Theater review: All who wander are ‘Love’s Labours Lost’

Love's Labours Lost, Shakespeare in the Park
It’s the last weekend to catch Shakespeare in the Park’s “Love’s Labours Lost.”
Credit: Joan Marcus

At a five-year college reunion, a group of young men on the verge of 30 have sworn to abandon their wanton ways in order to devote three years to studying, fasting and — gulp — celibacy, all for the sake of preparing for their fast-approaching adulthood. But can they make it through even one night when the visiting princess (Patti Murin) and her sassy handmaids come by on a vengeance quest to tempt and taunt the rambunctious former scholars in the cohort of her love/hate nemeses, the King of Navarre (Daniel Breaker)?

This is the last weekend to catch the reimagined, modernized “Love’s Labours Lost” that is closing out this year’s Shakespeare in the Park run at the Delacorte Theater. The book was adapted for this musical by Alex Timbers, showcasing the same freewheeling fun and cheeky antics he embraced in both “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” (dialogue and direction) and last year’s hit, “Peter and the Starcatcher” (co-direction). The songs are care of Michael Friedman, who also worked on “Jackson.” As always, tickets are free on a first-come, first-serve basis at the box office — or they are available by a lottery process online.

Although it was previously workshopped several times, “Lost” still has the carefree air of a play in progress, like something that we’d see at this month’s Fringe Fest (although, to be fair, it would have a lot more gender-bending in that case). Although there are overarching themes — about maturity and scorned love, for example — those are credit to the Bard and not to Timbers or Friedman. What the creative duo adds are meandering setups that often lead to punch lines rather than poignancy. The songs — although deeply enjoyable, highly memorable and well performed — could be tighter, and the story tends to veer between brief spots of gravitas and unrelated, over-the-top antics. There’s a hot tub. There’s a ribbon dancer. There’s a Segway.

But it’s good fun. You’ll laugh helplessly even if your brain isn’t working too hard; the jokes shoot straight at the funny bone that audiences wear on their sleeves when approaching Shakespeare’s comedies in Central Park. You’re outdoors, there’s a light breeze, and in the background, Belvedere Castle looms like a perfectly chosen set piece against the sunset. The scenario is made for suspension of disbelief, for letting down your guard and letting loose — and “Love’s Labours Lost” taps that mood. Would it work on a bigger stage? For a lark, yes, but it would need a bit more work for this hilarious new musical comedy to be taken seriously.

If you go

‘Love’s Labours Lost’
Through Aug. 18
Delacorte Theater
Central Park West
Free, www.publictheater.org


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