Through August 18, free, 8:30
Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers give the Bard the Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson treatment in the Public Theater’s new Shakespeare in the Park production of Love’s Labour’s Lost. The anything and everything goes kitchen-sink musical is set in the modern day, as four college buds — the King (Daniel Breaker), Berowne (Colin Donnell), Longaville (Bryce Pinkham), and Dumaine (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) — come together for their fifth reunion, agreeing to lock away their beer, bong, and condoms and dedicate the next three years to their studies. But their plan is sorely tested when a quartet of beautiful babes — Princess (Patti Murin), Rosaline (Maria Thayer), Maria (Kimiko Glenn), and Katherine (Audrey Lynn Weston) — shows up, with the Princess, who has had a previous fling with the King, claiming he owes her money. A wild and wacky battle of the sexes ensues as the men and women can’t seem to stay away from one another. Meanwhile, a bombastic Spanish royal, Armado (Caesar Samayoa), has the hots for barmaid Jaquenetta (Rebecca Naomi Jones); Costard (Charlie Pollock), a Matthew McConaughey-like surfer dude, misdelivers a pair of important messages; and professors Holofernes (Rachel Dratch) and Nathaniel (Jeff Hiller), along with Dull (Kevin del Aguila), a cop on a Segway, provide absurdist comic relief.
Love’s Labour’s Lost is a whole lot of good-time fun, even if it gets overly repetitive and is all over the place. Friedman’s score, which ranges from straight-up Broadway-type standards to riotous riffs on A Chorus Line (in a nod to Joe Papp), boy-band ballads, Grease, and girl-group pop, are well crafted but too often self-referential, repeatedly mentioning the music and lyrics of the songs themselves and adding inside jokes over and over again. Director Timbers, who helmed the masterful Here Lies Love at the Public, also adapted the book, which occasionally gets a little shaky as he tries for too much; while some set pieces are triumphant, others fall flat, although he very cleverly works in some Shakespeare sonnets in the love letters the protagonists compose. Jones (Passing Strange) is dazzling as Jaquenetta, performing the show’s best song, the noir “Love’s a Gun,” with Murin (Lysistrata Jones), Thayer (Necessary Targets), and Donnell (Anything Goes) standing out among the rest of the cast, which also features Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson vets Near-Verbrugghe, Pinkham, bandleader Justin Levine, and Jeff Hiller as Nathaniel; the inspired choreography is by Jacksonian Danny Mefford. Despite its many missteps, Love’s Labour’s Lost goes a long way in further establishing Shakespeare in the Park returnee Friedman (Romeo and Juliet, The Seagull, Cymbeline) and Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher, A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant) as the future of American musical theater. Don’t forget that in addition to waiting on line at the Delacorte to get free tickets, you can also enter the daily virtual ticketing lottery online here. And to get in the mood, you can sample some of the songs here.