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BWW Reviews: Public Works' THE WINTER'S TALE Enchants at Delacorte

The phrase "community theatre" rarely inspires such vibrant dramatics and joyful pageantry as when the Public Theater's Public Works program takes the Delacorte stage.

Todd Almond and members of New York Theatre Ballet
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

Its recently completed second annual production, a three-night run of a colorful and festive adaptation of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, spectacularly fulfilled the noble mission of last year's premiere effort, The Tempest; to present free Shakespeare productions where the diverse population of New York City could see a company of actors that looked like the diverse population of New York City.

Once again led by the creative team of director/conceiver Lear deBessonet, composer/lyricist Todd Almond and choreographer Chase Brock, the mission was accomplished by a company of over 200 performers, only a handful of who were members of Actors' Equity. The rest were members of an assortment of New York based arts groups, making cameo appearances, and everyday New Yorkers from all five boroughs who are clients of five local community organizations: The Brownsville Recreation Center, The Children's Aid Society, Domestic Workers United, The Dreamyard Project and The Fortune Society.

Playing Antigonus, the unfortunate character who falls victim to Shakespeare's most famous stage direction, "Exit, pursued by a bear," Almond opened the evening singing, "This is a tale best told in winter," signaling dancers from New York Theatre Ballet to appear as elegant snowflakes as a choir made up from the ranks of Rosie's Theatre Kids sang atmospheric harmonies.

Familiar Broadway names included Isaiah Johnson as King Leontes of Sicily and Lindsay Mendez as his pregnant wife, Hermione, who he suspects of having an affair with his boyhood pal, Polixenes (community member, Michael Roberts).

Bond Street Theatre's Shinbone Alley Stilt Band and Company
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

Christopher Fitzgerald loaned his manic comic energy to the role of Autolycus, not only pickpocketing wallets and cell phones from audience members but even bantering a bit on stage with Senator Charles Schumer.

Playing loose with the condensed text, spotlighted appearances by the martial artists of Capoeira Luanda, the Dixieland playing Bond Street Theatre's Shinbone Alley Stilt Band, Megha Kalia's NYC Bhangra Dance Company, the Staten Island Lions and the puppet gang from Sesame Street provided an entertaining grab-bag of Gotham's performing arts scene.

But the community of non-professional actors of all ages who sang and danced in crowd scenes was what gave the evening its rapturously thumping heart. Special kudos to Lori Brown-Niang, whose commanding turn as Paulina earned enthused exit applause the night I attended, and young Jennifer Levine, who melted hearts playing Time, wearing a clock nearly as larger as she is while reciting her lengthy monologue.

Oh yes, and the bear really did show up, in the form of Danny Williams in a furry costume. But fortunately a trio of New York City's Urban Park Rangers was on hand to make sure he didn't cause any trouble.

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