On a rainy night last week I went with some friends to the Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, performed in an outdoor theater in Central Park. Shakespeare in the Park is a free program every summer, designed to bring Broadway-quality shows to the masses. The actors gamely went on with the show through patches of downpours as attendants squeegeed the stage to keep them from slipping.
In this rendition, director Kenny Leon set the story of witty romance, mistaken identities, and false accusations in the home of a wealthy black family in suburban Atlanta. It suit Much Ado just right. The nobleman Leonato rolled onto stage in a real, massive SUV with his friends, parking between some peach trees, and I knew this was going to be a rollicking party. The leads, Danielle Brooks as Beatrice and Grantham Coleman as Benedick, kept the party going.
Shakespeare wrote multiple songs into Much Ado, and Leon filled the show with African American music instead, allowing seamless incorporation of gospel songs. Political commentary was present but minimal. The show opened with a beautiful rendition of Beatrice singing Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” (a song originally in response to an incident of police brutality) intertwined with the other actors singing “America the Beautiful.”
At one wedding in the play, a woman sang “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” as the bridal processional. The show closed with “Lift Every Voice And Sing,” which is known as the black national anthem and has the gospel woven throughout, especially in the final verse:
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.
Worth your time:
St. Louis Cardinals’ second baseman Kolten Wong has a delightful start to a double play in this video. Baseball will always give you something you’ve never seen before.