This has not been a good year for Shakespeare’s comedies at Bard on the Beach. Like its mainstage counterpart that attempts to out-do Shakespeare, its production of Love’s Labour’s Lost gets lost inside a jukebox musical that obscures, rather than enhances its story.
Shakespeare as jukebox musical, you say? Surprisingly, yes.
In director Daryl Cloran’s re-imagining of this comedy about three men who unsuccessfully take an oath to forsake women for a year, this Love’s Labour’s Lost becomes an excuse to roll out such classic hits as “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, “Blue Skies”, “Someone to Watch Over Me”, and a final scene that includes “Dream A Little Dream”.
For those that might not be up on their classic pop songs, there is a thread that runs through them, as the dozen or so tunes are a collection of love songs that first found popularity in the Twenties. In director Cloran’s vision however, it isn’t just a generic 1920s container in which to place the music; this is the Roaring Twenties of Chicago, complete with gangsters, speakeasies and, of course, plenty o’ dames.
At first blush, Cloran’s choice is an interesting one: use the songs to help enhance story and time. Problem is that beyond the first couple of songs, which become full-on musical production numbers complete with choreography from Valerie Easton, they outstay their welcome very quickly. Like the worst of the jukebox musical genre – Mamma Mia comes to mind – it simply becomes an excuse for yet another song, with a tenuous connection that does little to help drive plot.
There is little doubt that this talented cast knows how to do Shakespeare, because when they are actually given the opportunity to perform the text as written, it is at times glorious.
With its constant interruptions from song and other silliness though – including everything from a rubber chicken to knock-knock jokes – they rarely get to show off their real strengths. Instead, we get Shakespeare delivered with peculiar gangster drawls, and, oddly enough, at least one “foggetaboutit”.
Inside its 1920s aesthetic, Rebekka Sorensen-Kjestrup’s costumes are sumptuous on the women and appropriately dashing on the men (giving rise to yet another argument that men always look good in hats). Marshall McMahen’s convertible set moves us easily from the speakeasy of Chicago to the countryside retreat, and under the musical direction of Ben Elliott, a few of the songs are even delightful. But it is all small conciliation for a story that becomes all but buried beneath the weight of its parts.
The same company of actors who appear in the steampunk-inspired mainstage production of The Comedy Errors, one can’t help wonder if, as they pass under the marquee in Vanier Park each evening, they look up just to remind themselves that they are indeed at a Shakespeare festival.
Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare. Directed by Daryl Cloran. A Bard on the Beach Shakespeare production. On stage at Vanier Park until September 20. Visit https://bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.