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Shakespeare reimagined

An all-black Much Ado About Nothing in New York incorporates gospel music into the Bard’s work

Shakespeare reimagined

Much Ado at Delacorte Theater in Central Park. (Joan Marcus)

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.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Kolten Wong (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images )

This week I learned:

In rapidly urbanizing Africa, children are losing places to play, pushing them into more crowded and dangerous areas without supervision. “Economists used to think children in remote villages were worse off than their peers in cities. ... That assumption is crumbling,” The Washington Post reports.

A court case you might not know about:

A former tour guide at the Museum of Sex in Manhattan has filed a lawsuit alleging the staff experiences regular sexual harassment and assault, especially from drunken patrons. The guide said management responded to her complaints of groping and crude language directed toward her by saying it was “the nature of the establishment.”

Culture I am consuming:

I’m going down the rabbit hole of Korean music, with my musical sister as my guide—I’ve been listening to the R&B artist DEAN, whose song “Instagram” is gorgeous (listen here on Spotify).

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org

Comments

  • John Kloosterman
    Posted: Wed, 06/26/2019 02:13 am

    I'd be interested to get a copy of that performance.  I have a hard time, occasionally, getting my inner city students to appreciate how Shakespeare relates to them.