City Theater Company’s smashing production of LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST breathes new life into Shakespeare 1590s rom-com with post-modern song, style, and wit. The regional premiere of the 2013 musical adaptation of The Bard’s classic battle of the sexes by Michael Friedman (score) and Alex Timbers (book)—the team that created the sensational Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson—is fresh, fun, and relevant. Its inspired blend of original music, updated passages, and current references with the authentic Elizabethan text is irreverent and edgy, but ever faithful to the plot and its inherent message of the joys and responsibilities that come with love and maturity. This is a show that proves both the infinite universality of Shakespeare and the contemporary appeal of progressive musical theater, at which Wilmington’s CTC excels.
Directed with panache by Michael Gray, the terrific young cast (several of whom also appeared in the company’s knock-out production of American Idiot) brings a youthful energy, a 21st-century attitude, and a full comprehension of Shakespeare’s coming-of-age story to the Wilmington stage. Told in the context of the five-year college reunion of the class of 2010, the King of Navarre (played by Jeff Hunsicker) and his hedonistic Lords Berowne (Brendan Sheehan), Dumaine (George Murphy), and Longaville (Lew Indellini) take an oath to swear off sex and other earthly delights for three years of reading, fasting, and abstinence. As they struggle with their vows (the song “Young Men” assertively expounds what 20-something guys are supposed to do, while imploring “Don’t make me serious already . . . Don’t make me responsible already . . . Don’t make me 30 already!”), their mutual pact becomes short-lived when they encounter, and are immediately attracted to, the Princess of France (Grace Tarves) and her three party-girl companions—the Ladies Rosaline (Jenna Kuerzi), Maria (Kristin Sheehan), and Katherine (Dylan Geringer)–at their alma mater.
Sheehan’s Berowne and Kuerzi’s Rosaline, along with Patrick O’Hara as the ridiculous Spanish courtier Don Armado, lead the pack with their featured performances, engaging emotions, and powerhouse vocals; they are well supported by the consistently fine ensemble’s comic flair and spot-on harmonies (music direction by Joe Trainor, who also serves as piano player and leader of The Cantina Band). Amusing choreography (by Dawn Morningstar) references girl groups, boy bands, and Broadway shows (the guys’ rendition of “To Be with You” is especially funny, as is the nod to A Chorus Line on the runway stage), and the re-envisioned disguise of the four male protagonists (here shown as a parody of movement-based East-German performance artists) is a hilarious highlight of the play.
Colorful cutting-edge costumes (Kerry Kristine McElrone and Lauren Elizabeth Peters), asymmetrical make-up (Petra DeLuca), and a simple but effective scenic design, with a flat building façade, blow-up kiddy pool, and plastic slide (Vicki Neal and Richard A. Kendrick), define the modernized characters and setting, while adding clever touches of visual humor to the comedy. CTC’s LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST is a winning work that today’s audiences will surely adore!
[Opera Delaware Studios, 4 S. Poplar St., Wilmington, DE] December 4-19, 2015; city-theater.org.