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Much Ado About Nothing cast

The Tony Awards aired last week, with much ado given to play revivals, so it was with great joy and amusement that I watched director John Murphy’s updated take on Shakespeare’s comical Much Ado About Nothing, which opened the 28th season of Bard on the Beach

In the last staging of Much Ado (2010), Murphy played the lead as Benedick. His re-imagined version is transported from a warring Italy of the 1500’s to an economic boom-time of the 1950’s. Instead of regal princes and soldiers, Murphy invents a cinematic microcosm of directors and film-star royalty. 

Kevin MacDonald, Ian Butcher
[Kevin MacDonald, Ian Butcher]

Murphy doesn’t mess with the play’s core because “the original script is so close to perfect.” However, his adaptation is smooth and flawless — he’s painstakingly replaced all war references with silver screen terminology. 

Much of the action and contrivances in Shakespeare’s original rendition unfurl seamlessly under this new façade. 1950’s Italy was still quite traditional, but with money to spend, men and women began to struggle between the lines of propriety. This is an era where Claudio’s outrage and Beatrice’s grievances are both real and believable.

Much Ado About Nothing cast
 
The furious pace of a soundstage is conveyed as soon as crews explode on set to film various snippets of ongoing shoots. The head of the studio, Leonato, is told that renowned director Don Pedro has just concluded his latest movie and is coming for a visit along with celebrated actors Benedick and Claudio. The generous Leonato invites everyone to stay at his villa, where his daughter Hero and the glamorous actress Beatrice are also vacationing. 

Razor-tongued Beatrice is famous for her public rivalry with cynical Benedick. The ensuing battle of wits is Shakespeare’s trigger-quick comedy at its best. The invited guests include Don Pedro’s paparazzo sister, Dona Johanna, who is jealous of his success and plots to ruin his reputation at every turn. She gets her chance upon overhearing that her brother will play matchmaker for Claudio, who has confessed his love for Hero. 

Ben Elliott, Sereana Malani
[Ben Elliott, Sereana Malani]

Meanwhile, the rest of the troupe “play their parts” to make Beatrice and Benedick fall in love with each other. The actors will “act out” scripts to trick the reluctant lovers! Santo cielo!
 
Pam Johnson’s set design is classic and glamorous, much like the era she’s trying to envision. The soundstage’s enormous sliding doors express the grandeur of the industry and double as a backdrop where cinematographic elements are projected to stimulate the senses. 

Much Ado About Nothing cast

A maestro with fabric, Christine Reimer creates costumes that are refined yet flirtatious, vintage yet bold – an extravagant exhibit of the celebrity lifestyle. During the first half of the play, Johnson and Reimer use monochromatic tones to simulate the feel of old Hollywood black and white films. As revelations of love brighten each actor’s life, Technicolor explodes onstage, in costumes and props. 

All these visual delights are harmonized together through Gerald King’s timely, precise lighting and Murray Price’s uncompromising and seductive audio compilations. The mood is effervescent and playful. The Italian ballad Sigh No More, sumptuously performed by David M. Adams (as Antonio), received enthusiastic cheers. 

Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg (choreographer) and Josh Reynolds (fight director) also deserve recognition for fluid coordination of rambunctious action, whether on spry human feet or via Vespa! 
 
Amber Lewis, Parmiss Sehat, Kaitlin Williams
[Amber Lewis, Parmiss Sehat, Kaitlin Williams]

The inventive direction and adept crew are matched by the dynamic cast. Some over-the-top performances must have been intentional, mirroring the unbelievable lives of contemporary celebrities. Kevin MacDonald, as Benedick, is wry, gregarious and oh-so suave; Amber Lewis, as Beatrice, is defiant, provocative and slick in every way. The two are like fireworks on stage, beginning with explosive intensity and ending in a romantic shower of shimmering sparkles. 

Ian Butcher’s Don Pedro is a domineering presence and Andrew Wheeler doles out equal measures of fatherly pride and disgraced torment as Leonato. The outrageous performances of Ashley O’Connell, Chris Cochrane, David M. Adams and Austin Eckert as the night-watch had the audience in stitches. Eckert is exceptionally droll in his absurd antics, without having to utter a word. 
 
Much Ado About Nothing features some of Shakespeare’s wittiest dialogue, memorable characters and quotable quotes. Other than to hear the female lead names pronounced in the Italian fashion as [be-ah-tree-che] or [mahr-guh-ree-tuh], Murphy’s re-imagined rendition is nearly perfect. Join Bard on the Beach at Vanier Park for this vibrant, light-hearted cinematic rollicker.

Directed by John Murphy, Much Ado About Nothing continues at Bard on the Beach’s BMO Mainstage through September 23.

Photos by David Blue.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Her next big pursuit will be in the newly-introduced field of forensic linguistics.

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