Broadway is great, sure, but perhaps no theater event is as sheerly beloved by New Yorkers as the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park, which has offered free productions of Shakespeare plays at Central Park's open-air Delacorte Theater every summer since 1962. Today, the Public announced the two shows that will be featured in the 2020 season, and it's not too early to get psyched. (It is too early to start lining up, mind you, but before the summer comes around you may want to brush up on how to get your free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. Hint: There are options besides camping out in the park.)
Classical-theater aficionados won't want to miss the summer's first offering, Richard II (May 19–June 21), which we rarely get to see on major stages: It has been at the Delacorte just once before, back in 1987. (Ralph Fiennes performed the title role memorably at BAM in 2000.) The play depicts the overthrow and eventual regicide of the last of the direct-line Plantagenet kings—a prickly man with a knack for making powerful enemies—and while the plot is heavy on medieval politics, the writing contains some of the most beautiful verse that Shakespeare ever crafted—which is saying a lot, because he was Shakespeare. Richard II will be directed by Saheem Ali, who has been on a meteoric rise with such shows as Sugar in Our Wounds and Passage. Casting has not yet been announced.
The summer's second offering will be director Laurie Woolery and songwriter Shaina Taub's massive musical adaptation of As You Like It (July 14–Aug 8), choreographed by Moulin Rouge!'s Sonya Tayeh. We interviewed Woolery and Taub about it in 2017, when it was part of the Public's expansive Public Works wing. Several original cast members from that version—Darius de Haas, Joél Pérez, Taub herself—will return to their roles, joined by others to be announced as well as huge ensemble casts drawn from community organizations in all five boroughs. This is not the first time a Public Works production has moved on to a full slot in Shakespeare in the Park; the 2018 season included Taub's delightful Twelfth Night, which had been a Public Works offering two years earlier.
“There is no issue in the world that can’t be helped by a little Shakespeare,” said Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis. “This summer, Richard II explores the extraordinary danger and possibility of regime change and As You Like It celebrates a Forest of Arden where all refugees are welcome. Laurie Woolery and Saheem Ali make their Shakespeare in the Park directing debuts and these brilliant artists will prove to us, once again, that Shakespeare is the most democratic of dramatists.”