Like You Like It
The Gallery Players Theatre in Brooklyn combines the thrills of High School Musical with the beloved Shakespeare comedy of errors in their staging of Like You Like It. Now extended through November 9, this campy, high-spirited romantic comedy by Sammy Buck and Daniel S. Acquisto brings to life the Bard by way of the '80s of John Hughes' films, at a theater best known for producing revivals. (The show was an audience favorite at the 2004 New York Musical Festival.)
The story behind "Like You Like It" is classic: bookworm Rosalind likes varsity wrestler Orlando, but is afraid to talk to him. She disguises herself as frat dude "Corey" to learn Orlando's true feelings for her, and hilarious complications ensue with many twists and turns, until at the end it works out "Like You Like It."
It is 1985 and life at Cortland High School is like a Molly Ringwald movie for teens who want nothing more than to head to the enchanted Arden Mall for five levels of unadulterated shopping bliss. Smart Rosalind Duke (Alison Luff) has an eye for handsome jock Orlando Bateman (Nathan Johnson), but pesky cheerleader Audrey Shepherd (Caitlin Kent) always manages to keep the two from connecting. At the urging of her best friend Celia Duke (Hollis Scarborough), Rosalind resolves to get a life outside of class, and to pursue her dreams. And when Rosalind finally does get Orlando alone, the first thing he notes is "We have Chemistry together." Fifth period, he means.
Still, the two hit it off, and seem to be moving in the right direction-until the truancy officer, Orlando's brother Oliver (Clint Morris), suspends them from school. Caught together, Orlando denies his interest in Rosalind. To keep them apart, jealous Audrey threatens to have Rosalind thrown out of the Arden Mall should she show up after school. (Her dad owns the mall).
So Celia and Rosalind, in the tradition of "Yentl," agree to don disguises to enter the forbidden sanctuary. Celia opts for classic Madonna, while Rosalind chooses a most unconvincing frat dude outfit. They enlist the help of "Touchtone" (Trey Compton), who has a crush on Celia, to drive them there. This pitch-perfect character is the embodiment of Jon Cryer's "Duckie" character from Pretty in Pink, right down to the waistcoat and fedora.
Before long, "Corey" has buddied up to Orlando, and has also attracted the unwanted attentions of gay boy Phil Lipschitz (Michael Lowney), his fag-hag Sylvie Feldman (Brynn Curry), and a jilted Audrey. Rosalind ignores Celia's accusations that she, "Is playing Tootsie with [Orlando] because [she's] afraid," but soon finds she has three dates to the school dance-two as Corey, and one as herself.
By Act Two, everyone is someone else. Celia, in her Madonna disguise, has attracted the attention of Oliver, and gives him a makeover that transforms him into a handsome jerk, a la Don Johnson. Gay Phil finally reveals his orientation to his best friend. Touchtone, fresh from his disappointing make-out session with Celia, learns of Rosalind's deception, and decides to protect Audrey from the inevitable heartache, saying, "Who knew there was a heart underneath those boobs?" Can a love connection be far behind?
At the school dance, couples compete to be a guest VJ on MTV with Martha Quinn, and Rosalind must take turns as both herself and Corey to keep everyone happy. But when she and Audrey win, Rosalind reveals her true self, and Audrey is horrified to discover that "My king's a queen." Celia likewise reveals herself to Oliver--hilariously by removing the bow from her hair. After the obligatory "You lied!" scenes, all the couples get together, and everything ends up, Like You Like It, as promised by the cast.
The show is crammed with 20 humorous songs and well-executed dance numbers performed by the cast of 18. The show is also heavily meta, with no fourth wall. It is peppered with '80s pop references ranging from Rubix Cubes and Ralph Macchio to Tony Basile and "Splash," all played to delightful effect. Notable characters include Neckbrace Girl (Elisabeth Ness), clearly lifted from Joan Cusack's character in "Sixteen Candles," and the dopey Freshman (Jeff Barba), who has several hilarious solos throughout the show. The narrator Jackie West (Jennifer Blood) moves the action along through the flashback technique that has her doing an '80s revival night at the mall years after the events presented have taken place. Her timing is commendable, and her shiny headband makes one envious.
"Like You Like It" was a delight, wildly successful by every measure except one: the lead actress. As Rosalind, Luff seems miscast. Although she is pretty enough, she seems an unlikely match for Johnson's perfectly presented Orlando, and her singing voice is not nearly as strong as that of Scarborough, who plays her sidekick, Celia. And, as noted earlier, despite the fantastic '80s-era costumes designed for every other cast member by Hunter Kaczorowski, both of Luff's costumes are dumpy and unflattering. As Rosalind, she looks like Betty White in an early episode of "Golden Girls," all floral prints and white pumps. And as Corey, clad in a pinkish plaid shirt, droopy khaki pants, a sleeveless jeans vest, and a newsboy cap, she looked more like a lesbian aunt living in Hoboken than any kind of frat boy. One can only hope that it is not too late to rethink these tragic outfits before the run of this campy, feel-good musical is finished.
"Like You Like It" through November 9
The Gallery Players
199 14th St., btw 4th and 5th Aves in Park Slope, Brooklyn
212-352-3101 or visit the Gallery Players website.