If music be the food of love, play on!

By Roz Friedman

On Riccardo Hernandez's sensational set, covered with the wonderful words and sayings of Shakespeare, lit by Robert Wierzel's brilliant design punctuated by sparkling crystal chandeliers, and accompanied by a unique orchestra led by Music Director Wayne Barker, six superb actors, three women and three men, directed by Mark Lamos, choreographed by Dan Knechtges and costumed well by Candice Donnelly, are delivering the most delightful and original show of the year: Sing for Your Shakespeare. It plays only through June 28.

Sing for Your Shakespeare, conceived by Barker, Lamos and Deborah Grace Winer, started life at the famed 92nd Street Y, where Westport's Winer is the artistic director of its beloved Lyrics & Lyricists series. It celebrates Shakespeare through the inspired songs that so many composers have written through the years.

What a treat to see the very tall chanteuse, Karen Akers, all style with a deep resonate voice. She glides flawlessly through “Rodgers and Hart's “Falling in Love with Love,” and John Dankworth's “Winter,” never hitting a wrong note. Her work with the smooth-sounding Darius De Haas in “This Can't Be Love,” and in Kurt Weill & Ogden Nash's “Speak Low” was perfect. (I didn't know “rhymster” Nash wrote lyrics for songs.) Stephen Derosa is an amusing Shakespeare, costume and all, delivering the clever “Shakespeare Song,” with just the right amount of brio.

Laurie Wells is a jazz singer extraordinaire in Eddie De Lange & Jimmy Van Heusen's “Darn That Dream; “Britney Coleman is cute as a button, and Constantine Germanacos displays a romantic ambiance; he reminds us of Brian D'arcy James. The songs begin with the charming “Madrigal- It was a Lover and His Lass,” written  by Shakespeare and Thomas Morley in 1600 -- it is always identified with “As You like It” -- to Frank Loesser's “Hamlet,” from Cole Porter's “Where is the Life I Led?” to the beautiful “Maria,” sung by Constantine and “Tonight” sung so tremulously by Britney and Constantine, both numbers, of course by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. The text, interspersed by snippets of sonnets and sayings by the Bard, is remarkable.

The fine orchestra, which sits high on its own pedestal at the back of the stage, consists of a gorgeous Steinway grand piano, played by Wayne Barker, Rick Kissinger, Reeds, Joshua Samuels, Percussion, Mary Tokarski, Accordion -- yes, Accordion, Lynette Wardle, Harp and Melissa Westgate, Cello.

Sing for Your Shakespeare is a light-hearted way to celebrate William Shakespeare. He is 150 years young this year! At the Westport Country Playhouse.

(This review originally aired on WMNR Fine Arts radio.)

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