Young actors give Shakespeare a pop music twist

When Rosalind meets Orlando, it’s love at first sight. Then life intervenes.

Shakespeare’s comedy, “As You Like it,” is about being bedazzled and bewildered by first love. The young cast of the Imaginary Friends’ Shakespeare Production Class just finished a run of the pop musical version at the Durango Arts Center. There’s something right about teenagers playing besotted teenagers.

In Shakespeare’s universe, boys wander around in a haze, say the wrong things, write miserable poetry or make up ditzy songs about new found love. Girls wonder what they look like and squeal a lot. Such was the emotional temperature at last Saturday’s matinee.

Director Mona Wood-Patterson has schooled her performers well in Shakespearean language and rhythm. Not one stumble or hesitation came over the boards, and no one slipped into smarty-pants modern speech. That came with the songs attached to this quasi-musical, youth version of the play.

Orlando (played with quicksilver timing by Joey Panelli) moans: “I have none to lament me.” Then he falls for Rosalind (a winning Brenna Christensen), and soon he’s posting silly lovesick poetry for her to discover all over the Forest of Arden. When he composes a song, “Hey, Soul Sister,” Panelli plays it as if he’s discovered the corny lyrics one word at a time. Well done.

Sara Barney’s wonderful line readings give Celia, Rosalind’s best friend, a natural and nuanced persona. She’s matched by Logan Graham’s Oliver, Orlando’s older brother. He’s a cold-hearted man of the court until transformed by the natural delights of Arden.

The set is cleverly divided into two locations, court and forest. The cold, gray palace of Duke Frederick (delivered with some force by Mason Harvey) is a tomb-like vault faced with faux marble blocks. Technical Director Charles Ford contrasts this constricted world with Arden, a colorful forest filled with fanciful trees and a high-style graffiti mural created by Brian Simmonds, Chris Shifrar and Noah Leggett.

In Arden, people dress like medieval hippies and all is cool, colorful and free. The exiled Duke Senior (a warm and inviting Evatt Salinger) plays host. It’s here that life blossoms and the lovers finally make a match, along with three other pairs. And so the play concludes with four weddings and a huge celebration.

Shakespeare artificially introduced a goddess to set things right; Emma Buchanan plays Aphrodite with calm confidence. Her tuneful advice, “Trust the Voice Within,” leads directly into the finale, “It Comes Naturally.”

On Saturday, the cast sang and danced their way to a vigorous, joyful conclusion thanks to Musical Director Traci Lyn Thomas and Choreographer Denise Hagemeister. Costumers Joann Nevils and Susan Belshe mixed and matched styles, from modern dress for the chilling ducal court to the joyous, wildly random Arden.

The production wasn’t flawless; some voices were shrill and over-amplified. But Orlando and Rosalind’s bumpy ride to true love showed what teenage performers can do with professional guidance, a love for Shakespearean language and an underlying sense of fun.

Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at jreynolds@durangoherald.com.

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