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The Beatles Songbook for As You Like It

Melding the Fab Four's songs with the Bard
structurally, contextually, and thematically

Bard on the Beach, Vancouver, British Columbia, 2018; Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago, Illinois, 2021; Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington, D.C., 2023
Adapted and Directed by Daryl Cloran
All songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney unless otherwise noted

[To read the review of this production, click here]

Cartoons by Deano caricature of the Beatles on a crosswalk, a la Abbey Road cover, with William Shakespeare as the fifth Beatle.

The band plays an instrumental version of "Lady Madonna" before the preshow begins.

"Money (That's What I Want)": A song for the Superstar Wrestling preshow. Charles (Marco Walker-Ng) wrestles Mustachio (Matthew Ip Shaw) in one match and then a pair of brothers, The Assassins (Henry Beasley and Evan Rein, who also play guitars in the band), for the title belt and a briefcase stuffed with cash dangling above the ring. After individual characters sing snippets of this song throughout the preshow, the entire cast gives it a big-production finale. Written by Janie Bradford and Barry Gordy Jr., this was Motown's first hit single. The Beatles started covering the song at the beginning of their recording career, making it a doubly apt thematic choice for the preshow's lead-in to the production's songbook.

"We Can Work It Out": Celia (Naomi Ngebulana), bothered by how her aunt's banishment has stripped Rosalind (Chelsea Rose) of her estate, swears that she will forego her inheritance and here cousin and best friend will succeed her mother to the damedom. "And when I break that oath, let me turn monster," she says, then starts singing, "Try to see it my way." On the second verse, Celia climbs into the wrestling ring and gestures a challenge to Rosalind, who removes her heels and gets in the ring, too. They duet on the bridge as they eye each other up—"Life is very short and there's no time for fussing and fighting, my friend"—but instead of wrestling they dance with each other.

"She Loves You": During Charles's match with Orlando (Jeff Irving), ring announcer Touchstone (Kayvon Khoshkam) launches onto the wrestling ring ropes and launches into this song as, simultaneously, the rough-and-tumble action in the ring slides into slow motion and Charles and Rosalind stare at each other. After the song's intro, Touchstone and the band move into the tune's signature drive, even through two more slow-motion sequences. The rest of the cast provides the "Yeah, yeah, yeah" refrains.

"I Want to Hold Your Hand": Trying to answer Rosalind's overture, Orlando slurs nonsense. After she departs, he soliloquizes: "What passion hangs these weights upon my tongue? I cannot speak to her, yet she urged conference. Oh, yeah, I'll tell you…"—he pauses to come up with—"…something…"—and now he's singing—"…I think you'll understand." From there, he moves fully into the song that, with "She Loves You," launched Beatlemania and kicks off this play's love plot. Rosalind sings the bridge, and the two duet on the final verse. (On opening night, a woman in the audience shouted "something" when Orlando paused, and he acknowledged her help).

"Help!": The band, now in late 1960s counterculture garb, scorch their way into Lennon's song of self-reflection and loss as the play shifts to the outcasts in Arden Forest. Rosalind and Celia sing the intro and opening verse. Orlando takes over lead vocals for the first chorus, singing "I do appreciate you being round" to Adam (Norman Moses), then continues with the second verse about his independence vanishing in the haze and feeling insecure. Rosalind returns for the second chorus, expressing her appreciation to Celia for being around. Meanwhile, Touchstone wails every "Won't you please, please help me!" as he struggles with the women's excessive luggage. After a knee-bending electric guitar solo by Amiens (Rein), the guitar-playing, flower-powering Dame Senior (Jennifer Lines) arrives to sing the last verse reprising the first: "When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody's help in any way. But now these days are gone, I'm not so self-assured. Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors."

"I Saw Her Standing There": Silvius (Ben Elliott) claims Corin (Jennifer Copping) is too old to remember what love is like "in thy youth." Then, with a "One, two, three, four!" (per the Beatles' original recording), Silvius sings McCartney's song about a girl who was just 17. Though this song was the opening track of the Beatles' first album in 1963, when the Beatles played it live it foretold the arrival of hard rock a few years later.

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps": As the exiled Lords hang out in Arden, in place of Shakespeare's "Under the greenwood tree who loves to lie with me," Amiens sings this George Harrison classic about "the love there that's sleeping." Jaques (Andrew Cowndon) interrupts after the first chorus, saying "More!" like something the offspring of a lion and a cow would vocalize: "MOOOORRRE!"

