“All the World’s a Mall” in this thrilling twist of The Bard of Avon meets ‘The Breakfast Club’. From the musical alums of  Sammy Buck and Daniel S. Acquisto, the students of Visakha Vidyalaya are bringing to Colombo a dynamic new take on one of Shakespeare’s loved comedies – “As You Like It” set in [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Dynamic take on a Shakespearean comedy

Students of Visakha Vidyalaya present “Like You Like It” a colourful production set in the 80s

Pix courtesy ‘Like You Like It’ production

“All the World’s a Mall” in this thrilling twist of The Bard of Avon meets ‘The Breakfast Club’. From the musical alums of  Sammy Buck and Daniel S. Acquisto, the students of Visakha Vidyalaya are bringing to Colombo a dynamic new take on one of Shakespeare’s loved comedies – “As You Like It” set in the colourful world of the ‘80s through their production, “Like You Like It.”

Showcasing their big hair, neon clothes, electro-pop music and blue eyeliner the girls from Visakha Vidyalaya will be embodying the 80s mantra of ‘big is more’ bringing back timeless music and whole lot of funk on May 25 -26 at the Bishop’s College Auditorium with “Like You Like It.”

If anyone was a fan of John Hughes classics “The Breakfast Club”, “Sixteen Candles”, “Pretty in Pink” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and have anadept knowledge of the well-loved Shakespearean pastoral comedy this musical adaptation needs no further explanation.

The curtain opens to 1985 where ‘Arden Mall’ is hosting a school dance. Timid Bookworm Rosalind is silently pinning over varsity wrestler Orlando. In order to gain confidence to strike a conversation with the hunky athlete, Rosalind disguises herself as Corey, a frat brother who befriends Orlando and discovers his true feelings for her. The plot thickens  when you add three more couples into the mix as Rosalind entangles herself in her own web of lies ultimately showing up to the dance as both herself and Corey.Filled with toe tapping tunes, classic plot lines and  humour the ‘decade of excess’ is making a reappearance.

Speaking to the man behind the scenes, director Chalana Wijesuriya admits “I’ve never been in a musical.” However,  this young director has been establishing himself in the local drama scene for a few years now. Having enjoyed the spotlight Chalana is now sitting in the director’s chair for the 7th time.

Directing Visakha holds sentimental value for Chalana as his directorial debut was established when right after leaving school, at the All Island Inter-school Shakespeare Competition in 2013. Chalana’s first show with the girls being ‘As You Like It’ took home gold at the competition and the then Rosalind actress Zeithum Hakeem bagging the role for Best Actress. With this memorable past behind them Chalana felt this adaptation was the ideal play to build a musical on for the girls.

The musical adaptation will be following ‘Candide’, performed last year, a satirical French comedy and will be presented by The Drama Society of Visakha Vidyalaya, in honour of 100 years of its legacy.

Chalana whose forte is usually more “dark comedy” is looking forward to taking on this adaptation of the Bards infamous ‘As You Like It’ and making it a production that will be enjoyed by anyone.

Having to do thorough research on 80’s culture himself he was much taken up by the rising star Molly Ringwald’s acting and based on the movies that established her as an actress. “The play although set in a different time period is relevant to modern themes and speaks of universal emotions,” he adds. Chalana who fell under the tutelage of director’s Sashane Perera and Tracy Holsinger takes much of his directorial inspirations from them. We watch him round up his cast and crew a hush falling over the energetic bunch of girls as he directs them into various scenes, his experience with the girls allowing him to pick out their strengths and working with them to reach character development. Through the musical comedy Chalana is certain that “audiences can take certain messages home,” as the characters on stage navigate a way out of a sticky situation.

Another familiar face in the production is Dimitri Gunatilake who takes on the role of  music director. Dimitri has been part of various productions from her days at her alma mater Bishop’s College and is now taking on the scores of 80’s compositions with her time at Visakha.

Dimitri and Chalana first performed together in ‘Reality Show’ a production by Jehan Aloysious in 2015. From then on the two have been in and out of many mutual production circles, lending each other a helping hand when needed. Chalana had been brainstorming a musical production for some time, Dimitri reveals when he approached her about doing this one with Visakha.

(Left-Right) Shonaka Ranatunga, Chalana Wijesuriya and Dimitri Gunatilake

“I got scared myself,” she admits “I’m used to very classical performances,” having established herselfwith her repertoire of leading roles in musical theatre in the Workshop players productions  as Maria in 2008 production of “Sound of Music” and Christine in “Phantom of the Opera” in 2014.

In relation to “Like You Like It” Dimitri admits that the challenges she faced were “Feeling the music, getting into it and also embodying that into school children. When I stopped by the girls had to get used to working with a new face and being directed by a girl having been so used to Chalana.It’s a new approach for all of us” she adds.

Dimitri made it a principle to listen religiously to every track inside and out,  “At one point all you think about is the production,” she says. She learnt the score until she knew the track inside and out “at the drop off a hat.” She describes the number “Easy Way Out” sung between the main characters Rosalind and Orlando as a song that will strum a couple of heart strings as the characters admit why they never confront their affections for each other. “It’s a cute song” Dimitri admits, the song bringing out the essence of High School/College vibes touching on universal emotions.

Taking on the role of choreographer Shonaka Ranatunga an old girl of Vishakha herself speaks to us of the mix-up of dance styles that will be incorporated into the production. Having left school in 2008 Shonaka keeps finding herself re-entering the tall blue gates helping out in productions and activities whenever she can.  A student of the Deanna School of Dance since the age of six and teaching for five years, Shonaka has been dancing for the past 21 years. She has performed as principal dancer in Deanna School productions such as 2009’s “Beauty and The Beast” where she was Belle and in her 2007 as “Claire” in the “Nutcracker”. Having moved to England she studied in the university of Sussex, where she continued dancing at the Brighton and Hove dance academy.  Although predominantly trained in classical ballet Shonaka also enjoys  a variety of styles including Spanish, Hip- Hop, Jazz  and one of her all-time favourites – contemporary . When choreographing “Like You Like It” Shonaka envisioned“A mix-up of styles” wanting to create a “relaxed atmosphere for the girls and something they would enjoy and that the audience will ultimately enjoy”. The enthusiast cast seems to enjoy and understand what she strives to teach them “they easily pick it up”  she states  “When you’re in rehearsal and the singing, acting and dancing  come together it leaves you with Goosebumps” she adds. A true testament to the skillful partnership of the three directors.

“Like You Like It” will take place on May 25 and 26 at the Bishop’s College auditorium from 7.30 pm. Tickets are priced at Rs.750, Rs. 1000, Rs. 1500 and Rs. 2000 and are available at the venue and at the school gate.

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