Stratford Shakespeare Festival|
Through October 27
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Stratford Festival/Festival Theatre
By Augustine Warner
Anyone can put Shakespeare on stage and most of us have seen fine examples of that attitude.
Doing it well?
That's more difficult.
Even the Stratford Festival had had a few over-wrought turkeys along the way.
“Much Ado About Nothing” is doing it right in a lavish and musical production, filled with dancing on a wonderful set from Santo Loquasto.
To keep those happy feet samba-ing, many of the dancers are in “42nd Street” on the same stage.
It's a familiar story, treachery, love and scoundrels with a few slimy servants tossed into the mix.
Theater audiences of Shakespeare's day were familiar with all of this, just from the stories they heard on the street about evil doings in the government and the royal family of the day.
This is is the play so many remember, the wordy sparring of Beatrice (Deborah Hay) and Benedick (Ben Carlson) until their friends connive and plot to put them together.
This is light-hearted plotting, compared to what Don John (Gareth Potter) is doing.
He's the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro (Juan Chioran), the lonely leader of the army which had won a major victory and is on a victory march home, with a stop in Messina have a few brews with Duke Leonato (James Blendick) and unwind.
We don't know who lost and don't know who won and it really doesn't matter.
It's all so vague that director Christopher Newton has moved the whole show to Brazil because he likes the music and invents a backstory to explain what's going on.
The story revolves around Leonato's daughter Hero (Bethany Jillard) and Don Pedro's aide and Benedick's friend Count Claudio (Tyrone Savage).
This was to be a quick marriage with Claudio undoubtedly realizing Hero is not only heiress to Leonato's wealth but to potentially to Messina.
Something about the wedding annoys Don John and he decides to sabotage it, using Hero's lady-in-waiting Margaret (Claire Lautier) and his aide Borachio (Michael Blake) to persuade Don Pedro, Claudio and others that Hero is getting it on with anyone coming to her window, something they think they see themselves.
On the wedding day, Claudio scorns Hero and thinks she has died rather than just fainting.
Only the idiot Constable Dogberry (Richard Binsley) can affect the story because he and the watch catch Borachio and one of his aides talking about what they did although it takes a while for the story to get to the angry and grieving Leonato.
Meanwhile Beatrice has persuaded Benedick to kill Claudio for what he did to her cousin Hero, in a great set piece of romance and revenge.
Once Borachio tells what he did for the fleeing Don John, the romance resolves back into a wedding for the young woman Claudio thinks is Hero's cousin and Beatrice and Benedick want their wedding also.
Don John is caught but he's pitched into a dungeon until the wedding party can be held.
The husband and wife team of Carlson and Hay are really good in this spectacle of a show, with the piano on stage and the piano on the floor next to the stage getting a lot of use, especially for some strong production numbers.
At the center of the production is a wonderful performance from the veteran Blendick as Leonato.
As usual, the stage is filled with performers who have major roles in other shows but the festival uses company members for more than one show.
That means that on some days Jennifer Rider-Shaw is center stage as Peggy Sawyer in “42nd Street” and hours later she is just a dancer in “Much Ado.”
That means fine people in small roles, enhancing the experience.
Newton was probably right that if you know what you want to do with Shakespeare, you can make it work because “Much Ado About Nothing” certainly works.
It's a great show, as you plan a Stratford trip.
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