Shakespeare meets swing in Taylor Theatre’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Professor of English Joe Ricke, who is the director, has added his own semi-modern twist to one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays.
“We have this whole tradition in America of these great wartime musical comedies starring soldiers in uniform or whatever, and they're singing these great songs,” Ricke said. “I wanted to do ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ as a wartime comedy for 10 or 15 years.”
In the original story, which happens in 16th century Italy, a group of soldiers return to their lord’s manor after fighting in a war. There, a young soldier, Claudio, falls in love with a young woman named Hero. At the same time, another couple, Benedick and Beatrice — who both claim to despise romance and marriage — are tricked by their friends into falling in love with each other.
Taylor’s production moves this story to the middle of World War II. Rather than setting it in Italy, it is about a group of American soldiers returning to their base at a country estate in England.
“It is kind of like a bunch of American soldiers meet ‘Downton Abbey,’” Ricke said.
While there is all the same romance and drama of the original story, some names and accents were changed to match the cultural differences of the show. Benedick, for example, became Benedict, and now has a Texan drawl.
The show was further personalized with music from the era. Clifton Davis, who works part-time as professor of composition, composed and recorded the music played between scenes. He drew inspiration from Hoagy Carmichael, an Indiana songwriter from the 1930s. There are several songs in the performance, which are accompanied by a live band.
The cast also has updated costumes to match the time period. Sophomore Emma Dahlquist, who is a member of the ensemble and costume shop supervisor, said a lot of work went into perfecting the look for each character.
“We have a great costume designer named Sarah Bailey, and she really created the designs for the show,” Dahlquist said. “My job as costume shop supervisor is to help bring those designs to life, so it was a lot of going places and trying to capture the essence of the era and the attitudes of each character.”
The actors have enjoyed watching their fellow performers embrace their roles and grow into their parts. The play offers plenty of enjoyable moments, from dancing onstage to fourth wall breaks.
There have also been more positive relationships than just the romantic ones. Junior Madeline Logan, who plays Beatrice, says the relationships she has developed with the other women was one of her favorite parts of the show.
“It's not often that you find such a good group of females on a stage with such camaraderie,” Logan said. “We don't have any cattiness onstage or offstage, and we can work together. We can bounce off of each other and just have a strong group of girls on the stage.”
Overall, “Much Ado” has something for everyone. Whether it’s the romance, the comedy, the classic Shakespeare or the fun of a wartime musical, audiences are sure to leave satisfied. Ricke encourages people to come opening weekend because he promises they will want to see it again.
“Much Ado About Nothing” runs Nov. 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 17 and 24 at 2 p.m.