Company founder and director Boyett-D'Angelo has set the Bard's classic in 1950s in a romantic location at The Messina Motel on a U.S. island in the Caribbean. The more modern setting adds vitality to Shakespeare's story of love-at-first-sight found, denied and declared.
As the show starts, the basic question is intoned in the 1950s tune "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" In fact, music sets the tone throughout the show, with inspired choices by Boyett-D'Angelo and music director Theresa Sweet Bouma. The show even uses snippets of such classic '50s tunes as "Chapel of Love" and "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You" as scene shift music.
In addition, Bouma created an original song "Sigh No More," set to Shakespeare's lyrics, which is given lively treatment by a rocking Balthazar, Leonato, Don Pedro and Claudio proclaiming Beatrice's love for Benedick — complete with sultry choreography for the male quartet.
The resort hotel is depicted by a two-level, wrought-iron structure with stairway and balcony adorned by a lighted Messina sign blinking "No Vacancy." Scenic designer Steven Royal's structure becomes the center of action that moves naturally and briskly.
Theme and historic period are further depicted by costume designer Maggie Cason's flirty 1950s costumes. These cinch-waisted, full-skirted costumes enhance the attractiveness of female cast members, as do fetching swim suit designs. Males are polished in crisp Naval white or blue with less commanding players attired to depict their stations — including those lowly apprentice Boy Scouts serving as security staff.
The '50s era is also established by choreographer Ken Skrzesz whose dances convey the exuberance and romanticism of the period. Dance flows naturally, smoothly and joyously while inserting innocent flirtatious exchanges.
Opening its third season at Bowie Playhouse, Annapolis Shakespeare Company employs professional actors in most principal roles, and is attracting professional actors with distinguished credits from classical theaters across the country.
All of this contributes to its growing recognition as a standard bearer for exceptional Shakespearean theater.
Outstanding in this production is Actors' Equity member Rob McQuay, who inhabits the role of Leonato, the father of intended bride, Hero. McQuay's Leonato is the epitome of the regal Duke of Messina, commanding attention from underlings and fiercely defending the honor of his daughter while deftly recognizing the maternal power of his wife Innogen (Peg Nichols).
As Hero, Alyssa Bouma illustrates the efficacy of ASC's Professional Apprentice program as she becomes the perfect heroine, with notable chemistry with stage love Claudio. Summoning a range of emotions, Hero is first a giddily love-struck innocent, then a distraught rejected bride who later flashes smoldering rage when she sets out to even the score.
As Claudio, Michael Ryan Neely, who recently captivated Annapolis audiences as Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice," again delivers a solid portrayal that conveys the proud young officer's realization of love for Hero, his anger when learning that Hero might be unfaithful and his cool denunciation of the bride at the altar — and later the nobility of his acceding to Leonato's demands.
Brightening their every scene with comedy are the lovers destined for each other – Chandish Nester as Beatrice and Grayson Owen as Benedick. Nester makes a memorable Annapolis Shakespeare debut as playful, feisty Beatrice, displaying strong comedic and dance skills. Owen is a skilled comedian whose lively exchanges with a bickering Beatrice grow in intensity and hilarity.
Noteworthy ensemble players include Alex Foley as Dogberry, who is caught up in stalking wrongdoers, barking orders at a pathetic patrolling pair uniformed as Boy Scouts.
"Much Ado" continues weekends through Aug. 18 at Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. For tickets call 410-415-3513 or go to AnnapolisShakerspeare.org