by: Sandi Durell

There’s simply nothing like sitting outdoors at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park for the Public Theater’s first summer offering of “As You Like It.” To say that Director Daniel Sullivan has outdone himself, is an understatement. This production is set down south in the 1840s as banjo strumming musicians twang out bluegrass music written by none other than Steve Martin. His lyricist is rather famous too.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Delacorte, this couldn’t be a more fitting production featuring an ace cast including Lily Rabe as the feisty Rosalind and the trouser clad Ganymede, who falls madly in love with the banished Orlando (a handsomely fervent David Furr) as they meet and frolic in the fantasy forest of Arden. Rosalind, too, has been ousted by her father the Duke’s younger brother Frederick (both played by Andre Braugher) as has Orlando enabling his sibling Oliver (Omar Metwally) to steal Orlando’s money.

Rosalind, now dressed as a man, makes her way into the forest assisted by her charming cousin Celia (Renee Elise Goldsberry) as Touchstone (Oliver Platt), the town’s philosophizing clown follows, finding his own form of love with the goatherd Audrey (a bawdy, dirty Donna Lynne Champlin). She’s also a knockout in the second act dance number. It’s a love fest in Arden Forest as Rosalind challenges Orlando, testing his love; shepherd Silvius (a dejected Will Rogers) seeks the affections of shepherdess Phoebe (Suzannah Flood) who is longing for Ganymede. What a romp thru matters of the heart as the banjos play on.

It’s certainly a weaving tale of love lost and found with the assist of a pragmatic Jaque (the impeccably ironic Stephen Spinella). Jesse Lenat as Amiens (Duke Senior’s attendant) is notable; his vocals golden.

As one of the most beloved Bard plays, it’s easy to see why, under the tutelage of Mr. Sullivan, the creative team including John Lee Beatty easily rose to the challenge; Mr. Beatty creating a log fortress and many trees, accentuated by Jane Greenwood’s costumes and Natasha Katz’ lighting.

“As You Like It” continues FREE at the Delacorte Theatre thru June 30th.

Photo: Joan Marcus