He's the all-time literary rock star. Now Shakespeare in the Park's audacious new "Love's Labour's Lost" musical has turned Bill the Bard into a rock star lyricist.
Never mind that the songs are by Michael Friedman (mostly) to a book adapted by director Alex Timbers, co-conspirators on a similarly irreverent "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson." While purists may be horrified at liberties taken -- one of Shakespeare's rewritten sonnets is read from a toilet-paper scroll -- they may find themselves stifling chortles throughout an hour and 40 minutes of dueling hormones.
There's no tinkering with the heart of the matter. "Love's Labour's Lost" remains the story of young men of nobility and royalty forswearing women, wine and song -- sex, drugs and rock and roll -- so that they might enrich the mind. They're the privileged class of 2008 at their fifth-year reunion, led by the King of Navarre. But their fraternal vow is sidetracked by the arrival of the Princess of France and her attendant ladies visiting her father, who's not well.
As if desire needed a cue, Caesar Samayoa as fool-for-lust Armando emerges from a hot tub to declare his love for barmaid Jaquenetta, played by Rebecca Naomi Jones, who brings her "American Idiot" rock star credentials to bear on "Rich People." (Theirs is a rare mixing of classes in the Shakespearean canon.)
The boys -- Daniel Breaker as King, and his court: Colin Donnell as Berowne, Bryce Pinkham as Longaville, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe as Dumaine -- concede that "young men are meant to have sex." (Breaker and Donnell pulse with faux-monastic vibes.) But what chance do they have when young ladies of past revelries -- Patti Murin as Princess, and her court: Maria Thayer as Rosaline, Kimiko Glenn as Maria and Audrey Lynn Weston as Katherine -- arrive primed to party? (Murin and Thayer bristle with anachronistically virginal defenses.)
Rachel Dratch and Jeff Hiller as Ivory Tower stuffed shirts animate the self-taught comic scorn Shakespeare heaped upon academia. Kevin Del Aguila as the constable and Charlie Pollock as a stoner counter-mock authority, while Andrew Durand's Boyet deflects minimum-wage servitude with a hapless smile.
But it's the R-rated rock operatics -- boy bands vs. girl groups -- that burnish the show's Broadway potential. Music director and Northport native Justin Levine's ensemble rocks John Lee Beatty's college-town set until the Bard demands a return to life-and-death reality. "The Owl and the Cuckoo" finale are strictly lyrics by Shakespeare. That's reverence enough for us.
Rock on, Will.
WHAT "Love's Labour's Lost"
WHEN | WHERE 8:30 p.m. through Aug. 18, Delacorte Theater, Central Park
TICKETS Free at Delacorte box office at noon, day of performance; by lottery, shakespeareinthepark.org; standby lines at 6:30 p.m.