Well, that was the best play I’ve ever seen.
To be fair, I’m hardly a seasoned theater-goer, but I have gone to a few plays, including last year’s Shakespeare in the Park performance of “Into The Woods,” “West Side Story” on Broadway, an excellent off-Broadway production of “Our Town,” and 3 college plays of varying quality which were subsequently analyzed in my acting class. Ergo, I am an expert.
I’m basing my “best play I ever saw” declaration on the fact that out of all the plays I’ve seen, this one kept me the most consistently entertained.
I will freely admit that I am not a person with much patience for musicals. I find most musical numbers in plays to be too long and indulgent, and they often make me wish the play would just get on with the story. Also sometimes they could really use subtitles.
Not this one. The songs were so perfectly integrated into the story and necessary to the plot that I never found my patience being tested. There was also so much going on with the choreography and the costumes and performances that even if you spaced out a bit on the music or the lyrics, the hilarious visuals — a guy dressed in nothing but a fire-engine red speedo and cape, a singing tapdancer in only sequined sparkly short-shorts and vest, the four male leads spontaneously jumping into boy-band formation and serenading the girls with a 90’s pop ballad — would keep you engaged.
The utter ridiculousness of it actually made my British friends say, “This would never have been written in England. It is SO AMERICAN.”
I’m also not a big Shakespeare person. It takes a lot to make Shakespeare plays entertaining to me. Even Joss Whedon only succeeded in that sporadically for me with his “Much Ado About Nothing.”
This play kept me completely entertained. Most of the dialogue is the original Shakespeare, but it is interspersed with the songs, which are entirely colloquial, and there were occasional interjections of modern spoken dialogue as well, just enough to keep me from getting annoyed with the old-fashioned flowery stuff. (There are two uses of the F-bomb, just so you know.) The comic timing was great on all fronts, and like I said, the costuming and visual flair added so much.
I want to single out the performances of the male and female leads, Colin Donnell and Patti Murin, because they were fabulous. Murin’s “Princess” is like Elle Woods from Legally Blonde if Elle Woods were a Shakespearean princess with slightly more guile, and Donnell’s “Berowne” made me think of Hugh Jackman. He’s got a similar physique, similar facial structure, similar hair, similar voice — basically, he’s really really hot.
My only complaint is about the last five or so minutes of the play — it suddenly takes a turn for the Very Serious. I’ve been told by friends who know the original that that’s how Shakespeare wrote it, and I understand it on an intellectual level, but tonally it was extremely jarring to shift that suddenly from almost two hours of madcap, hilarious fun to five minutes of deathly seriousness, and it ends the play on a pretty flat note.
But, for the sake of not ending this review with a similar misstep, I’ll go back to one last major positive: the play is constantly snarking at itself, breaking the fourth wall, being incredibly meta about its playness. For example, in a song where one of the characters mocks rich people for being academic and snooty and privileged, there’s a line that goes something like, “Rich people pay for better plays that should be free!” (All of us enlightened citizens watching this free play hooted in appreciation.)
Those kinds of references and some other touches — like one of the actors pulling an audience member onto the set in the middle of a song without missing a beat — make me wonder if this play will ever be performed or filmed in any other venue aside from the Delacorte Theater for Shakespeare in the Park. I asked one of the actors, Bryce Pinkham (who played “Longaville”), outside the theater after the show, and he admitted he didn’t know, and that it did seem like a play designed for Shakespeare in the Park and nothing else.
Which would be too bad, because it’s the sort of play I’d pay full price to see again and that I’d love to show all my friends.
It’s only playing until August 18th. GO SEE IT.