"I Am The Walrus": "I'll give you a verse to this note that I made yesterday in despite of my invention," Jaques tells Amiens. "Thus it goes—." Jaques snaps his fingers like a beat poet and chants,

I am he as you are he as you are me, and we are all together
See how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they fly.
I’m crying.
Sitting on a corn flake, waiting for the van to come.
Corporation T-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday
Man you’ve been a naughty boy you let your face grow long.

At this point he moves into full-on singing and wiggling his hips. The song's fade-out chant, "goo-goo, goo-joob" is the Greek invocation for drawing fools into a circle.

"The Fool on the Hill": Jaques sings this after describing how he met "a fool i' the forest." It's an anthem for all motley fools: "Nobody ever hears him, or the sound he appears to make" and "he never listens to them, he knows that they're the fools." Jaques turns McCartney's whimsical aesthete for the song into a melancholy blues ballad.

"Let It Be": "Give us some music," Dame Senior orders her lords as Orlando and Adam eat. Instead of Shakespeare's "Blow, Blow, thou winter wind," the band performs McCartney's late-Beatle hit. Forest Lord #1 (Beasley) sings poignantly of "When the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer" and "when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me."

"Do You Want to Know a Secret": Upon placing his verses in praise of Rosalind on Arden Forest trees, Orlando performs this declaration of his love with a giddy dance merging Gene Kelly athleticism with Ann Margaret flirtation. It's not much of a secret that he's the one writing the verses (both Celia and Jaques figure it out). The irony is that the object of his verses, Rosalind, does have to keep their secret because of her disguise.

"Eight Days a Week": Jaques calls Orlando's verses "love-songs," and, indeed, they turn out to be Beatles texts. Rosalind walks on stage reading one of Orlando's verses: "Ooh I need your love babe, guess you know it's true. Hope you need my love babe, just like I need you. Hold me, love me…"—she's getting excited—"…hold me, love me…"—she's vibrating—"…Ain't got nothin' but love babe, eight days a week!" And now she's singing. A pertinent line in the text comes shortly after the song. When Celia asks Rosalind if she wonders "how thy name should be hanged and carved upon these trees," Rosalind replies, "I was seven of the nine days out of the wonder before you came," an arcane reference this production keeps.

"When I'm 64": The bad math theme continues as the show's second half opens with Touchstone and Audrey beginning their courtship with this soft-shoe number. Along with its music hall stylings being most suitable for a court fool, the song is an ironic choice given Jaques' prediction at the end of the play that their marriage won't last but a few months (two in the text, nine in this production alluding to how Touchstone and Audrey already are "wrangling" in the flower power VW bus at the back of the stage).

"You've Got to Hide Your Love Away": Rosalind, alone to a single acoustic guitar accompaniment, sings about her state disguised as Ganymede. One verse, which she sings to Celia, is strikingly relevant to Rosalind's current interior and exterior selves: "How could he say to me, love will find a way? Gather 'round, all you clowns, let me hear you say: Hey, you've got to hide your love away." Celia sings the title line back to Rosalind who, with Celia and then alone, closes out the song. Then the clowns start gathering 'round.

"Love Me Do": Silvius breaks into the Beatles' first single as he courts Phoebe (Alexandra Lainfiesta) in their first scene together. It's such an annoyingly cloying and repetitive lyric befitting the single-track-mind of Silvius, but he tries to impress Phoebe with his foot-stomping dance prowess, which, per Corin's warning, leads Phoebe to scorn him more.

"Something": Phoebe shows what it is to be truly smitten when something about her initial encounter with Ganymede moves her to sing the Harrison song that Frank Sinatra considered Lennon and McCartney's best composition. Rosalind as Ganymede does nothing in any way to woo the shepherdess, but Phoebe's so moved she plays a killer air guitar solo all while unwittingly beating the stomp out of Silvius.

"Can't Buy Me Love": "Come, woo me, woo me," Rosalind as Ganymede tells Orlando: "For now I am in a holiday humor and like enough to consent. What would you say to me now, an I were your very, very Rosalind?" Orlando replies: "I would kiss before I spoke." Rosalind responds: "Nay, you were better speak first, and when you were gravelled for lack of matter you might take occasion to kiss." Orlando sings his next offering: "I'll buy you a diamond ring, my friend, if it makes you feel alright. I'll get you anything, my friend, if it makes you feel alright." Rosalind cuts in: "I don't care too much for money, money can't buy me love." They continue the song as a duet, except Celia singing the "No No No No!" to warn Rosalind she's taking her Ganymede-as-Rosalind game too far. And Rosalind almost does: right after this song she has Celia preside over the almost-legal marriage of Orlando and Rosalind.

