One of many wonderful aspects of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater experience at Navy Pier is the amazing way this talented staff always finds a fresh way to present timeless classics on stage and connects with audiences.
Sometimes, the stage stories are kept as traditional period pieces with sets and costumes to reflect the scene setting. For other runs, the creative staff adjusts the story's look and tone to reflect a contemporary spin while allowing the written word to remain mostly unchanged. Both approaches require an unimaginable amount of planning and execution, and most often to brilliant results. But not every risk always pays off, as is the case for William Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor," directed by CST Artistic Director Barbara Gaines.
The theater's press materials elate this is a piece "embraced by audiences as one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies," "The Merry Wives of Windsor" centers around the larger-than-life Sir John Falstaff, as performed by Scott Jaeck, as he is pitted against the townspeople of Windsor, while juggling his romances.
It's up to Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, as performed by Kelli Fox and Heidi Kettenring, to finally give him his due.
So here's the spin for this new production, which continues until Jan. 19 at the Navy Pier venue space. It's intended to transport audiences to post-war England in the late 1940s with a soundtrack of spirited dance music.
It also has a holiday nod to the swirl of comedy confusion and silliness that ensues during the nearly three hour performance.
Others in this cast include actors Kevin Gudahl as Master Page and Ross Lehman as Master Ford, with Greg Vinkler appearing as Dr. Caius, Anne Page's bumbling French suitor.
Tiffany Yvonne Cox portrays Anne Page, and her true love, the poor but well-meaning Fenton, is played by Matt Mueller.
Scenic Designer James Noone creates a beautiful and interesting set and Susan E. Mickey offers a selection of wonderful costuming.
Why the blending, of what is such a favorite funny tale, with a 1940s look, feel and focus doesn't work with this re-imagining is a multi-layered answer. It feels forced and unnatural (and these are words I don't recall ever using in any other previous reviews of a Chicago Shakespeare Theater work). There are chase scenes and lots of real dogs led all about during scenes that are introduced by odd musical and dance sequences. The performances, one and all, seem so over-the-top, the production becomes distracting, and at times, even boring. By the time the final bows were shared by all, I was ready to depart, and even a bit puzzled about what I had just experienced.
Tickets are $48 to $78 with special discounts available for groups of 10 or more, as well as "CST for $20" tickets available for patrons under 35. All patrons receive a 40 percent discount on guaranteed parking in Navy Pier garages. FYI: (312) 595-5600 or chicagoshakes.com.