No work of Shakespeare’s has been staged at the Old Globe as many times as Much Ado About Nothing – 13 as a matter of fact in the Balboa Park theater’s 83-year history. This should come as no surprise. Either Much Ado or Twelfth Night must be regarded as The Bard’s most entertaining comedy.
The Globe’s latest production of Much Ado About Nothing, the capper of the 2018 Summer Shakespeare Festival, is a total audience pleaser from start to curtain. Directed by Kathleen Marshall, who oversaw a well-received Love’s Labor’s Lost at the festival two years ago, this Much Ado starts with an exceptional Beatrice and Benedick, the sniping, reluctant lovers at the heart of the story. Both Sarah Topham and Michael Hayden demonstrate a gift for physical humor as well as snappy repartee, with much of their laughs earned by scampering about the lush Italian estate set in order to remain unseen by those characters gossiping for their benefit. While the play’s other pair of lovers, Claudio (Carlos Angel-Barajas) and Hero (Morgan Taylor) are attractive/nothing more, the supporting cast includes a stentorian-voiced Leonato in Rene Thornton Jr., a hapless constable Dogberry in Fred Applegate and two gypsy musicians (guitarist James Michael McHale and violinist Abigail Grace Allwein) who provide atmospheric music compatible with the production’s 1930s, Italian Riviera setting.
So inviting is John Lee Beatty’s scenic design – a sunny two-story villa accented in turquoise, with a view inside downstairs of an elegant dining room, and airy balconies above overlooking a courtyard of bubbling fountains – that theatergoers will long to be guests at the play’s masked party or weddings – yes, there’s more than one ceremony here. In Michael Krass’ costumes, everyone who’s supposed to looks divine for the 1930s, and Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting sets the right mood for all of Much Ado’s dalliances, deceptions and flirtations.
If the musicality of this production falls in love with itself by show’s end, this can be forgiven. All misunderstandings are resolved by that time, and unabashed giddiness is in the night air.
(Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 8/22/18.)
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.