The first show of Gamm Theatre's 25th season is "Much Ado about Nothing". "Much Ado about Nothing" is a romantic comedy by William Shakespeare set in Messina, Sicily. The story concerns a pair of lovers named Claudio and Hero who are due to be married in a week. To pass the time before their wedding day, they conspire with Don Pedro, the prince of Aragon, to trick their friends, Beatrice and Benedick, into confessing their love for one another. The prince's illegitimate brother, Don John, a malcontent however, jealous of both Don Pedro's power and his affection for Claudio, plans to sabotage the coming wedding. It concerns the serious themes of love, fear of commitment, jealousy and retribution in a sexy, sizzling, side-splitting comedy about two very different and equally convoluted courtships. Fred Sullivan directs this show and casts all the roles beautifully. Earlier this year he won an Elliot Norton award for acting. Fred thinks up clever comic bits especially about the sexual innuendos and infuses the cast with high energy keeping the audience laughing all night long. A spontaneous standing ovation is their reward.
Fred sets the show in 1945 at the end of the war in Europe. The themes in the show include spying and eavesdropping as well as deception, infidelity and Claudio's pride and fear of cuckoldry. They think Hero is impure and Balthasar's song "Never Doubt Thy Love" shows men to be the deceitful and inconstant sex that women must put up with. (Zachary LeClair is Balthasar and the other singers are David Tessier, David Rabinow and Joshua Koopman) David Tessier wrote the beautiful music for the show.(I have known him since 1988 when he played Doody in "Grease" for Community Players.) He wrote several other songs for the show including the funeral dirge about Hero's supposed death "Goddess of the Night" and 1940's style music which the cast dances to excellently. Gorgeous costumes including 1940's men's suits and ladies skirts are by Marilyn Salvatore while the set is by Sara Ossana. It consists of marble steps, and two stairways on either side of the stage. Stage manager Robin Grady keeps things running smoothly all night long with lighting by Jen Rock. The main focus of the show is on Beatrice and Benedick played excellently by Jeanine Kane and Tony Estrella.They delight in insulting each other whenever they're not busy disparaging the very idea of romantic love and marriage. This couple achieves maturity through love.Tony Estrella does a wonderful job as this mischievous character, spying on the men when they are talking about Beatrice, he runs all over the theatre and out into the audience several times with hilarious results. He carries a huge plant trying to hide behind it. "Serve God, love me and mend" is where he becomes tender towards Beatrice. He thinks Beatrice exceeds her cousin in her beauty and finally acquiesces to her, giving the audience a happy ending. Jeanine handles the rabid fire dialogue with ease, which is full of clever barbs as she imprisons herself in witty repartee. This Beatrice is brighter than her giggling, girlish cousin, Hero. Beatrice's self defense is her wit and her unmasking isn't physical but psychological unlike Kate and Petruchio's relationship in "Taming of the Shrew. They were not tricked into falling in love but only into the realization that they were in love. Their repartee is topnotch and most enjoyable to watch!
All the performers do a wonderful job in their roles. Veteran actor Sam Babbitt is Leonato, the father of Hero played by Amanda Ruggerio, a pretty brunette.(She, Karen Carpenter as Margaret and Tray Gearing as Ursula do an excellent rendition as the singing and dancing Andrews Sisters.) The governor invites Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedick to stay a month and celebrate with a masked ball. Sam delivers the goods in this authoritative role and gets a chance to show off his wonderful singing voice. Marc Mancini as Claudio and Amanda have a lot of chemistry together and their reconciliation scene is wonderful to behold. Geoff Leatham plays Antonio, Leonato's brother, who challenges to box with Claudio after he rejects Hero at the wedding. Steve Kidd is the heroic Don Pedro. He is tall and debonair in this role, once again commanding the stage as this strong willed person, playing it as wonderfully as he played Don Carlos last year and Reverend Dimmesdale earlier this year. Newcomer Kelby Akin plays Don John making the audience hate his evil deeds of casting aspersions on Hero's character. Kelby oozes with venom as this horrible creature. Don John's followers Conrade and Borachio (which means drunkard in Spanish) are played beautifully by Aaron Rossini and Kyle Blanchette. Borachio tricks Claudio and Don Pedro into thinking he was wooing Hero instead of Margaret who he was really wooing, convincing them of Hero's infidelity.Aaron gets to call Dogberry an ass.Tom Gleadow is hilarious as Dogberry, a master of malapropisms arrests the cads, learning the secrets from him while informing them of Hero's innocence. Some of his funny bits include using "I am an ass", a three stooges routine with his watchmen spying on Conrade and Borachio. Chuck Reifler is a hoot as a lisping elderly aide to Dogberry. Another scene stealer is Marc McClure as the boy who sets up a picnic lunch for himself only to be sent away by Benedick, obtaining much laughter at his reactions in this scene. So for a scintillating evening of a Shakespearean comedy, be sure to catch "Much Ado About Nothing" and realize that this show is really something!