Audiences who have been stymied by the quickly shifting moods and emotions in William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” can find some solace in the engaging musical version being presented by American Stage’s annual Shakespeare in the Park.
What has been known as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” seems effortless and nearly logical in the adaptation by director Kenneth Noel Mitchell and composer-lyricist Lee Ahlin for the company’s 14th annual outdoor Shakespeare production.
A fine vehicle for theaters who stage outdoor Shakespeare, this “Winter’s Tale” gives some sense and purpose where it once was lacking. King Leontes’sudden bout of jealousy over his wife’s friendship with his best friend King Polixenes no longer comes out of the blue: The lyrical “Anyone Can See” gives insight into Leontes’ rapidly declining mental state, as he watches from the side and suddenly sees something adulterous in the gentle conversations between his wife Hermione and Polixenes.
Ahlin’s score, his eighth for the company’s annual Shakespeare show, has a classical air with a contemporary undertone, fitting the somewhat generic but slightly Elizabethan-era style of Polly Byer’s costumes and Jimmy Humphries minimalist set.
The company usually sticks to comedies (with the rare exception of a rock version of “Macbeth” two years ago), but this part-dramatic, part-fantasy play works just fine for audiences picnicking on blankets under the stars.
The shift from the dark and brooding tone of the first act’s Sicilia to the brightly colored land of gypsies depicted in the second act’s Bohemia can still be jarring, but it seems less so in Mitchell and Ahlin’s fairy-tale production. (Ahlin’s song “What’s the News?” — a progress report of what’s happened offstage — saves time by summarizing more scenes.)
Though the singing isn’t always strong and the cast sometimes tries too hard to be “Shakespearean,” the cast members perform with style and strength, particularly the commanding Michael Don Evans as Leontes. Angela Bond is a gracefully elegant Hermione, whose act two resurrection becomes a moving moment with the guidance of Stephanie Pendergraft’s Paulina leading the cast through the inspirational “Awake Your Faith.”
Christopher Swann is powerful as Polixenes, even when he’s perplexed at his friend’s misguided attitude; Trent Dawson as Florizel seems most comfortable with the Shakespearean dialogue; and Kathy Tyrell is angelic as Perdita, the “long lost” daughter of Leontes and Hermione.
While the story takes some strange turns over the course of 16 years, this musical “The winter’s Tale” proves as refreshing as a summer breeze.