wasn't going to do. But that's when we moved into Arden and I saw the costumes on the band and realized I couldn't stop thinking about Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, the inimitable house band of the Muppets. Because the thing is, I also really, really like the Muppets. And I started to see that the way Kayvon Khoshkam's Touchstone kept working in contemporary jokes as asides was pretty much exactly the way Jim Henson and Frank Oz used to do it. And I cannot imagine anything more Muppet-like than Andrew Cownden's Jacques launching into a spoken word rendition of "I Am the Walrus" that becomes a full blown group number, I mean, please.

I'm not sure if this full-blown musical theatre Muppety-mélange could have worked with any other Shakespearean plays, even other comedies. There's enough familiar meat on the As You Like It bone to sustain the cuts necessary to add in a lot of extra singing time to the run total, and the darkest moments are fleeting and largely exist to get us more quickly to the fun stuff. Cloran's cast is uniformly excellent, doing great work at balancing both the musical and textual demands required to pull off the evening. If things get a little indulgent late in the second act and the songs start to feel a little unnecessary, well, it's not like it's a chore to get through them.

Even without a single puppet onstage, it's a very Muppety show, and it may not be to everyone's taste; even for me, it's a dessert that wouldn't sustain me for a full meal. But gosh, isn't a little dessert nice to have everyone once in awhile? I really look forward to the moment when Simon Godwin's run at STC includes more local actors in more locally produced productions, but for now, when the tunes are this good and the happy endings come as expected, it's an awful lot of fun.


Popular Posts