At the 37-year-old San Francisco Shakespeare Festival Labor Day performance in The City, artistic director Rebecca J. Ennals introduced her adaptation of “As You Like It” as a world premiere.
And it is, in the sense that the dozen or so terrific new songs in classic rock and folksy rhythms by the Kilbanes, plus several by Phil Wong, are interwoven throughout.
Sometimes the lyrics come directly from songs Shakespeare himself penned for the comedy, such as the poignant “Under the Greenwood Tree,” or are a mix of lyrics by the Kilbanes (Kate Kilbane and Dan Moses) and the Bard, as in “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind.”
Other times, the Kilbanes have set sections of spoken text to music in witty ways. And at still other times, the songs are entirely new, including the duet “The Madness of Love” for the two central lovelorn characters, Rosalind and Orlando.
Musicians on guitar, piano, accordion, drums, ukulele and bass appear onstage with the actors, to great effect.
Under Ennals’ direction, enhanced by the music, this is a particularly buoyant “As You Like It,” with many of the actors — some playing multiple roles; some women playing men’s roles — decked out in bright, storybook costumes by Susan Szegda. In fact, the show is so jolly that even that “melancholy fellow” Jaques, the morose philosopher, is more upbeat than down, a disappointing choice.
If certain comic nuances somehow get lost amid the music and general merriment, the play’s main theme of love in all its forms registers strongly.
It’s pretty convincing when Rosalind (a tough and feisty Regina Morones) and Orlando (an endearing Michael Barrett Austin) fall in love at first sight, with youthful awkwardness.
And it’s fun to follow their courtship as they wander in exile in the Forest of Arden, with a teasing Rosalind disguised as a boy — although in this production no ardor is quite as impressive as that of the rejected suitor Silvius (an excellent Akaina Ghosh, who warbles a heart-rending “Phebe’s Lament”).
Since S.F. Shakes stages its plays free in parks, natural elements sometimes compete with the sound system, and such was the case the opening weekend in San Francisco, as wind continually interfered with the actors’ body mics, sometimes obliterating lyrics and dialogue and presumably making it that much harder for the actors to finesse some of the more delicate comic moments.
Still, despite the weather, this is a highly satisfying show, with fine performances all around.
As You Like It
Presented by San Francisco Shakespeare Festival
Where: Main Parade Ground, 34 Graham St., S.F. Presidio
When: 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Contact: (415) 558-0888, sfshakes.org
Note: The season closes with shows at 2 p.m. Sept. 14-15 and Sept. 21-22 and 10 a.m. Sept. 19-20 at Jerry Garcia Amphitheatre, 4McLaren Park, 40 John F. Shelley Drive, S.F.