The best shows to take your children to are the ones that make you all laugh and have fun. The New Victory Theater has been specializing in shows like this for some time now, but they’ve really outdone themselves by bringing in the Reduced Shakespeare Company to perform William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged).
First things first: No, you don’t have to know a lot about Shakespeare to enjoy this show. But here’s the kicker, you probably already know more about Shakespeare than you think you do, anyway. As actor Austin Tichenor pointed out, “People are always surprised to learn how much of their everyday language comes from Shakespeare, so we play that up.”
Within the first few minutes the performers hilariously point out, with plenty of examples, that all of Shakespeare’s plays have been remade as Disney movies. That quickly sets a kid-friendly tone, and the players proceed with a high energy and very silly show with plenty of madcap antics, costume changes and gut-bustingly funny scenes. And be aware that if you’re sitting in the front row, your children’s skills with a water gun may be called upon to provide “special effects” by spraying the cast during a storm.
Ah, the storm. The storm, or “Tempest” is the crux of this show, as a storm is integral to the plot of many of Shakespeare’s plays. That’s the idea behind William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged), that the Bard repeatedly used the same story elements again and again. Big storms. Identical twins. Misunderstandings. Men dressed as women and women dressed as men.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company also runs with the idea that the Bard’s plays all shared the same universe with each other, like Marvel Comics’ movies do. The plot revolves around a quarrel between the magical Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Ariel from The Tempest. (Performer Teddy Spencer’s first appearance as Ariel is a play on Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and that leads into the aforementioned bit about Disney ripping off Shakespeare.)
The show is broken up into two acts, about 40 minutes each, with the intermission allowing kids to check out The New Victory Theater’s vast lobby. We’ve been there before, but this was the first time we hit the concession stands and we were knocked over to find … wait for it … healthy and affordable snacks for the whole family! In New York! In a Broadway Theater! Can you believe that?
The upside is that you can get snacks for just a few bucks. The downside is the line for the concession stand is pretty long, although very well managed. We’d recommend ordering your concessions before the show so you can just pick them up after the first act.
Full disclosure: This writer has been a fan of The Reduced Shakespeare Company for 25 years, and as I’ve studied The Bard’s plays extensively, I knew going in that this was going to be a favorable review. But I really was pleasantly surprised at how accessible the show was, and how much even experienced Shakespeare scholars still managed to learn while laughing really hard.
Because that’s the thing about Shakespeare. His works are surprisingly familiar to the unfamiliar, and the Reduced Shakespeare Company takes his works, and makes them not only accessible, but wildly enjoyable and fun.
And when your kids are having fun, they won’t notice how much they’re learning. Win-win!
Buy tickets through the New Victory website to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s “William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged)” at 209 W. 42nd St. in Manhattan, playing through Sunday, March 11.