Review Roundup: Stars Shine as “Much Ado” Kicks Off Public's Shakespeare Season

Bard buffs Bryan Cranston, John Lithgow and Jonathan Groff were among the celebs on hand for Monday night’s gala opening of “Much Ado About Nothing” at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, the first offering of The Public’s free Shakespeare in the Park season.

Lithgow, barely recognizable in a shaggy beard, will play “King Lear” in the second outing of the annual summer series. Other sightings in the star-packed audience last night included Matthew Morrison, Dana Delany, America Ferrera, Rachel Dratch, Hailey Feiffer, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Sarah Paulson, Judy Kuhn, Amber Tamblyn, Andrew Rannells, Julie White and Aaron Tveit.

Shakespeare’s sometimes-serious romantic comedy, directed here by Jack O’Brien—the three-time Tony winner’s first outing at the Delacorte—features real-life paramours Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe (pictured, bottom, at right, with Kathryn Meisle and Ismenia Mendes) as wise-cracking lovers Benedick and Beatrice. Central Park becomes sun-drenched Sicily in a production critics called “pleasure-filled” and “masterfully silly.” Here’s a closer look at what the reviewers had to say.

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: “Mr. Linklater’s Benedick presents himself as an aggressively buffoonish type, a big-boy clown of the no-girls-allowed club who nonetheless broods over perceived insults from women. Ms. Rabe’s Beatrice is more of a tough-talking, wisecracking dame, not unlike the screwball movie heroines played by Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck. But every so often, like a turtle’s head poking out of its shell, a scared and vulnerable soul protrudes from the brittle carapace.”

Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly: “For whiz-bang one-liners, crackerjack banter, and giddy laughs (and a couple of weddings to boot), it's tough to beat the Bard’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ … The comic stylings of Rabe and Linklater are so fine that you might overlook the play's less-interesting love story between Leonato's daughter, Hero, and Don Pedro's soldier Claudio. Then again, that tends to happen with just about every production of ‘Much Ado.’”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Rabe uses her tartly husky voice, one of the most distinctive in contemporary theater, to great effect throughout, to convey sarcasm and yearning, frustration and relish. Linklater, in one of his funniest and most robust performances to date, provides an ideal foil and, eventually, partner. Rabe's womanly fortitude highlights the boyishness behind his braggadocio; their wars of words manage to make Shakespeare's language as accessible as any contemporary rom-com film while sacrificing none of its beauty or bite. But after others scheme to bring their feud to its inevitable conclusion, a tenderness emerges that's just as disarming.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: “O’Brien, who knows his way around the Bard, wisely plays things light, albeit by the numbers. Goofy animal masks help tip the balance toward laughter. The well-oiled supporting players include John Glover as Hero’s father; John Pankow as the bumbling detective Dogberry; Pedro Pascal, recently of ‘Game of Thrones,’ as the devious Don John.”

Matt Windman, AMNY: “Rabe, who has already portrayed Portia (‘The Merchant of Venice’) and Rosalind (‘As You Like It’) to great acclaim, brings considerable comedic timing and bite to Beatrice. Linklater, who played opposite Rabe in ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ is a clownish, scruffy and whiny Benedict. It’s hard to believe his Benedict is also, as the text suggests, a war hero, but that’s not a big deal.They are joined by a fine supporting cast including the rich-voiced Brian Stokes Mitchell (‘Ragtime,’ ‘Kiss Me Kate’) as Don Pedro. O’Brien even finds a spot where Mitchell can sing a bit.”

“Much Ado About Nothing,” through July 6. Tickets are free, and distributed two per person at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, beginning at 12 p.m. on the day of each performance. More information is available at

Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn

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