Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Much Ado About Nothing
St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's reviews of Urinetown and The Karate Kid - The Musical

Stanton Nash, Claire Karpen, and Cast
Photo by Phillip Hamer Photography
This Much Ado About Nothing, at St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, starts getting really good nearly 1/4th of the way into it. In fact, it ends up on a fantastic note. But for the first 40-odd minutes, the popular comedy wobbles around on 423-year-old stilts. It's still worth getting there on time and paying attention: for me, by the end of this two and a half hour show, I felt like I'd finally seen a great old romantic comedy, on the order of His Girl Friday or The Philadelphia Story, for the very first time. "Where has this been all my life?," I wondered, as the happy wedding knots were finally tied up. The festival is free, but reservations are required (you can rent a lawn chair or sit on the ground). So call ahead and bring a picnic blanket (and even a picnic) and a sweater to snuggle into. Because even in June, it suddenly turns cold after dark, just south of the great reflecting pool in Forest Park.

Highly respected Bruce Longworth directs this Much Ado. And although the show is smart and funny, several of our finest actors are forced to march out and say "huzzah!" (essentially) at regular intervals in the opening scenes, before it all gathers steam and as we settle in for what will eventually become two very enjoyable romances in the Sicilian port city of Messina.

But, in those first forty-some minutes, it's a battle against lowered expectations. Predictably, there's a "good Sicilian Don" and a "bad Sicilian Don"–though they are played by two polished and impressive actors, Chauncy Thomas (as romantic Pedro) and Sorab Wadia (as a sizzling John). Happily, they exist afresh here.

And you may cringe when I tell you that there's yet another gaggle of Shakespearean rustics involved. But in this one they solve a crime, which is great, instead of just putting on a dull, 400-year-old pageant at the end for the nobles, right when we're all thinking about going home. Thanks to these comic characters, and thanks to the whole cast, this staging of Much Ado actually rises above other plays by the Bard, to the modern eye. It's strangely refreshing, if you've seen A Midsummer Night's Dream or Love's Labor's Lost more than a few times, with their often wooden nobles and tiresome country folk.

Did I mention there's also a familiar Shakespearean constellation of two sets of lovers? English majors know of the battling Beatrice and Benedick: in this new telling, she's an independent, Hepburnian hoot in white slacks; and he starts out as a perturbed pest, begging comparisons to Daffy Duck. And yet, in the pure theater magic of this production, and thanks to the meddling of their friends, Claire Karpen's Beatrice is brought a tiny bit low, and Stanton Nash's Benedick somehow rises up to become a dour cosmopolite. They tear up the stage (and our expectations) under the erudite direction of Mr. Longworth.

And then there's Claudio and Hero, the younger pair of lovers. He's played by adorable Kenneth Hamilton; she by heartbreaking Carmen Cecilia Retzer. Heartbreaking because of the slandering of her name by the "bad Don" through his henchmen, who are led by the always-first-rate Aaron Orion Baker. And it's heartbreaking because this Claudio is so inflamed, believing the calumny. But all's well that ends well, as someone once said, and Maison Kelly elicits loud laughter in a scene with Jenna Steinberg, awkwardly teasing out the show's marquee love affair. Michael Thanh Tran lifts our hearts with two folk songs. And there's great work by Christopher Hickey and Gary Glasgow, defending the honor of the wronged woman.

The comedy is long on entrances and exits, thanks to the sprawling set. Actors lumber in across a swanky Cinemascope-wide palazzo frontage designed by Josh Smith. Like travelers down a long airport concourse, their dialog is preceded by the ungainly sight of them. And then, many of them trundle off, either to left or right, in their long goodbyes. Dorothy Englis's costumes for the women and the high-born are elegant, but the officer's uniforms not so much. We usually don't notice so much police presence in Shakespeare, and here it is a brightly colored platoon.

Still, absolutely one of my new favorites from Shakespeare Glen.

Much Ado About Nothing runs through June 26, 2022, at St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare Glen, 6604 Fine Arts Dr, St. Louis MO. For information and tickets, please visit

Borachio: Aaron Orion Baker*
Dogberry: Liam Craig*
Friar Francis/George Seacoal: Gary Glasgow*
Leonato: Christopher Hickey*
Claudio: Kenneth Hamilton
Beatrice: Claire Karpen*
Ursula: Maison Kelly
Antonio: Tim Kidwell
Benedick: Stanton Nash*
Litarius/Hugh Oatcake: Carl Overly, Jr.*
Musician: Matt Pace
Verges: Whit Reichert*
Hero: Carmen Cecilia Retzer*
Conrade: Alex Rudd
Musician: Brien Seyle
Margaret: Jenna Steinberg
Don Pedro: Chauncy Thomas*
Balthasar/Alfie Dinsdale: Michael Thanh Tran
Don John/Sexton: Sorab Wadia*

Color Guard:
Mack Carter, Michael Foley, Andrew Harmon

Production Staff:
Director: Bruce Longworth
Scenic Design: Josh Smith
Costume Design: Dorothy Englis
Lighting Design: John Wylie
Choreographer: Brandon Fink
Stage Manager: Emily Buchheit*
Assistant Director: Cameron Jamarr Davis
Assistant Stage Manager: Britteny Henry*
Sound Effects: Kareem Deanes
Live Sound Design: Rusty Wandall
Music Composition: Matt Pace & Brien Seyle
Original Casting: Laura Stanczyk
Additional Casting: Claire Simon

Additional Production Staff:
Switch Technical Director: Matt Anderson
Technical Assistant: Will Launsby
Production Assistant: Desiree Troy
Scenic Artist: Andy Cross**
Additional Prop Construction: Laura Skroska
Scenic Build Buyer & Labor Coordinator: Lori Beth Augustin
Company Manager: Susan Rowe Jennings
Infection Control Specialist: Charlie Tatum
Costume Shop Manager: Michele Friedman Siler
Master Electrician: John Ryan
Assistant Master Electrician: Lou Ritter
Sound Engineer: Casey Hunter***
Sound Effects Board Operator: Cameron Courtwright
Audio Assistants: Marley Lefler, Virginia Parkinson
House Manager: Lillie Weber
Box Office Manager: Emily Westerholt

* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association

** Denotes Member, USA Local #829 IATSE

*** Denotes Member, IATSE Local #6