REVIEW: Upstate Shakespeare Festival is a ‘Much’ Todo in the Park

Meghan Todd and Mitchell Grant in Much Ado About Nothing

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Upstate theatre lovers rejoice! Shakespeare in the park is back in Greenville, and it’s certainly an Ado about something marvelously entertaining.

John Fagan, Producing Artistic Director of The Warehouse Theatre’s Upstate Shakespeare Festival, returns in high fashion after an astounding two year Covid hiatus with the company’s first full-scale Bard play in Falls Park on the Reedy.

This Much Ado About Nothing is a high-energy gem from the crisp and bountiful uniformity of Charlie Wolfe’s costumes (the Rosie the Riveters and the pinup soldiers in boy scout shorts), to the grand courtyard and garden set (Fagan), and the fancy footwork in the Glenn Miller “In the Mood” dance number (William Wilkins choreography) to the jolly cast of new faces (and older ones) in the delightful cast.

Much Ado About Nothing is an accessible Bard comedy built on love but through deceit and trickery. Leonato (the Mayor of Messina) and Antonio (played astutely by USF stalwarts Dan Robbins and Richard Beveridge) need to marry off their daughters Hero and Beatrice when unnecessary mayhem ensues: disguises, overheard conversations, staged kisses, sullied reputations, and the keystone cops.

John Carino and Isaac Gibbs are dashing and humorous as Colonel Pedro and Captain Claudio, who wins the affection of Hero, the impeccable Sarah Rackley (on this evening admirably performed by understudy Shamiah Brown).

But the other couple, the defiant Beatrice and her history with Major Benedick, is the saucier pairing, portrayed here by Meghan Todd and Mitchell Grant with more than convincing chemistry. Grant, who reminds me of Benedict Cumberbatch in his fantastic delivery, probably gives the most defining and potent monologues in this play. He intimately addresses the audience during his verse, and in one instance, while overhearing a faked conversation, he furtively lurks within the audience in camouflage, behind chairs and on blankets.

In another subplot, Simon Crowe (who probably holds the record for most performances with USF in its 26 year history, as Constable Dogberry leads a band of deputized nitwits to guard the festivities – a hilarious Angie Price as Verges and as watchers, Caroline Belangia, Shamiah Brown, Johnny Curl, Erika McGonigal, Robert Penninger, and Bethany Reed.

Longtime thespian Sarah Anderson is perfectly divine as Hero’s mother, Imogen as are the giddy riveters and ladies-in-waiting – Alyssa Love as Balthasar, Cameron Trieper as Ursula, and Mary Miles as Margaret.

Quinn Davis plays the Friar Francis as the other handsome lads that heighten the proceedings are John Genoa as Borachio, Seth Hildebrand as Conrado, and Denver Baughman as Major John.

Stage managers for Much Ado About Nothing are Paul Kwok and Eilidh McKinnon.

Much Ado About Nothing is a delicious and polished return to form for Upstate Shakespeare. Four salutes to Fagan, cast and crew for a joyful, entertaining return to the stage.

Much Ado About Nothing continues Thursdays-Sundays at 7 pm through June 26 at Falls Park on the Reedy in Greenville. No performance on June 18 due to the Juneteenth celebration in the parl. FREE. Donations accepted after performance or scan QR code in the playbill to support live theatre in the Upstate.

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