Danielle Brooks shines in a near-perfect<em> Much Ado About Nothing</em>: EW review

Central Park’s open-air Delacorte Theater predisposes audiences to a good time: Most June nights, sundown paves the way to moonlight prior to intermission, while bad weather (the homeowner Public Theater hardly ever cancels a program) prompts an umbrella-close coziness and shared commitment to live performance that can leave you feeling smug, if somewhat soaked. Furthermore, tickets are complimentary.

But place in that wonderful setting a near-perfect production of William Shakespeare’s finest rom-com and the experience levels approximately sublime. That is what Tony-winning director Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun) offers us in his modernMuch Ado About Nothingat the Delacorte through June 23.

Leon’s fleet and thoughtful informing happens an upscale African-American neighborhood in Georgia in the spring of 2020: Peaches hang from the trees and Stacey Abrams campaign banners wave from Leonato’s brick manor home where the nobleman (played warmly by Broadway veteran Chuck Cooper) deals with his marriage-minded daughter Hero and his marriage-intolerant niece Beatrice.

The play is framed by guys originating from and leaving for war. The script doesn’t specify a historic fight, so Leon has actually equipped his soldiers with only demonstration placards– “RESTORE DEMOCRACY NOW” among them– and before the action begins Danielle Brooks sings an a cappella variation of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” However while the production referrals our dispiriting present political environment, the mood is generally jubilant, the laughs abundant, and the focus appropriately on Shakespeare’s fight of the sexes, anchored by the haters-turned-lovers, Beatrice and Benedick.

The sparring between Beatrice (Brooks, best called Taystee onOrange is the New Black) and Benedick (Grantham Coleman, of the Public’sAs You Like It) is electrical from the start, the insults of their “merry war of wits” played like The Dozens. They are well matched– both stars are strong physical comedians and proficient with the verbal barbs. But, while Coleman’s Benedick is appealing even when he is angering, the advantage here is Beatrice’s. Brooks is just a force of nature.

The Georgia-born starlet held a similar intense Southern lady function, Sofia, in the 2015 Broadway revival ofThe Color PurpleShe is in her comfort zone telling males– really, informing everybody– what’s what, with humor and sass. She’s unironically tender when she recognizes she is the object of her enemy’s love, but also lets authentic rage emerged in the “Oh, that I were a guy” speech. As independent as our Beatrice remains in her own mind, she still needs a male ally worldwide– and that, integrated with an injustice done to her cousin, annoys her to the point of fury. (Times have altered but, politically speaking, it stays true today, gentlemen: We can not act alone.)

For the a lot of part the 400- year-old text and upgraded milieu mesh nicely. When Beatrice’s cousin Hero (Margaret Odette, deftly managing the ingenue burden) and her attendant Ursula (Tiffany Denise Hobbs, another property to this strong ensemble) are talking about Beatrice– “She is so self-endeared” says the previous with a tart eye roll– their Elizabethan chatter session is as fresh as a clip fromGenuine Housewives of AtlantaAt other moments, the plot bangs up against the setting: After Hero is implicated of infidelity by her fiancé, Claudio (Jeremie Harris, charming even when credulous), her father takes the aggrieved guy’s side, and goes even more: “Death is the fairest cover for her pity,” he says. Actually? Would not Leonato, a guy who literally flies the flag for the progressive, feminist prospect Stacey Abrams, believe females?

However such moments are fleeting and thisAdouses excessive joy to fret about vexing concerns. For the most part, it makes a virtue of its modern touches, from the almost on-stage SUV that brings the soldiers home (the realistic scenic style is by Beowulf Boritt), to the rich party sequence costumes (by Emilio Sosa), to status signifiers such as a La Perla underwear bag. The production’s initial songs by Jason Michael Webb (theChoir Kidmusical director and arranger, who just got an unique Tony Award this previous Sunday) fit neatly into the story; the masquerade ball has a contagious dance sequence that would frequent a music video, while the wedding event scene opens with performance of a West African event dance and drumming (terrific choreography throughout by Camille A. Brown, also just recently ofChoir Kid). Leon’s very first Shakespeare in the Park outing is, according to the program notes, the fifthMuch Ado About Nothingon this stage. It certainly will not be the last there, but it will be a hard act to follow.A-

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