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The bard, with a '50s beat

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There's no better way to introduce children to Shakespeare than with this madcap musical-comedy version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Conceived by Sarah Rosenberg and Luis Reyes Cardenas, "Fools in Love" transplants the action to a small town in 1950s California, complete with a doo-wop chorus commenting on the action via such surprisingly relevant pop songs as "Love Potion No.9" and "Mr. Sandman."

The results clearly enchanted the many kids in the audience at a recent performance, where quite a few children were brought onstage. There, outfitted with wigs and makeup, they joined in the raucous proceedings.

Using a cleverly edited version of Shakespeare's text with a few contemporary (and funny) updates, "Fools in Love" manages to respect the original play while having a great deal of fun with it. More than a few adults in the audience will find the Bard's convoluted comedy of love and magic far more accessible than usual.

Clever touches abound, from a pre-show quiz that helps the audience brush up their Shakespeare to the belt worn by Oberon, which spells out his name in neon letters.

The show succeeds greatly because of its spirit. The performers in the surprisingly large cast are clearly having such a good time that their enthusiasm is infectious.

"Fools in Love." At the Manhattan Ensemble Theatre, 55 Mercer St.; (212) 239-6200.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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