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Much Ado About Nothing

  • Theater, Shakespeare
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Much Ado About Nothing. Public Theater (see Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 50mins. No intermission.

Much Ado About Nothing: in brief

After a three-week tour of the five boroughs, the Mobile Shakespeare Unit touches base at the Public with director Kwame Kwei-Armah's take on this tart-tongued romantic comedy, about two longtime enemies and their friends’ plot to get them together. Michael Braun and Samantha Soule play the squabblers.

Much Ado About Nothing: theater review by Raven Snook

The Bard’s romantic banter snaps, crackles and pops in this infectious mounting of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedy. Produced by the Public’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit and streamlined into one funny, fast-paced act, this Much Ado About Nothing played prisons, homeless shelters and other nontraditional places before returning to the Public, and boasts scrappy direction by Kwame Kwei-Armah and hilarious performances by a high-energy rainbow cast.

In a production that uses house lights, off-the-rack modern-day clothes, plenty of audience interaction and no sets, the actors are the main attraction—and oh, how they sizzle. The chemistry between snark-crossed lovers Benedick (Michael Braun, adorkable) and Beatrice (Samantha Soule, effervescent) is evident, while Claudio and Hero (A.Z. Kelsey and Kerry Warren, both sincere but never saccharine) have many affecting moments as the young couple torn apart by jealous Don Pedro’s evil scheme.

The eight performers play all 15 parts (Hero’s uncle, Antonio, and a handful of other minor roles have been cut), and they change characters as deftly as the story switches from punch lines to pathos. Those emotional extremes have been known to cause quip-lash in other Much Ado productions, but Kwei-Armah navigates the shifts in tone smoothly and convincingly.

While there are no slouches onstage, Lucas Caleb Rooney, who pulls double duty as Don John and Dogberry, is the clear favorite. He earns hearty boos as the villain (audience noise is encouraged) and guffaws as the buffoonish civil servant with little respect for his fellow man or the English language. His characterizations are blunt and broad, as is the entire show, so those who like their Shakespeare delivered with pomp, circumstance and mid-Atlantic accents may leave dissatisfied. This Much Ado aims its arrow at the hearts of us groundlings, and scores a palpable hit.—Theater review by Raven Snook

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