Review Roundup: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING At Shakespeare In The Park - See What The Critics Are Saying
The Public Theater's Free Shakespeare in the Park production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, directed by Kenny Leon, opens tonight at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, running through Sunday, June 23.
The all-black cast of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING includes Jamar Brathwaite(Ensemble), Danielle Brooks (Beatrice), Grantham Coleman (Benedick),Chuck Cooper(Leonato), Javen K. Crosby (Ensemble), Denzel DeAngelo Fields (Ensemble), Jeremie Harris (Claudio), Tayler Harris (Ensemble), Erik LaRay Harvey (Antonio/Verges), Kai Heath(Messenger), Daniel Croix Henderson (Balthasar), Tyrone Mitchell Henderson (Friar Francis/Sexton), Tiffany Denise Hobbs (Ursula), Lateefah Holder (Dogberry), LaWanda Hopkins (Dancer), Billy Eugene Jones (Don Pedro), Margaret Odette (Hero), Hubert Point-Du Jour (Don John), William Roberson (Ensemble), Jaime Lincoln Smith(Borachio), Jazmine Stewart (Ensemble), Khiry Walker (Conrade/Ensemble), Olivia Washington (Margaret), and Latra A. Wilson (Dancer).
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING features scenic design by Beowulf Boritt; costume design by Emilio Sosa; lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski; sound design by Jessica Paz; music composition by Jason Michael Webb; wigs, hair, and make-up design by Mia Neal; fight direction by Thomas Schall; and voice and text by Kate Wilson.
Kenny Leon directs a bold new take on Shakespeare's cherished comedy of romantic retribution and miscommunication, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. In this modern production, we find the community of Messina celebrating a break from an ongoing war. But not all is peaceful amid the revelry, as old rivals engage in a battle of wits, unexpected foes plot revenge, and young lovers are caught in a tumultuous courtship - until love proves the ultimate trickster, and undoes them all.
Jesse Green, The New York Times: What for centuries was merely mild ribaldry now touches hot-button issues: the question of women's sexual self-rule and the problem of male paranoia passed off as pleasantry. That's a change this delicious, admirably clear production, directed by Kenny Leon, acknowledges and builds on as it gently but firmly escorts the great comedy into a #MeToo, Black Lives Matter world.
Raven Snook Time Out NY: That potent message is slightly muddied by Leon's one major misstep: the casting of Lateefah Holder as the buffoonish, malaprop-prone constable Dogberry. (Perhaps because it's unclear whether we're supposed to be laughing at her or rooting for her, many of the jokes don't land.) But this free outdoor productions gets so much else right, from the glorious dance breaks choreographed by Camille A. Brown to the stately mansion set by Beowulf Boritt and stunning costumes by Emilio Sosa. As much fun as this Much Ado provides, however, it isn't all a romp. After the climatic and joyous finale, a somber button reminds us that the battle of the sexes and the battle for equality both are far from won.
Jeremy Gerard, Theater News Online: Some will doubtless find this fiddling silly or pandering, much as was charged two summers ago with Oskar Eustis's Trumpian take on Julius Caesar. But director Kenny Leon (American Son, the criminally underrated Tupac show, Holler If Ya Hear Me) and choreographer Camille A. Brown (Choir Boy) have pleasure, not revolution, in mind with this soulful adventure, much as Kenneth Branagh did with his sun-drenched film version of the play back in 1993. The show luxuriates in swagger and sway as Beatrice (Orange is the New Black's Danielle Brooks) and Benedick (Grantham Coleman, Choir Boy) eagerly tear each other apart until no option is left to them but to come together. Most of all, it reminded me, happily, of go-for-broke Public Theater productions back in the day, when Joe Papp ruled with an unheavy hand and thumbing your nose at pedantry was the law of the land.
Matt Windman, amNY: Out of the many productions of "Much Ado" I have seen over the years (including at Shakespeare in the Park in 2004 and 2014), this one comes closest to successfully balancing the play's frothy comedy, romance and verbal dexterity with its equally threatening and violent components. The danger outside the community of Messina is reflected in the danger that materializes inside the community during the play.
David Cote, Observer: The first thing you see on entering the Delacorte Theater is a great big sign that reads STACEY ABRAMS 2020, hung on the side of a mansion. If you aren't already excited for a new summer of Shakespeare in the Park, that should put a smile on your face. Although the inspiring Georgia Democrat hasn't announced a run for the White House, we can still dream. Just so, director Kenny Leon and a lovable, fierce, all-African American cast has dreamed their way into Much Ado About Nothing, making Shakespeare's zesty rom-com their own, and thereby delivering it to us fresher and funnier than I can remember in ages.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: The Public Theater's Free Shakespeare in the Park productions can be provocative, irritating, enlightening or maddening, but they are always fun. In his new staging of "Much Ado About Nothing" with a cast led by Danielle Brooks, director Kenny Leon ("A Raisin in the Sun," "American Son") delivers the fun in a slaphappy, dance-crazy version of Shakespeare's most likable, if thematically troubling, romantic comedy. (Quick reminder: this is one of those plays in which women are treated cruelly for suspected but unproven sexual infidelity.)
Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: If, as Shakespeare once famously said, a sad tale's best for winter, summer surely demands a happy one-and few of his plays command more laughs than the battle-of-the-sexes romp Much Ado About Nothing. There's a reason it's been produced three times in the last 15 years alone at the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park, including the current Kenny Leon-directed version-with the sensational Danielle Brooks, star of TV's Orange Is the New Black and a Tony nominee for Broadway's The Color Purple, leading an all-black cast-playing at Central Park's open-air Delacorte Theater through June 23. It's giddy, warm weather-appropriate fun.
David Finkle, New York Stage Review: Director Kenny Leon has sussed out Shakespeare's astounding insight and brings it to the fore in his first-rate, all-African-American Much Ado About Nothing, which seemingly is placed in today's Georgia. That's if you go by two banners ballyhooing "Stacey Abrams 2020" on designer Beowulf Boritt's set-dominating brick mansion on the outdoor stage of the Delacorte.