I doubt that Shakespeare ever planned on a happy-go-lucky King Lear who overcomes all odds. But Ron West and Phil Swann certainly did. This play-within-a-play has a cast of 17 players including Shakespeare, King James, Sir Francis Bacon, and Richard Burbage. DELEARIOUS has received multiple awards and three Ovation nominations for book, music, and lyrics. Writer/director Ron West and composer Phil Swann did something right. But, more importantly, DELEARIOUS has delighted audiences since 2008, when it was first produced by the Open Fist Theatre Company.
This clever, irreverent musical still revolves around tragic King Lear, whose narcissism might lead to his downfall. This is a man who only hears what he wants to hear from those who pile on the adoration and adulation. Is it any wonder that he goes nuts? This madcap comedy follows three parallel stories: the classic tale of King Lear, Shakespeare as a Biblical scholar, and the role of King James in Shakespeare’s writings – with the extracurricular activities of a certain Ron the cherry on top. It seems that Ron and Phil are writing about King James I and Shakespeare – who in turn are writing about the legendary King Lear. When King James demotes Shakespeare to translating the Bible, his means of keeping Britain Great, it’s a sure bet that religion will come under fire. Let’s keep the Bible ambiguous – so that we can keep all those ministers employed.
The intersecting threads of these narratives cross, overlap, bend, twist, and weave some fascinating and hilarious fabric which will keep the audience rolling in the aisles. Even King Donald makes a brief appearance. Under the capable direction of Ron West – who also had a hand in the book, music, and lyrics and acts in the piece besides – the ensemble cast does a bang-up job of poking fun at all things Shakespeare. While they’re at it, they take a few satirical shots at religion, social and sexual norms, and almost anything they can target about the flaws and foibles of people past and present.
Musical director Jan Roper does triple duty as pianist/song writer Phil Swann and an underappreciated sixteenth century physician in a white lab coat. The talented cast dance and sing their hearts out with some of the wittiest lyrics since Gilbert and Sullivan. This multi-talented crew is a joy to watch and should make the audience wonder what really went on so long ago. Besides dozens of brilliant plays, is it possible that Shakespeare also authored parts of the King James Version of the Bible? You’ll have to see DELEARIOUS to find out. Remember, as the playbill suggests, “Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1599.”
DELEARIOUS runs through December 16, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Tickets are $30. For information and reservations, call 323-882-6912 or go online.