The optimistic comedies of the 1930s have inspired this year’s Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare in the Park production of the Bard’s As You Like It, with original music by songwriter David Olney, that opens Thursday and runs through Sept. 14 at Centennial Park.
The festival’s 27th annual park presentation has a Depression Era-camp setting designed by Morgan Matens with costume design by June Kingsbury and light design by Anne Willingham. “Costumed ushers will invite the audience to join the actors in our version of a ‘tent city,’ where even in the toughest times, songs are sung, stories are told and there’s always time for a little buck dancing,” says Director Denice Hicks, who started working with the festival in 1990 and was named artistic director in 2005.
Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday evenings with pre-show entertainment starting at 6:30 p.m. There will also be a special Labor Day performance Sept. 1. Food and drink can be purchased at the park. The show is free and open to the public with a $10 suggested donation. For a very special experience, a limited number of reserved ringside seats and gourmet picnic dinners are available in the Royal Box. Royal Box tickets ($50 per person) benefit Nashville Shakespeare Festival education programs and are partially tax deductible.
Festival fans are likely to recognize several cast members from previous productions. Emily Landham, who played Juliet in the festival’s 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet, returns to the park this summer in the role of Rosalind. Landham is a former member of the Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Apprentice Company and was in the festival’s 2005 production of The Winter’s Tale. Playing Duke Senior and Duke Frederick will be Nat McIntyre (Oberon in the 2013 A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Iago from 2014 Othello). The romantic interest Orlando is Houston Mahoney (Demetrius in the 2013 Midsummer) and the role of the melancholy Jaques who proclaims that “all the world’s a stage” will be played by Derek Whittaker (Egeus in 2013 Midsummer, Brabantio in the 2014 Othello).
As You Like It marks David Olney’s Shakespearean debut in the role of Amiens, playing his own songs written for the show. In addition, music director Stan Lawrence, from the Musical Heritage Center in Pegram, Tenn., leads an authentic old time jam band. Other cast members are Amanda Card in the role of Celia, Santiago Sosa as Oliver, Phil Perry as Corin, Jaye Phelps as Touchstone and veteran festival actor Brian Webb Russell in the roles of Adam, Martext and Hymen. Thirteen apprentice company members from Middle Tennessee will fill the other roles and serve as director’s and stage manager’s apprentices.
Representatives from Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust and the University of Warwick will visit Nashville this summer during Shakespeare in the Park and attend two performances of As You Like It on Aug. 23 and 24. The Nashville Shakespeare Festival has been selected by Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust as one of only 14 theater companies in North America to be featured in Shakespeare on the Road, a prestigious documentary and book. Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust, located in Stratford upon Avon, is the world’s leading charity in promoting the works, life and times of the acclaimed playwright.
2014 season supporters are the Tennessee Arts Commission, Metro Arts Commission, and the Martha and Bronson Ingram Foundation. Other support for Shakespeare in the Park has been provided by Metro Parks, National Endowment for the Arts, First Tennessee Foundation, The Frist Foundation, Waddey Patterson and Bradfield Stage Lighting. Advance Financial is an education sponsor of the festival. 2014 media sponsors include Aim Solutions, Nashville Scene, Whitehardt Inc., xfinity, Jive! and NowPlayingNashville.com.
*Photo of (l to r) Amanda Card, Houston Mahoney and Emily Landham by Jeff Frazier, photo of David Olney by Gregg Roth as well as crowd photo from the 2013 Shakespeare in the Park by Rick Malkin courtesy Nashville Shakespeare Festival.