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Like she likes it! Bard in mall tickles our reviewer

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If we could all just be up front about our crushes, the world would be a better place. Plenty of people act on urges, sure, but there’s something to be said for growing a pair and telling a girl that you think she’s cute.

That’s the lesson of the Gallery Players’ “Like You Like It,” a new musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” that’s set in a mall, circa 1985.

Orlando can’t find the words to tell Rosalind that he’s got a thing for her, and she’s too scared to talk to him — but their friends want to do something to bring the mutual crush to fruition.

Hilarity, instead, ensues.

The musical is one of those productions where you find yourself actually laughing out loud without realizing it. The cast members, singing without microphones, belt out the numbers and put on a performance as grand as if they were in a much bigger theater, both in size and scale. I got so mixed up in their drama that I lost all sense of being anywhere but in Arden Mall.

The basics of the classic Shakespeare story are unchanged: Celia (Hollis Scarborough) plays the sarcastic antidote to good-girl Rosalind (Alison Luff), who wants big man on campus Orlando (Nathan Johnson), who has a hot girlfriend with not much to offer beyond her blonde hair and button nose.

But the setting is certainly altered: On the afternoon before the big school dance, everyone rushes to the new mall, a place where inhibitions drop and misunderstandings are standard, but at least guards are down. Everyone falls in love with Cory, who is actually Rosalind in a pair of pants, incognito to get closer to Orlando.

Along the way, feelings surface and truths are unveiled. We also learn that Orlando, hot as he may be, has no game. All characters, in their own way, are disguised.

Watching “Like You Like It” is like watching your own misfortunes in love, if your inner monologue was set to 1980s pop music and the object of your affections belted out his feelings in song, illuminated by a spotlight. The show makes us remember that we must accept that dating will always be a cycle of confusion, frustration, mortification and lastly, occasional bliss. At least in high school, we could blame it on the hormones. Now, we just have to keep it all in line.

The time and energy that’s gone into the full-scale production is remarkable, and it’s easy to forget that every line, note, lyric and dance number is original. Throughout the show, pay attention to quiet references to Shakespeare (“all the world’s a mall”) and to the ’80s (there’s a choreographic homage to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”). Watch as Celia channels her inner Molly Ringwald, and smirk when the narrator slinks around like David Bowie, complete with the hairdo and pink-streaked cheeks.

So, alas, the Shakespearean conclusion: the more things (i.e. boys, girls) change, the more they (crushes, dating) stay the same. Is the solution to go undercover and do our own reconnaissance work? Perhaps. But good comes from being ourselves and using our cojones along way.

And with that, it will all turn out like you like — and want — it.

“Like You Like It” runs Oct. 18–Nov. 9 at The Gallery Players (199 14th St., between Fourth and Fifth Avenues in Park Slope). Tickets, $18. Visit www.likeyoulikeit.com or call (212) 352-3101 for info.

Updated 5:09 pm, July 9, 2018
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