Last week, the California Youth Theatre presented its first show at the John Anson Ford Theatre, Rodgers and Hart's "Babes in Arms," a winning musical about kids, done pleasantly by kids. It was an ambitious project, the result of a summer training program in the creative arts process for young people ages 12 to 21.
Its second show, which opened Thursday at the Ford, is more ambitious still, taking on Shakespeare's "As You Like It," a comic tale of treachery and love conquering all. It's undeniably a stretch.
The company of non-professionals wrestles with unintentional humor, get-it-over-with dialogue, erratic lighting and skimpily taped music. But the production never goes down for the count, thanks to some thoroughly engaging performances.
For Frani Ruch's irreverent Celia and Lisa Sundstedt's sturdy Rosalind, life is a lark. Ruch glides trippingly across the stage, clowns with abandon and lisps charmingly. Sundstedt's comic timing is deft; Rosalind's single-minded passion for sweet Orlando (played appealingly by Kenny Marsten) leads to a positive orgy of sharp wit, and Sundstedt is up to it.