Those who watched this year’s Drama Seminar production of Love’s Labour’s Lost saw something unlike any Shakespeare play they had ever seen before. Instead of powdered faces, hours of Elizabethan poetry, and a traditional setting, this show brought the audience to the era of Motown music by integrating the genre’s most famous numbers into a shortened version of the text.
One of Shakespeare’s earlier comedies, the play centers around a king and three of his lords who swear to a life of study and celibacy but are distracted by the Princess of France’s visit. Unsurprisingly, the lords fall in love and a zany courtship ensues.
This version is infused with the sounds of Motown, a popular form of music that reached its heyday in the 1960s. In addition to producing hits like “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” it produced a uniquely African American music genre.
Motown’s importance to the black community is exactly what drew director and drama teacher Patricia Wray to the project. She was inspired while on a trip to Philadelphia, organized by Principal Gary Snyder, that explored the diversity of art in Independence Hall as well as in murals around the city.
“I feel like I don’t necessarily get that diversity in my classes, so I wanted to pull some people in and have some more diversity in the show,” Wray said.
She turned to Motown to provide the soundtrack for this more diverse Shakespeare play and also set the production in the 1960s to create a fully fresh take on the play.
Kenneth Branagh’s 2000 film version that set Love’s Labour’s Lost to a soundtrack of Golden Age Standards greatly influenced Wray; however, she needed to adapt it to the abilities of a high school theater program.
“They used Gershwin [and] Cole Porter and I just updated to the ’60s because we have young people,” Wray said.
This comedy has traditionally been seen as inaccessible to audiences due to its dated references and complex wordplay. However, Wray hopes that “the songs will fit with what is happening in the story” and that the play will have the same cultural relevancy it had for Elizabethan audiences.
“The modernization of Shakespeare’s plays is necessary to keep them interesting in the modern day,” said cast member Ethan Black ’17. The music will replace Shakespearean text that might be hard for modern viewers to understand.
“[They’re] songs that everyone knows and enjoys and loves to sing along to; it makes the show easier to watch and more fun for everyone in the audience,” Black said.
Unlike those of the spring musical, the musical numbers in this production were not sung by the cast. Instead, they lip synced and danced to the numbers interspersed throughout the show.
“Sometimes it’s based on a word or phrase,” Black said. “But, it fits exceedingly well into the script.”
How did Wray know this would work?
“I did it in 2005 when we were on a small stage,” Wray said. Over ten years later, she decided to revisit it. “We were on a stage in what is now the library and I wanted to do it with a nicer set.”
That production yielded returns greater than Wray could have known at the time. PHS graduate Carley Moseley ’06, a Second City touring company member recently featured in the Town Topics, acted in this show as she began to explore her interest in comedy. She explained to the paper that Wray “was so great and so generous, and cast me in weird, comedic relief parts.”
Starting aspiring actors like Moseley on their careers is exactly what Wray sets out to do when she does a play like Love’s Labour’s Lost. She explains that “I was nurtured by my teachers and directors when I started out as an actor… it’s very exciting and rewarding to recognize and support talent in a young performer.”