Director Alex Timbers and composer Michael Friedman like to take a fusty story and make it pop. In Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, they vivified the life and times of our seventh president with anachronistic and irreverent humor. They do the same to highfalutin Elizabethan verse in their new musical version of Love’s Labour’s Lost, Shakespeare’s abstinence comedy (at Shakespeare in the Park through August 18). On the one hand, it seems unnecessary: the Public Theater’s previous production of the play, directed by Karin Coonrod in 2011, stayed faithful to the text while also making it feel colloquial and fresh. Even this production, which mixes new songs in contemporary vernacular with bits of the original Shakespeare, gets big laughs out of the text alone: Caesar Samayoa for his flamboyant, heavily Latin-accented characterization of Armado; Charlie Pollock for his West Coast stoner Costard.
At the same time, what do I know? Plenty of people don’t care about Shakespeare, don’t like him, don’t get his stuff. And a production as populistly bawdy and blue as this one can only expand the sphere of Shakespeare’s influence. It’s not tailor-made for me (though I’m welcome to sit back and laugh); it’s for those cretins who sat in front of me and chewed gum through the whole thing. Plus, it’s thematically apt; Love’s Labour’s Lost is about how life should be lived and lovers should be loved, not simply studied, especially in some Shakespeare book; this new version is set at a New England university and frequently mocks college life, higher education and pedantry. (I guess this also explains why the show twice randomly makes fun of Einstein on the Beach? Because they think it’s pompous?) Timbers and Friedman have crafted an antically silly show-biz spectacle, replete with tap dancing and a kick line, to reinforce that idea. As Berowne sings in the opening number, “young men are supposed to have sex!”
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