The hugely popular New York institution Shakespeare in the Park will return this summer with a full slate of offerings, the Public Theater announced today. The series has offered free productions of Shakespeare plays at Central Park's open-air Delacorte Theater since 1962, and its 60th season promises to be memorable.
First up will be a new production of blood-soaked history play Richard III, which imagines the final Plantagenet king as a Machiavellian villain who claws his way to power on the corpses of his family and friends. In this version, directed by Robert O'Hara (Slave Play), the title role will be played by Danai Gurira, known to mass audiences for her roles in The Walking Dead and Black Panther but also a formidable classical stage actor. (She was a superb Isabella in Shakespeare in the Park's 2011 Measure for Measure.)
"Richard III speaks to the dangerous machinations that we have witnessed by leaders throughout history, but most acutely in recent years in our own government," O'Hara says. "Richard is our unreliable narrator, protagonist, and antagonist, drawing us deeper and deeper into his murderous mayhem."
The summer's second offering will be director Laurie Woolery and songwriter Shaina Taub's enormous musical adaptation of As You Like It, choreographed by Moulin Rouge!'s Tony-winning Sonya Tayeh. The production was originally planned for Summer 2020, and we interviewed Woolery and Taub about it back in 2017, when it was part of the Public's expansive Public Works wing. Several original cast members from that version—Darius de Haas, Joel Perez, Taub herself—will return to their roles, joined by 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 Twelfth Night, which debuted two years earlier. "As You Like is an extraordinary version of Shakespeare's most beautiful play," says the Public's artistic director, Oskar Eustis. "The joyous democracy of this Public Works show stuns the senses."
The return to a two-show season is a welcome return to form for Shakespeare in the Park, which was forced to cancel its season entirely during the 2020 shutdown and to reduce it to a single production—the delightful Merry Wives—last year, with seating at partial capacity. (It will once again be full this summer.)
Dates and full casting for Richard III and As You Like It have not yet been announced, so stay tuned for more information about them—as well as for details about how to get free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park this year. The old line-up-and-wait approach was ditched in 2021 and replaced with a digital lottery, which it will continue in some form this year in partnership with TodayTix. Free tickets will be distributed throughout the city; details about the mechanism and locations are expected to be announced by early May.