NYMF Review: Like You Like It
The '80's were fun. Weren't they? I mean, we had big hair, we wore pastels and leg-warmers, we listened to Debbie Gibson when she was the pop-star Debbie and not The Actress Known As Deborah... John Hughes ruled the cinema with teen angst melodramas like The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire, and Stephen Sondheim won his first Pulitzer Prize. Yeah, the '80's were fun, and perhaps none of Shakespeare's plays captures the wild spirit of those films, and indeed, that era, as the giddy comedy As You Like It. Sammy Buck and Daniel S. Acquisto, seeing the similarities in tone between a Hughes comedy and the classic love story of Rosalind and Orlando, have refashioned the play into a new '80's-set pop-rock musical that casts the awkward lovers as high-school students, and the magical forest of Arden as a trendy mall. Yes, a mall. In the era of Gordon Gekko and weapons sales to Iran, the wonderland of the forest somehow got replaced by the consumerism of a shopping center. I'm sure that's supposed to mean something profound, but I haven't yet figured out exactly what.
In Like You Like It, square and straightlaced student Rosalind lets her hair down by hiding it under a hat and ditching school to hide in Arden Mall disguised as a boy. In the Shakespeare, the disguise is for Rosalind's own protection after all, a young lady couldn't be out in the woods on her own. Don't waste time or energy wondering why she does it in 1985. It's a comedy, just go with it. Naturally, she meets hunky (that was the term used in 1985, wasn't it?) Orlando in the mall, who doesn't recognize the girl with whom he's supposedly in love. The disguised Rosalind coaches him on how to woo... er, herself, and gets entangled in several other relationships with the usual assortment of stereotypical kids from every '80's teen film. Complications arise, get resolved, everyone learns a Very Important Lesson about Being Yourself, and, at least ideally, it all ends like you like it.
It sounds great, and could be, if Acquisto and Buck remembered that funny doesn't need to be dumb. The characters can be stereotypes and the plotline nonsensical all in the name of comedy, but even a parody of a genre still has to be clever. Teen movies in the '80's were cheesy and silly, and are certainly ripe for a sendup, but the adaptors are so determined to keep a serious emotional core to their comedy that it never quite works either as parody or as an homage. At times, it feels closer to a lighthearted after-school special. Buck's witless book does nothing to develop the two-dimensional clichés into full characters, making it hard to even like them, much less sympathize with their "plights." Will Rosalind keep Orlando from dating the snooty debutante Audrey? Will Celia make over the square hall monitor into a hunk? Will Rosalind be able to pull off appearing at the school dance both as a boy and a girl? Who cares? These shallow caricatures may be parodies, but they should still be interesting.
Acquisto's music fares somewhat better than Buck's book, setting the mood of the manic '80's with bright pop tunes that nicely evokes Tiffany and Madonna. It's as light as the subject matter, and works very well, particularly in the comic scenes. The ensemble works well together, and with good energy, although the principal actors lack any real chemistry, emotion, or comic timing. All in all, Like You Like It could be a fun stroll down memory lane, and while it has some amusing moments, the show is ultimately dull and bland.