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A History of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at Free Shakespeare in the Park

May 24, 2019 by TodayTix
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Granthan Coleman and Danielle Brooks in “Much Ado About Nothing.” (Photographed by Joan Marcus)

Shakespeare’s romantic comedy about sparring lovers and mistaken identities is coming to the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park as part of the Public Theater’s annual Free Shakespeare in the Park this summer. With this production, the play ties “Twelfth Night” and “Measure for Measure” as the play produced the most often at six times.

Tony nominee Danielle Brooks and Granthan Coleman lead the production as Beatrice and Benedick, which features and all-black cast and some women in traditional male roles. Leon sets the play in Atlanta surrounding Stacey Abrams’s campaign. Gender bending and modern politics? Sign us up! The play opens tonight and runs through June 23.

We’ve partnered with The Public Theater to offer the digital lottery for Free Shakespeare in the Park for the fourth year in a row. Only on TodayTix, you can enter the Lottery every performance morning from our app or website, and skip the line for tickets.

Enter the Free Shakespeare in the Park Lottery for a chance to win tickets, and check out a history of past productions of “Much Ado About Nothing” below!

Real-life couple Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe starred as Benedict and Beatrice the last time the Bard’s comedy was in the park in 2014. Jack O’Brien directed the productions, which also starred Pedro Pascal as Don John, Brian Stokes Mitchell as Don Pedro, and John Glover as Leonato. The New York Times called Rabe “one of our sharpest and most spirited young interpreters of Shakespeare” and the production “exceptionally good looking.”

Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe in “Much Ado About Nothing” in 2014.

The 2004 production also featured actors with a real-life bond. Sam Waterson starred as Leonado with his daughter, Elizabeth Waterson, who starred as Hero. Kristen Johnston and Jimmy Smits played Beatrice and Benedict in the production directed by David Esbjornson. The Times said: “All in all it’s a production that is perhaps close to Joseph Papp’s original intent for the park performances: Shakespeare that is neither dumbed down for the masses nor high-concept experiment; actors and audience in sync, relishing the writer and the summer air.”

Kristen Johnston and Jimmy Smits in “Much Ado About Nothing” in 2004.

The 1987 production starred Blythe Danner and Kevin Kline as the quarreling lovers, roles The Times said “they were born to serve.” Director Gerald Freedman set the production in Messina of 1800, lending the production the look of a quaint Italian village. The Times wrote, “Mr. Kline and Ms. Danner demonstrate the highest standard of American Shakespeare performance by bringing physical ease and comedy to the characters without sacrificing any of the linguistic gymnastics.”

Kathleen Widoes and Sam Waterson in “Much Ado About Nothing” in 1972.

Waterson was also in A.J. Antoon’s production of “Much Ado” in 1972. Waterson played Benedick opposite Kathleen Widoes as Beatrice. Director Antoon set the play during Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency, another topical and politically minded production. The production transferred to Broadway and was nominated for seven Tony Awards.

Public Theater founder Joseph Papp directed the first park production of the comedy starring J.D. Cannon and Nan Martin in 1961.