A Tony winner for his book on “Passing Strange,” composer Stew has taken on a sweet summertime assignment: creating musical accompaniment and a few songs for a free outdoor presentation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Connecticut’s Shakespeare on the Sound. Stew’s eclectic melodies and arrangements are once again winning (especially a great bluesy number for Bottom), helping to make this mixed-bag endeavor a pleasant enough diversion on a balmy early-summer’s night.
Though the singing is less than stellar, Stew shows that his music can act in harmony with the Bard’s words and find a fitting home in this funky al fresco production (which was beset by rain last week, losing two of its first four shows).
Some of show’s plusses come from the staging by the organization’s new a.d., Joanna Settle; Adam Silverman’s footlight-heavy illumination; the outdoor clarity in Obadiah Eaves’ sound system; and Andrew Lieberman’s rustically elegant design. A great swoop of a wooden platform cuts through the hilly lawn at this modest Rowayton park. (Production transfers to Greenwich in two weeks.)
Though the narrow platform sets limits — imagine “The Wizard of Oz” staged entirely on the Yellow Brick Road — there’s also a sense of cool expectation for an audience in seeing how the action can be staged along this extended four-foot-wide swath.
For the most part, the show succeeds, thanks to the energy and endurance of its cast (especially Jesse J. Perez’s Puck, who has to dash up and down the runway the most). But there are clunky spots as well when things just don’t fit. The elongated staging contributes to a loss of the play’s intimacy and comedy, the latter element downplayed in this production to the point of erasure.
Much of the fun is missing in the romantic dilemmas of the quartet of young lovers on the run, played with an oversupply of earnestness and angst by Marjan Neshat, Albert Jones and Gretchen Hall. Only Gregory Wooddell connects to the comic plight of his preppy Demetrius — he’s almost site-specific in this part of Connecticut.
However, even the foolproof foolishness of the Mechanics fails to score here. The exception is Ty Jones’ gloriously egocentric Bottom, a grand ham so full of himself that he literally backflips with self-confidence.
Doan Ly also does well in her much abridged part as Titania/Hippolyta. Mickey Solis plays a curiously pantherlike Oberon without much payoff, while Dennis Parlato nails the modest part of the aggrieved Egeus.
In the end, this gumbo of a production has its charms but needs more Stew — and enjoyment.