Maggie Power as Rosalind gets bumped by flower children Moonbeam (Nicole Sheppard), left, and Cori (Mea Tonet) in the Highland Arts Theatre’s psychedelic production of As You Like it in Sydney. (Chris Walzak)
I have never really liked As You Like It until now.
Turns out all it needed was 1960s music and Wesley Colford’s playful, clever spin on Shakespeare’s comedy about young love and mistaken identity.
As artistic and executive director at the Highland Arts Theatre in Sydney, Colford writes and directs this two-hour, flower-power, musical extravaganza running through Sunday with a cast of 13 on the “HAT’” stage.
I loved the show and I loved watching the audience love the show. Women around me were going “oh” and clapping their hands as the first notes of a favourite song were struck – songs like Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In, I Know Something About Love and One (is The Loneliest Number).
“Isn’t it phenomenal?,” a woman said in the washroom lineup – always a good location to gauge audience response.
Colford’s script is an effervescent, comic cocktail of Shakespeare’s words shaken up with 1960s and contemporary language. It is unnecessary to know the original; however, Jacques’ melancholic recitation of the Seven Ages of Man as a cool-cat, spoken word, jazz piece is brilliant.
Colford is an imaginative, playful director going for fun, speed and electric group numbers. He is gifted with strong leads, powerful singers, a seven-piece band, excellent, 1960s choreography by Lesley MacLean and a great, concert-style lighting design by Ken Heaton. The hot concoctions of flashing blue, red, pink and yellow beams pick up on the 1960s colours in the costumes and the set designed by Kayla Cormier.
This As You Like It represents the joy and confusion of first love in a very real and delightful way with Maggie Power as Rosalind, who dresses as a man to enter the Forest of Arden, and Dane Pedersen, moving like John Travolta in Grease, as the 1960s teen who follows her into the forest.
Robbie Simms, a commanding, blast-it-out singer, is Duke Senior, Rosalind’s father and a businessman shoved out in a hostile takeover. He has sought refuge in a hippie commune in the Forest of Arden.
Mark Delaney as Jackson, the name for the melancholic Jacques. (Chris Walzak)
Both Celia (Rachael Murphy) and her lover Oliver (Matt Earhart) have fine voices and their duet is a highlight. Also in the cast are Naomi Colford, Josh Haq, Ashley Buckingham, who has a lovely voice; Kevin Munroe, Kyle Hunter and Mea Tonet and Nicole Sheppard, who are very funny as the cultish, welcoming flower children.
In the hard-driving band are Peter MacDonald, piano, Doug Johnson, guitar, “Red” Mike MacDonald, bass; Ron Leadbeater, drums; Tyler Campbell, trumpet; Ken Howatson, trombone, and Barb Stetter, saxophone.
Some actors’ voices are uneven in solos but the group numbers are vocally solid.
As You Like It runs Saturday. The two Sunday performances have been postponed to March 29. Tickets are $42 (website is http://www.highlandartstheatre.com).
Duke Senior (Robbie Simms) surrounded by the hippie denizens of the Forest of Arden.(Chris Walzak)