It's been some while since Shakespeare sang at The Public's Delacorte Theater in Central Park. To be sure, various free Shakespeare in the Park productions have folded incidental music into their overall fabric, and the ever-iconic Hair (revived at this address in 2008) quotes liberally from Hamlet. But one has to go back 42 years — to the Delacorte premiere of the John Guare/Galt MacDermot Two Gentlemen of Verona, prior to its Tony-winning Broadway transfer and 2005 Delacorte revival — to find a Shakespeare play transformed into a proper musical.
All the more reason, then, to herald this summer's world premiere of the Alex Timbers/Michael Friedman musical adaptation of Love's Labour's Lost. A world premiere, the second of The Public's two free Shakespeare in the Park offerings allows a verbally dense and dextrous entry in the canon to let rip anew, in a decidedly American take on a play rife with French names that in this version unfolds in and around an unnamed New England college.
This, you may recall, is the lyrical comedy about enforced chastity, academic pedantry, and an especially prolix plot that deliberately keeps the men from the women until such time, one feels, as the lords in question have had the opportunity to do some growing up.
"I just love the play and I love the structure of the play," said Oskar Eustis, The Public's artistic director, who has been nurturing this project for the better part of three years.
"There's something beautiful," Eustis elaborated, "in the idea of these four boys who are going to attempt to withdraw from the world and through contemplation and study achieve a higher understanding who then learn that in fact the way to grow up and to become a man is to engage with the world."
Small wonder, then, that one of the show's defining numbers is the aptly titled "Are You A Man," led by the play's Romeo equivalent, the lovesick Berowne. That part is being played in the Park by Colin Donnell, an alumnus of Broadway's Anything Goes and Jersey Boys, who has been with this current venture across three workshops.
"Michael has written a really beautiful, catchy, rockin' score," Donnell said in tribute to Friedman, the musical's composer, adding of Timbers' book: "Alex has done a really cool job helping Michael along with that and also condensing and transforming the script. It wouldn't be fair to say that Michael just writes the score and Alex just the book since it really is a collaboration between the two of them. What's great as an actor is that they value the input of the people they put in the room with them. Every time we've come back to the piece, there's been a forward momentum."
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