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New Jersey


A CurtainUp Review

Honor. . .Is it a blessing I've received?
Is it a lesson I must learn?
Is it a treasure I must guard?
Is it a prize that I must earn?

.— Hana in the opening and title song.
Diane Veronica Phelan as Hana and Christine Toy Johnson as her mother, Ayame
(Photo: Richard Termine )
Shakespeare's plays have been performed for more than 400 years —whether as written by the Bard or re-interpreted for contemporary theater, film, ballet or opera fans. Rupert Goold's Stalin era Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart has triumphantly travelled from London to Brooklyn and is currently a hot ticket on Broadway. Prospect Theater Company's Peter Mills, the prolific composer, lyricist and librettist and his colleague and wife Carla Reichel, have previously musicalized Twelth Night as Ilyria (see link below). In their latest collaboration they have applied their considerable talents and imagination to As You Like It.

Now called Honor, this popular romantic comedy has been relocated to 16th Century Japan, a place and era big on pride in royal birth and honor. Instead of the Dukes of Elizabethan England, we have Daimyos engaging in power struggles that exile defeated factions from palatial splendor to a more rustic forest existence. The farcical aspects of the various romantic subplots that Shakespeare juggled before a happy ending could unite all the lovers and restore power to the "good" ruler are all there. However, instead of wrestling matches we have fights fought with deadly swords. People actually die. Leading lady Hana ((As You Like It's Rosalind) now has a mother, Phoebe, who kills herself to save the family honor.

Like Mills and Reichel, Kenneth Branagh also moved Shakespeare's Arden Forest to Japan, though during the nineteenth century and not as a musical. While that film was well-received, Branagh received some flak for not using any Asian actors. Not so the Prospect Theater production which has a mostly Asian cast to lend authenticity to the setting, even though Mills' always appealing score makes no attempt to introduce an Asian flavor. The cast does good work, though only Diana Veronica Phelan as Hana, Ming Lee as her banished father, Alan Ariano as the sensitive sword instructor Makoto have the vocal power to do full justice to the score and give us a chance to appreciate the lyrics. Vincent Rodriguez III who plays Hana's lover, Yoshiro also has a fine voice though his acting is still a bit tentative.

It's not easy to turn comedy into dramedy and reconcile farcical twists and turns with much more somber events. Consequently, Mills and Reichel deserve credit for tackling this difficult combination even though it isn't as successful as their previous non-genre mixing efforts like The Pursuit of Persephone, The Flood and Iron Curtain. What works best is the heavy sword play. Superbly choreographed by Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum the fight scenes are accompanied by this production's most powerful musical moments.

What also works quite well is Erica Beck Hemminger's spare staging: A backdrop of sliding panels effectively suggests the shift from palace to rustic life. A few slim trees suspended from the ceiling and some hand-held leafy boughs are just enough of a forest in which the convoluted plot can unfold.

For anyone who wants the altered plot in a nutgraph: Rosalind now Hana, the daughter of a banished duke, now a Samurai ruler falls in love with Orlando now Yoshiro the disinherited son of one of the Smurai's friends. When she is banished from the court by her usurping uncle Hana switches genders and travels with her loyal cousin Celia now Kiku and the jester Touchstone-now Nobuyuki to the Forest where her father and his friends live in exile. Oservations on life and love follow, friends are made, and families are reunited. By the play's end Hana once again a girl marries her Yoshiro. Other sets of lovers Include Kiku and Yoshiro's older brother Oliver, now Ishiro. As Ishiro becomes a gentler, kinder young man so the mean Samurai conveniently espouses religion so that his exiled brother can rule once again. To borrow from another play, all's well that ends well.

Some other Shakepare plays that have been turned into musicals: The Comedy of ErrorsThe Boys from Syracuse, probably the first successful such adaptation by George Abbott, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

The Taming of the ShrewKiss Me, Kate with a classic score by Cole Porter that includes hits like Brush Up Your Shakespeare.

Romeo and JulietWest Side Story by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim

The Disney super hit The Lion King owes its plot to Hamlet with the human characters transformed into animals. (Simba is Hamlet).

Book an, music by Peter Mills and Carla Reichel
Lyrics by Peter Mills
Directed by Cara Reichel.
Cast: Diane Veronica Phelan (Hana), AIi Ewoldt (Kiku), Jaygee Macapugay (Mitsuko), Christine Toy Johnson (Ayame / Chika), Vincent Rodriguez III (Yoshiro), Doan Mackenzie (Ichiro), Ming Lee (Takehiro), David Shih (Katsunori), Steven Eng (Nobuyuki), Alan Ariano (Makoto), Ariel Estrada (Susumu), Mel Sagrado Maghuyop (Kenshin), Romney Piamonte (Kuro), Eyrnard Meneses Cabling (Hideo), Brian Jose (Isamu / Yasu), Toshiji Takeshima, Robert Torigoe, Whitney Lee, Allan Mangaser (Ensemble)
Set design by Erica Beck Hemminger
Costumes by Sidney Shannon
Lighting by Evan Purcell
Sound: Ryan Maeker
Fight choreography by Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum
Choreography by Dax Valdes
Music direction by Daniel Feyer
Orchestrations by Erika Ito
Running time 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one intermission.
Prospect Theater Company Hudson Guild Theatre 441 West 26th Street (212) 352-3101
From 4/19/08; closing 5/18/08
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm with matinee performances on Sundays at 3:00 pm; additional Saturday matinee May 17 at 3.
Tickets: $20, $16 for students.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on April 22 performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Honor / Ayame, Hana. Katsunori's Men
  • I Know I Am Your Child/ Yoshiro, Hana
  • Little Gray Stone / Nobuyuki
  • He Comes To Court /Hana, Kiku, Yoshiro & Company
  • The Token/ Hana, Yoshiro
  • A Way We Can Fly /Hana, Kiku
  • Blood/ Ichiro, Katsunori & His Men
  • How Sweet This Life /Takehiro, Kiku, Nobuyuki, Yoshiro, Hana, Yasu, Chika & Company
  • I Do, For You/Kuro, Mitsuko
  • By The Next New Moon/Makoto, Takehiro,Hana, Yasu, Chika, Nobuyuki
  • Hang There, My Verse /Yoshiro
  • If I Were She /Yoshiro, Hana
Act Two
  • Melancholy Boughs/ Company
  • And So Do I/ Mitsuko, Kuro, Nobuyuki
  • Hana's Soliloquy /Hana
  • Closer Than I Knew liana, Yoshiro
  • Revelations /Hana. Takehiro, Yoshiro
  • One Time, One Meeting /Makoto, Hana, Yoshiro, Kiku, Ichiro
  • Finale /Company

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide


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