American Players Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing offers big laughs and joy – Isthmus

After Claudio finds out he’s successfully landed the beautiful Hero, partway through the quintessentially Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, he is, briefly, stunned. “Silence is the perfectest herald of joy,” he says. 

Thank goodness that phrase wasn’t the guiding force behind the version of the comedy now mounted on American Players’ Theatre‘s outdoor stage (and running through Sept. 29). Instead, this raucous, musical production offers big laughs, big feelings and loud joy.

There’s so much plot to this classic that it almost doesn’t matter, but, in essence, it’s a series of sort-of interwoven schemes. A scheme to get Hero to love Claudio. One to get Benedick and Beatrice to quit their bickering and fall in love. To get Claudio to spurn Hero. Then to avenge the spurning.

There are also many of the other classic Shakespeare set-ups: weddings, various swapped identities, a faked death, and a farcical little group of clowns, plus, in this version, sweet musical numbers and breakout dance routines.

If any of that sounds confusing or overmuch, don’t worry — this is not a subtle work. Each scheme is explained in advance. Then we watch the scheme unfold, usually hilariously, sometimes heartbreakingly. Then a character comes out and reminds us of what we just saw. It’s a crowd-pleaser meant for the masses — and what an absolute pleasure this production is.

For starters, there’s the actual setting, which old hats at APT may feel no need to comment upon. But it was this critic’s first time Up The Hill, and to describe the experience as magic is an understatement. The set design by Josafath Reynoso is sort of tacky Mediterranean — like if Myrtle Beach were on the Amalfi coast; colorful, pirate-inflected costumes are by Daniele Tyler Mathews.

The ensemble cast is excellent to a person, balancing absurd physical comedy and, in some moments, real tenderness and connection. Benedick and Beatrice, as sparring partners who are clearly obsessed with each other, is one of the great pairings in theater, and Marcus Truschinski and Jessica Ko nail the will-they-won’t-they-but-obviously-they-will with real affection. 

Interactions between Claudio (Ronald Román-Meléndez), Don Pedro (Rasell Holt) and Benedick are a particular delight. They cut a rakish trio that had young audience members at a recent performance hooting along. Even smaller roles are taken up mightily, like Sam Luis Massaro’s opportunistic Borachio and Lester Purry’s impish Antonio. And Triney Sandoval steals the stage every time he opens his mouth, or wiggles an eyebrow, as Dogberry, the buffoonish and malapropism-inclined constable. 

The musical numbers, many led by Seth Anjani on guitar and with a voice to match the nearby birds, are a joy and had the audience clapping along by the end. Which, by the way, came late in the night — all that plotting and executing and recapping and resolution takes time. The production clocks in at more than three hours (including intermission). Yet it never drags. On a perfect summer evening with the wind rustling the branches, I’d have stuck around for another three. 

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