For its 23rd summer Shakespeare in the Park, Nashville Shakespeare Festival mounts its first park production of Love's Labor's Lost, a romance that dates from fairly early in the Bard's catalog. Neither as wise as Much Ado About Nothing nor as fanciful as A Midsummer Night's Dream, this work is devoid of most of the author's typical plot tricks — mistaken identities, cross-dressing and the like — which leaves a relatively straightforward scenario of lovestruck young men and tittering young ladies, all falling prey to Cupid's arrows (in this case the musical strains produced by a strolling violinist).
Director Denice Hicks wisely trims the text a little, but this is still one of the Bard's more challenging works, even though a lighthearted one. Act 1 adequately develops the story, as a king and his three lords fall in love with a princess and her three ladies. There are diverting subplots involving a flamboyant Spanish knight, a fool and a dairy maid, with one late major plot twist leading to the play's unexpected conclusion. Unfortunately, Act 2 just seems talky — even the increasingly game efforts of many performers don't always sustain the audience's attention.
Eric Pasto-Crosby and Jeff Boyet do all they can to be energetic and expressive. Ricardo Puerta, as Armado the Spanish Romeo, also distinguishes himself with a lively and likable performance. Leading ladies Nettie Kraft and Shannon Hoppe offer competent if unexciting portrayals, while two other apprentice actresses, Elizabeth Lanier and Mariah Parris, seem at least their equals in lesser roles. Tom Angland, Alex Murray, Joe Robinson and Brenda Sparks round out the lineup of pro-level talent, and they committedly declaim their way through the tomfoolery and occasional slapstick. Todd Bornstein is the fiddling Cupid, and he's terrific, in particular when he drives the males into a romantic dither.
On the technical end, the show is a work of art, featuring Erica Edmonson's understated pastoral set pieces, warmly illuminated by lighting designer Anne Willingham. June Kingsbury's costumes are a delight — tastefully appointed and color-themed appropriately for the principal characters.
On its surface, Love' Labor's Lost might seem to project Shakespeare's classic sense of magic where affairs of the heart are concerned. Earnest actors and a sometimes sprightly staging attempt to deliver the heartfelt message, but the play's weak latter structure ultimately undercuts its dramatic impact.
"Satire is what closes on Saturday night," theater great George S. Kaufman once said, commenting on the genre's unique challenges. Not so at Boiler Room Theatre, which is presenting a frenzied, riotous and often brilliant musical that manages to poke devilishly good fun at both great literature and Broadway blockbusters. Originally produced locally in 1993 at Nashville's Avante Garage! Theatre, Les Miz! A Tale of Two Cities has been revived by co-author/composer Jamey Green, who also directs — and plays relentless piano throughout — in a remounting that covers three acts and features a large cast that generates enough energy to power the TVA.
It's the French Revolution, as told by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, but twistedly so, with almost every line of dialogue sung in an endless swirl of songs that evoke the long-running musical Les Miserables ("I Dreamed a Dream"), naturally, but also other classic works ranging from Oliver to Jesus Christ Superstar, from Sondheim and Tchaikovsky, from My Fair Lady to The Wizard of Oz. There are hand puppets, tap-dancing, comely chorines, stage "accidents," bogus infighting among cast members, and a sense of organized chaos that helps to sustain this boisterously comical evening, which certainly delivers its money's worth in book smarts, cunning reference points and broad entertainment.
The cast is an A-list of BRT stars: Scott Rice (as Sydney Carton), Lisa Gillespie (Madame Defarge), Laura Thomas (Lucie Manette) and company newcomer Flynt Foster (Charles Darnay) lead the way with colorful, over-the-top portrayals of the iconic literary figures.There is a host of fabulous supporting players, among them Phil Perry, Jeffrey Williams, Megan Murphy, Stephen Henry, Dan McGeachy and Lane Wright, plus various other ensemble members (including some youngsters) who sing and dance up a storm.
Technically, all that really matters is that the 21 bodies (plus musicians) fit felicitously on BRT's intimate stage. Yet a good word should also be said about Melissa Cannon's colorful and cartoonishly appropriate costumes
Les Miz! A Tale of Two Cities is musical satire on steroids, and unequivocally satisfying theater. It runs through Sept. 4 at The Factory at Franklin.
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