"The Merry Wives of Windsor" (Chicago Shakes): Elegant Buffoonery to a Big Band Sound

"The Merry Wives of Windsor" (Chicago Shakes):  Elegant Buffoonery to a Big Band Sound

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.

Tis the season to make merry.  And Director Barbara Gaines does just that.  Shakespeare’s comedy classic gets an infusion of musicality and holiday spirit in Gaine’s production.  The story is familiar. Falstaff tries to secretly bed two women. His ruse backfires as the ladies end up tricking him. The unfamiliar aspect is Gaines setting the show in a post WWII, wintery English town.  She breaks up the Shakespearean prose with intermittent peppy tunes from the 40s time period.  It’s a delightful balance of elegance and buffoonery to a big band sound. Gaines impressively steers her large and talented cast through the swirling, high energy frolic.

Under the musical direction and vocal arrangements of Doug Peck, the cast easily break into song like its a natural occurrence after a conversation.  The songs give it an old-timey feel.  Reminiscent of movies from the 40s, the jokes and songs intertwine for a lyrical lark. Adding to the era identification, Choreographer Harrison McEldowney brings the finger wagging, hand slapping, and feet bouncing dance numbers. The entire ensemble joins in for a zestful finale.  The vibrant spectacle made me want to join in the merriment.

The entire talented ensemble delivers this heart-felt romp.  Among the noteworthy performances, the wives are Lucy and Ethyl perfection.  Heidi Kettenring (Ford) and Kelli Fox (Page) scam on the hilariously pompous Scott Jaeck (Falstaff).  Kettenring and Fox terrifically deliver the Shakespearean wit along with slapstick comedy. Their cheeky nonverbal actions add a riotous element.  They drink from flasks.  They seduce with blatant mockery. These merry wives know how to have fun with a cad!  Another notable performance was Steven Sutcliffe (Slender) zinging every punch line as the reluctant and obtuse suitor.

From the promotional materials, I was excited to see this Shakespearean tale dressed in 40s attire.  Costume Designer Susan Mickey lived up to my expectations. She especially dressed the gals in brilliant vintage flair complete with the seam down their legs.  In the forest scene, Mickey imaginatively layered costumes on costumes for a fairytale-like element.  The whimsical shift was an ideal lead into the festive finale.

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR is a cheerful romp. It has all the glee of the season  without an actual Christmas plot. It’s everything you want in a holiday farce.  There are snow flurries, adorable dogs and a happy ending.

Running Time:  Two hours and forty-five minutes includes an intermission

At Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Barbara Gaines

Music direction by Doug Peck

Thru January 19th

Buy Tickets at www.chicagoshakes.com

Production photo by Liz Lauren

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