by Chris Davis
1. People who "very serious" about Shakespeare and only speak his name in hushed and reverent tones should probably stay the hell away. This show is so light, unpretentious and easy to follow that within the first five minutes you'll have forgotten you're watching a 400-year-old classic. In recent years Memphis audiences have been treated to more then their fair share of sketchy high-concept Shakespeare. We've seen a perfectly ambulatory Juliet stuck in a wheelchair, and a Sci-Fi Julius Caesar set in a world where men don't seem to have ever existed. True, this Much Ado is set in the 1960's. But the choice, while strong and committed, is relatively superficial, providing a logical context for Shakespeare's surprisingly modern romantic comedy. This Much Ado hasn't been transformed into a big anti-war statement. Nor is it a celebration of free love and hippie culture. In fact it's not a statement or celebration of any kind. It's a simple, deliciously straightforward presentation of Shakespeare's frothiest play with a handful of exciting contemporary flourishes. It's a show that speaks to all ages but it will be especially fun for those among us who are old enough to remember 60's-era TV shows like Laugh-In, Get Smart.
2. The cast knows they've made something special and they are having a blast sharing it with audiences. The real life husband and wife team of John and Mary Buchignani Hemphill are thoroughly delightful as the warring would-be lovers Beatrice and Benedick. But this is an ensemble show and the hilarious (and entirely unexpected) love story that develops between John Rone's Dogberry and Lindsey Roberts' Verges is every bit as intriguing.
3. The music makes it. Some of it is bubble-headed pop and some of it is maybe a little too obvious. But it's all thoughtfully chosen and after audiences are treated to Bennett Foster's Brian Wilson/Turtles-take on the sonnet "Sigh No More Ladies" they might also leave with the impression that Shakespeare actually wrote "Bend Me Shape Me." It really is a perfect ending to a sweetly memorable show that deserves an even longer life.