Chicago Shakespeare Theater brings back Shakespeare’s As You Like it with a twist of The Beatles
Peace, love and Shakespeare – Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) is bringing all three to their Beatles’ infused adaptation of As You Like It, set in the swinging sixties. It’sCST’s first indoor performance of the 2021-2022 season and it’s inspired by the Fab Four’s unforgettable canon. As You Like It will take audiences back to the 1960s in both song and style while reimagining one of Shakespeare’s most delightful and lyrical comedies.
In a video from April of this year, CST’s creative producer, Rick Boynton, and As You Like It director and adapter Daryl Cloran were already looking forward to diving into this project as they chatted about the upcoming season. Smiled Boynton, “To think about this glorious production is really food for the soul.” Cloran added, “It’s the perfect story to be able to come back to. To be able to celebrate together and be able to sing ‘All You Need is Love’ together.”
This fresh adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic comedy originated at the 2018 Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival in Vancouver, British Columbia. After a successful run in that outdoor coastal waterfront venue, director Daryl Cloran is looking forward to bringing it indoors to CST’s intimate Courtyard Theater where the story can come to life in a new way and the audience can really connect with and, at moments, be a part of the story. After all, it’s almost impossible not to hum along to classics such as “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” ‘Eight Days A Week,” and “Let it Be.”
In all, audiences can look forward to nearly 30 Beatles classics performed live by a cast of 15 performers who not only sing, dance and act, but also play musical instruments and wrestle as they bring this delightful story to life. These quintuple threats are diving into the challenges and infusing the production with fun.
“I’m loving the spirit of play we’re cultivating in the room so far,” exclaims actor Melanie Brezill. Brezill plays Celia in this production. “It feels good to be in an environment where I feel free to take risks, and make discoveries,” he says, “… and to laugh at myself.”
Designers are also embracing the fun, funky decade, playing with not only the style of the Beatles but of other 1960s icons. “The original inspiration from the costume designs was the Beatles’ fashion style through the 1960s,” explains costume designer Carmen Alatorre. “The first part of the show—set in the Court—has the feeling of the ‘Mod’ early Beatles style, a bit more naïf and urban; whereas the second act—set in the Forest—was inspired by their Sergeant Pepper aesthetic, along with the late 1960s hippie patterns and textures. We realized later that we could also incorporate inspiration from other iconic celebrities of the era such as: Austin Powers, Jimmy Hendrix, Elton John and Cher.” She continues, “I had a lot of fun designing these costumes, I love that this show gave me room to be loud and colorful as a designer and how the actors are embodying this energy.”
Actors tackling any Shakespeare classic are already taking on the challenge of embodying characters and telling a story audiences are likely to have strong opinions about. Add in beloved songs from arguably the most famous band of all time, and performers suddenly have even more to measure up to.
While Melanie Brezill is finding Shakespeare slightly more challenging than covering the Beatles classics (“Saying ‘thither’ and ‘hither’ definitely takes some getting used to!”), she’s confident that the pairing of these cultural icons is a match made for the stage. “The beauty of Shakespeare’s work and The Beatles’ music is that they invite constant conversation, so I think the audience will appreciate this fresh take,” she says.
Daryl Cloran concurs. “As You Like It is the most lyrical of Shakespeare’s plays and already had room for songs inside of it, but the plot and the story of the lovers was so easy to connect to the Beatles music that a lot of it made it feel like the Beatles’ music was written…for that play.”
Laughs Rick Boynton, “You can’t help but think that either the Beatles were writing on spec for Shakespeare or that they were working in tandem.”
Cloran’s goal in integrating Beatles’ songs into As You Like It was not merely to sprinkle in some songs and hope for the best. Rather, he chose this story because he was confident the words and music would work together beautifully. “It feels like each song really lifts the story, and moves the characters forward,” says Cloran.
For folks who are either unfamiliar with the story or need a refresher, As You Like It tells the story of the irrepressible Rosalind who takes refuge in the forest. So, too, does her love, Orlando, with much to learn from the woman of his dreams, now disguised in boy’s garb. Along the way, they meet a variety of characters, getting into various predicaments, and doling memorable quotes (including “All the world’s a stage…”) with aplomb. This bold, beloved comedy is fun under any circumstances, and it’s ripe for an audience-pleasing, sometimes psychedelic trip to the 1960s.
Theatergoers in Chicago are definitely eager for a boisterous, colorful, theatrical celebration after the last 18 months of pandemic restrictions put an end to most live performances for an extended amount of time. CST’s performing artists are also ready to jump back into working in the beloved Courtyard Theater, even if it means adjusting to new ways of working to keep everyone safe.
“I’m cautiously optimistic.” says Melanie Brezill about returningto in-person rehearsals and performances. “We’re still very much in the midst of the pandemic, so as an actor I’ve had to adapt to what it means to be indoors — rehearsing in masks, limiting contact, etcetera. That being said, I’m hopeful the precautions the theater has put in place will allow for both the company and audience members to enjoy themselves in a safe way. We are all in this together.”
Audiences planning to take a trip in the wayback machine to join CTS for this groovy production can find up-to-date info on COVID precautions at chicagoshakes.com/health. Hannah Kennedy, CST’s director of communications, adds, “We’re proud to stand alongside performing arts companies from across the city (and nationwide) in taking these important steps so we’re all able to come together again!”
While Chicago Shakespeare Theater encourages patrons to purchase tickets early, since this production is likely to be quite popular, there’s no need to delay getting your Beatles fix. You’ll be able to make reservations and enjoy As You Like It’s Spotify playlist at CTS’s website: chicagoshakes.com/plays_and_events/asyoulikeit
This production runs October 6 – November 21, 2021. Patrons planning to attend the opening night performance will also have an opportunity to be part of a ceremonial re-lighting of the famed Shakespeare marquee on Navy Pier at 7 p.m. that evening.