Sunday, June 2, 2024

AS YOU LIKE IT • St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

An hour-long rain delay wasn’t enough to daunt the opening night crowds at 

St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s charming production of As You Like It. All the hallmarks of a Shakespearean romantic comedy are there - sibling rivalries, gender-swapping disguises, unrequited love, the fools and the foolish. But director Nancy Bell’s take on the material is as refreshing as a spring breeze, and she’s got a cast that’s keen, with a knack for delivering the prose with clarity, making it more accessible and easier to follow along. Add to that an acoustic trio of musicians with original songs by a sweet-voiced Beth Bombara, a gilded age setting, and the always beguiling ambience of Shakespeare Glen, and you’ve got a show definitely worth checking out.

Forests tend to be transformative places in Shakespeare’s plays, and the Forest of Arden, unveiled after a simple but enchanting reveal, is no exception. There are lusty goatherds and lonely shepherds to spare in the woods, and it’s where many of the players retreat to after being exiled or to escape the perils of the city. The would-be lovers at the center are our heroine, Rosalind (Caroline Amos), lively and wise, and Orlando (Christian Thompson), stuck under the thumb of his older brother, Oliver (Greg Cuellar). Just as they start to fall for each other, Duke Frederick, Rosalind’s paranoid, usurping uncle, banishes her the same way he banished her mother, Duchess Senior (Michelle Hand), so Rosalind disguises herself as a boy and with her cousin and bestie, the Duke’s daughter, Celia (Jasmine Cheri Rush), along with the Duke’s fool, Touchstone (Ricki Franklin), they make their way to Arden. Meanwhile, Orlando learns that Oliver has some evil plans for him, so he, too, flees to the forest for his own safety.

Bianca Sanborn, Michelle Hand*,
Riley Carter Adams and Beth Bombara.
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer Photography

Amos is engaging as Rosalind - level-headed and plucky, but certainly not above the trappings of her all-consuming love for Orlando. Celia is as loyal a friend as Rosalind could ask for. They complement each other well, and Rush and Amos’s giggly chemistry is a hoot to watch. Thompson’s portrayal of Orlando is also a joy to watch. Whether he’s looking out for his elder manservant Adam who has joined him (the always excellent Joneal Joplin), engaging in a wrestling match, or pinning love notes to Rosalind onto the trees of the woods, Thompson embodies a young man who is brave and caring, but also brimming with unrealized potential. Positive in the face of her exile and generous to those she meets, Hand is reliably compelling as the Duchess Senior (a gender swap from the traditional Duke Senior), unfettered in her new surroundings. Wali Jamal is the pensive Jaques, an attendant of the Duchess, and delivers Shakespeare’s famed “Seven Ages of Man” monologue. Delivered with heartfelt solemnity, the crowd hushed the second they heard the words, “All the world’s a stage...”. Dottie Marshall Englis’s costume design clearly delineates the gilded age wealth of the city and the rustic comfort of the forest, with particularly colorful attire for Touchstone the fool. Scott C. Neale’s scenic design of slanted platforms is set off by an ornate proscenium with the alluring backdrop of Arden set behind it.

Jasmine Cheri Rush, Christian Thompson*,
Caroline Amos* and Wali Jamal.
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer Photography

By the end, between the magic of the woods and Rosalind’s wit, along with a forgivable measure of contrivance, couples are united and quarrels are squashed. Flee the hassles of the day and head to the delights of Arden in Shakespeare Glen! As You Like It is playing until the 23rd.


• At the start of the second act, an adorable little goat makes an appearance. I was quite distracted. Cheers to D Bar S Ranch!

Bianca Sanborn, Ricki Franklin and an adorable goat.

Photo credit: Phillip Hamer Photography


Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Nancy Bell

Shakespeare Glen, Forest Park

through June 23 | tickets: FREE - $300

Performances Tuesday through Sunday, nightly at 8pm


Rosalind: Caroline Amos*

LeBeau/Corin: Kathryn A. Bentley*

Amiens: Beth Bombara

Silvius/Ensemble: CB Brown

Young Lady/Ensemble: Riley Carter Adams

Oliver: Greg Cuellar*

Touchstone: Ricki Franklin

Duchess Senior: Michelle Hand*

William/Ensemble: Isaiah Henry

Jaques: Wali Jamal*

Adam: Joneal Joplin*

Charles: Lenny Mephisto

Duke Frederick: Joel Moses

Celia: Jasmine Cheri Rush

Audrey/Ensemble: Bianca Sanborn 

Orlando: Christian Thompson*

Phoebe/Ensemble: Molly Wennstrom

The cast of St. Louis Shakespeare Festival's
2024 production of "As You Like It".
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer Photography


Scenic Design: Scott C. Neale

Costume Design: Dottie Marshall Englis

Sound Design and Composer: Beth Bombara

Lighting Design: Denisse Chavez

Props Manager: Taylor Laine Abs

Artistic Producer: Delaney Piggins

Stage Manager: Sarah Luedloff*

Choreographer: Sam Gaitsch

Fight and Intimacy Choreographer: Rachel Flesher

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of

Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States


Viola/Mandolin: Sam Golden

Percussion: Jeremy Reidy

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