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REVIEW: With a little help from the Fab Four, Theatre Calgary’s As You Like It shines

/By / Mar 5, 2024

Could it be true that “all you need is love?”

According to the Beatles and William Shakespeare, the answer appears to be a resounding yes.

In Theatre Calgary’s production of As You Like It, the Bard meets the Beatles in a musical mash-up that tells a tale of love, mistaken identity, and reconciled relationships. The Shakespearean comedy is still relevant for contemporary audiences — perhaps today more than ever, with its exploration of love in its many forms. It doesn’t hurt that this version features 22 classic Beatles songs, adding further relevance, depth, and expressiveness to the characters’ emotions.

Adapted and directed by Daryl Cloran, artistic director of Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, this production of As You Like It was originally conceived by Cloran for Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, and has since been performed in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C. As You Like It delighted the sold-out opening night crowd at Theatre Calgary’s Max Bell Theatre. This is a great production for anyone, whether or not they’re a Beatles/Shakespeare superfan. You couldn’t ask for a more accessible Shakespearean play, and the music is a perfect fit for the story — kudos to music director Ben Elliott. Under Elliott’s supervision and direction, the arrangements are an absolute pleasure to listen to and make the story even more engaging, thanks to clever re-imaginings of the songs that reconfigure solos into duets, and add impactful choral moments.

Set in the 1960s, this As You Like It opens with a bang at a wrestling match in Vancouver, where Oliver de Boys (Matthew MacDonald-Bain) argues with his younger brother, Orlando (Oscar Derkx), about the latter’s inheritance. At the match, Orlando meets heroine Rosalind (Chelsea Rose), and they fall in love. Cloran transforms the play’s two ruling brothers into two estranged sisters: ruthless Dame Frances, who has wrested control of the family firm from her older sister, Dame Senior (Rosalind’s mother), who’s now living in exile in the Okanagan (both Dames played by Nadien Chu). 

When Rosalind is banished from court, she disguises herself as a man named Ganymede and escapes, together with her cousin Celia (Dame Frances’ daughter, who takes on the persona of Aliena, Ganymede’s sister, played by Naomi Ngebulana) — into the vast Okanagan. There, Rosalind meets and befriends Orlando, also banished from court.

Orlando leaves love notes to Rosalind in the forest, and also expresses his love through song. Adding to the romantic entanglements (since Orlando doesn’t recognize Rosalind in her male attire) are farmer Silvius (Anton Lipovetsky), who’s in love with farmer Phoebe (Alexandra Lainfiesta), who has herself fallen for Ganymede, as well as the two other blissed-out couples who come together in the idyllic Okanagan forest.

Pam Johnson’s set design and Gerald King’s lighting design make a charming and effective backdrop for the production. Costume design by Carmen Alatorre brings us effortlessly back to the ‘60s, in the bouffant hairdos of the court ladies and the elegance of their dresses, then, in the second act, the grooviness of the forest dwellers (think love beads, platform shoes, bell-bottoms, psychedelic colors, and round sunglasses).

Despite a run time of two hours and 35 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission, the play never feels long — it’s moment after moment of hijinks, emotional revelations, and connection. It’s a pleasure to watch. It’s a little bit slapstick, and very physical — choreographer and fight director Jonathan Hawley Purvis makes every movement of each character a work of art. As Rosalind/Ganymede, Rose embodies her character’s feminine and masculine aspects with ease, grace, and strength. Derkx as Orlando, too, hits all the right notes as a noble hero and Rosalind’s beloved.

Shout-outs as well to Nadien Chu as the Dames, particularly the villainous Dame Frances, and to Andrew Cownden as the merry Touchstone.

The drama isn’t just confined to the theatre. On a landing above the lobby, there’s a small setup where audience members can take a selfie, with a variety of ‘60s accoutrements and colourful paraphernalia available as props. It also gave me a chuckle to spot a small group of female audience members who had dressed up for the occasion in the spirit of the ‘60s and the play’s gender-bending fun, complete with wigs, moustaches, and formal masculine attire.

All in all, it’s a theatrical evening to lift one’s spirits, with laugh-out-loud moments throughout. I was delighted by the various characters’ zany goofiness, sincerity, and genius (comic and otherwise), and the actors’ heartfelt portrayals of their characters. And as I left the theatre, stepping out into a chilly, snowy night, I still felt the warmth, lightness, and joy of this musical retelling of Shakespeare reverberating within me.  

As You Like It runs until March 24 at Theatre Calgary. Tickets are available here.

Intermission reviews are independent and unrelated to Intermission’s partnered content. Learn more about Intermission’s partnership model here.

Jacqueline Louie

Jacqueline Louie

Jacqueline Louie is a Calgary-based freelance writer and editor who covers everything from business, to travel, to human interest stories, to history. She studied French and German literature at the University of Calgary and has a deep appreciation of live theatre. Jacqueline, a classically trained violinist, strongly believes in the power of music to bring people together.



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