"Got To Get You Into My Life": After Orlando parts and Celia goes off to sleep, Rosalind performs this song, singing the first two verses mapping out her story thus far: "I took a ride, I didn't know what I would find there…maybe I could see another kind of mind there…Ooh, you were meant to be near me; Ooh, and I want you to hear me say we'll be together every day," which Orlando just did with his promising to have her "forever and a day." Rosalind sings the second verse—"You knew in time we'd meet again, for I had told you"—but Phoebe starts the third verse thinking about Ganymede: "What can I do, what can I be? When I'm with you, I want to stay there." Sylvius responds to Phoebe with that verse's second line: "If I am true I'll never leave, and if I do, I know the way there." Touchstone and Audrey show up to snatch the chorus, the fool singing, "Ooh, then I suddenly see you," the goatherder singing "Ooh, did I tell you I need you," and both singing "every single day of my life" together. The number ends with Rosalind speaking the title line in frustrated determination: "Got to get you into my life!" This song links three of the play's four love plots. The fourth arrives in the next scene when Oliver arrives in Arden.

"Helter Skelter": Upon meeting William (Beasley), who has been courting Audrey, Touchstone uses whirligig language to announce "For I am he, sir, that must marry this woman. Hit it!" Amiens rips into the opening riff, and the court fool goes all Manson-manic on the bemused William. Matching Touchstone's energy, the band's playing is both musically and visually pretty far freaking out.

"Good Day Sunshine": This silly love song Celia found hanging on a tree earlier in the play. Now the once-love-avoiding Celia and the reformed Oliver pair up on McCartney's simple lyrics, albeit rich for the couple's moment. "I need to laugh, and when the sun is out, I've got something I can laugh about," Celia sings. "I feel good, in a special way, I'm in love, and it's a sunny day," Oliver sings. They alternate lines throughout and sing the repetitive chorus together.

"Here Comes the Sun": Harrison's hit from the Beatles' last album, Abbey Road, kicks off the final scene in which Ganymede mends all. Rosalind sings the intro, Amiens and Dame Senior take the first verse about a long, cold, lonely winter. Celia and Oliver get the next verse about smiles returning to their faces. The entire cast takes on the bridge, "Sun, sun, sun, here it comes," with Jaques handing Dame Senior a flower. The next verse returns to Amiens and Dame Senior singing about the ice slowly melting and it seems like years since it's been clear. Orlando takes the last chorus, but stops abruptly as Dame Senior picks up the first line in Shakespeare's final scene, "Dost thou believe, Orlando, that the boy can do all this that he hath promised?" Yep: Ganymede is about to make everything clear.

Dancers line up diagnally across stage at the end of their dance, a partner hanging on the arm of the other. Psychedelic lights on the floor, confetti falling, Hyman playing guitar on the gangway above.
Bard on the Beach's production of William Shakespeare's (and the Beatles') As You Like It at Shakespeare Theatre Company's Harman Hall in Washington, D.C., ends with four couples finding love. From right front to left back: Orlando (Jeff Irving) and Rosalind (Chelsea Rose); Oliver (Matthew MacDonald-Bain) and Celia (Naomi Ngebulana); Silvius (Ben Elliott) and Phoebe (Alexandra Lainfiesta); Audrey (Emma Slipp) and Touchstone (Kayvon Khoshkam). At the back are Adam (Norman Moses, left) and Corin (Jennifer Copping), and above is Hyman (Evan Rein). Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

"Across the Universe": Rein as Hyman enters playing his guitar on the gangway above the stage. Lennon's lyrical masterpiece is a lovely selection for this play's climactic moment, though Amiens only sings the first verse and chorus: "Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
they slither wildly as they slip away across the universe. Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind possessing and caressing me. Jai guru deva, om— Nothing's gonna change my world."

"All You Need Is Love": As if the Beatles were commissioned to write the song for this production's closing credits, "All You Need Is Love" ties up all the strands of Shakespeare's play and the Beatles accompanying songbook. Each of the four couples split the verses in the order of their love's initiation in this production, and their dance ends with a twirling flourish presenting the four couples lined up diagonally front to back according to their social rank: Orlando holding Rosalind, Oliver holding Celia, Silvius holding Phoebe, and Audrey holding Touchstone. As with the song's original recording, strands of "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah" appear during the repeating "all you need is love" close-out. The cast gives both refrains equal prominence in their grand finale, bringing the play and its music full circle.

Eric Minton
December 24, 2023

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