The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer


‘The Tempest’ Adaptation Debuts at ‘Shakespeare in the Park’

Public Works celebrated 10 years with a musical version of Shakespeare’s play bringing the spirit of New York to the stage
The Public Theater’s adaptation of “The Tempest” serves audiences with a delightful, accessible musical for them to experience Shakespeare’s work collectively.

The flagship summer series of the Public Theater’s Public Works program “Shakespeare in the Park” marked its 10th year of operation this summer. To celebrate a decade of making theater more accessible to New Yorkers, Public Works revisited the first play it produced in 2013 and brought an adaptation of “The Tempest” to the Central Park stage from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3.

This version of “The Tempest” is the story of an exiled duchess named Prospero and her search for revenge against her brother, Antonio, the King of Naples who betrayed and overthrew her. After many years of being deserted on an island with her daughter Miranda, Prospero finally has an opportunity for retribution when her brother and the other noblemen of Milan sail by the island. With some help from the magical spirit of Ariel, Prospero is able to trick and confuse those who wronged her by conjuring a storm intended to shipwreck the vessel. The comedy concludes with Prospero choosing forgiveness and compassion.

Marking a sharp departure from the 2013 staging, this production took a musical twist. The play features original songs written by Benjamin Velez, a composer and lyricist in musical theater, which are woven into the classic story. While the dialogue maintained William Shakespeare’s original language, Velez’s songs utilized contemporary lyrics and modern slang set to catchy tunes which juxtapose the early 17th century writing and make for a more digestible production. This intermixing of Shakespeare’s words and today’s speech was most likely an effort to make the show more accessible to audiences, in line with one of Public Works goals.  

Renée Elise Goldsberry, best known for her award-winning portrayal of Angelica Schuyler in the original Broadway cast of “Hamilton,” led the cast as Prospero. Though Prospero was originally written as a male role in Shakespeare, Director Laurie Woolery adapted the play to depict Prospero as a powerful duchess and caring mother. Velez’s music showcased Goldsberry’s range and prowess as a singer. According to an article by Playbill, Goldberry’s performance was drawn from being a mother of two herself, and her kids were even part of the ensemble.  

Goldsberry elicited spirited laughter from the audience, skillfully drawing the humor out of her lines in her delivery. Although her conveyance of some of Prospero’s longer, iconic monologues (namely “our revels now are ended” and “now my charms are all o’erthrown”) lacked the emotional depth for which I was hoping, she embodied the character’s physicality and spirit. 

Perhaps my favorite part of “The Tempest” was the fact that its ensemble was composed of regular New Yorkers from each of the city’s boroughs. Public Works collaborates with community organizations by offering acting classes and outings year-round, culminating with their summer production, with the goal of fostering connection through theater. People of varying ages, races and body types were equals on stage in an ensemble that brought the magic to the show through their voices and movement work.  

The artistic director at the Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, wrote that one of Public Works’ core beliefs is that “being an artist isn’t a special talent, it’s a deep aspect of every human being.” “The Tempest” embodied this belief, showcasing the artistry and creativity of the people of New York City on the Central Park stage. 

The community spirit at the core of this production was especially evident in Jo Lampert’s portrayal of Ariel. Lampert gave the magical being an essence of both playfulness and emotional complexity, which was exactly what the character needed. Her performance was elevated by a subset of the ensemble that followed her around as she performed magic on stage. Ariel and her group of spirits worked as a system; when Ariel reacted to a line or action, the ensemble joined her, working with their leader as a united entity. Extending Ariel to be represented by multiple people was a visual display of the connection and community Public Works creates.

The set of the show, designed by Alexis Distler, was symbolic and creatively imagined, as well as gorgeously executed. On the back of the stage sat an uprooted, gutted house. Aside from its visual allure, the house also served as a reminder of the misdeeds Prospero’s brother committed against her, cruelly casting her out and uprooting her from her home.  

Above all else, this production was full of joy. Public Works’ most recent production reminds audiences of the beauty of community and theater, especially that of which is found in New York City.

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GRACE PAK, Staff Writer

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