Jimmy Smits and Kristen Johnston inMuch Ado About Nothing(Photo © Michal Daniel)
Jimmy Smits and Kristen Johnston in
Much Ado About Nothing
(Photo © Michal Daniel)
The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park is one of New York City's great traditions. Since the recent change from two free summer productions to one, however, the pressure has been on to make sure that each individual show at the Delacorte Theater is something really special. Given the glorious history of these often star-studded shows, the bar of expectations has been set exceedingly high. Much Ado About Nothing, directed by David Esbjornson and starring Kristen Johnston, Jimmy Smits, Sam Waterston, and Brian Murray, may not jump over that bar but neither does it do the limbo underneath it. Directed and acted with verve, and with a keen eye toward accessibility, this is a pleasing if lightweight presentation of the play.

We'll spare you the plot synopsis. You're welcome. Now, here are the reasons why you should see it. First, there's Sam Waterston's towering performance (particularly in the second act) as Hero's father, Leonato. Better still, we get to see him play father to his own real life daughter, Elisabeth Waterston (Hero). Though her voice seems ill-suited to Shakespeare, young Waterston acts the role with considerable conviction. Kristen Johnston has a deliciously deep voice and a droll delivery; she was born to play Beatrice. Jimmy Smits, who trades barbs with her as Benedick, plays the part broadly but with an audience-pleasing prance; his foray into the crowd at one point brilliantly reinforces his appeal. Then there's Brian Murray's demented Dogberry, a study in stupidity. The great Murray can always be counted upon for a superior performance.

But the real star of the show is Esbjornson, who directs the production with a playful sense of fun. To his credit, he also gives the drama in Shakespeare's work its full due. When Hero is wrongfully slandered and rejected by Claudio (Lorenzo Pisoni), there is no holding back of pain, anger, or defiance on the part of the actors. Dominic Chianese as Hero's uncle Antonio is outstanding as he gallantly flails his cane at Claudio. So, too, at this point do Smits and Johnston expertly intertwine their comedy with a seriousness of purpose. In short, this is a handsome production that lights up the night in Central Park.

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Jon Peterson
Jon Peterson
Give Your Regards to George M. Cohan

Chip Deffaa has done the musical theater a great service by reminding us of its roots with The George M. Cohan Revue. The show, currently playing at Danny's Skylight Room, was conceived, written, and directed by Deffaa. While it is not without its detours and dull spots, its pleasures certainly outweigh its flaws.

A pared-down version of a pre-existing show, the revue still has a bit too much book in it and too many characters (eight, inclusive of a delightful performance by the show's musical director, Michael Lavine). But the energetic performances of nearly 60 songs of varying length and fame, and the history behind those songs, give the show a lift. So does the talent and charm of the actor playing Cohan: Jon Peterson, a gifted singer-dancer-actor with a winsome way that pulls you right into his character and into the show.

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Mychelle Colleary
Mychelle Colleary
Celebrating with Music

We caught Mychelle Colleary's celebration of Bastille Day (July 14) at the Cornelia Street Café. In this funky French jazz show, Colleary stormed the Bastille with songs that had hilariously tenuous connections to her theme. Hey, Colleary was performing in Greenwich Village, so there was no reason to expect an evening of Aznavour, Brel, Trenet, Piaf, etc. Instead, we were treated to "Black Coffee," by Paul Francis Webster and Sonny Burke -- because it was reportedly written in France. There was also "It's All Right With Me," by Cole Porter -- a number from Can-Can, which is set in Paris. Our favorite was "Que Sera Sera," by Jay Livingston & Ray Evans: The song has a Spanish title but Colleary included it because it was sung in Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, a "film noir."

Dressed in (among other things) black fishnet stockings and red hi-top sneakers, Colleary was as unique in performance as she was in her song selections. She put over a delicious French pop tune from the 1970s, "New York avec toi," that dished New York; a little-known French tune by Kurt Weill, "Je ne t'aime pas"; and one Piaf classic, "La vie en rose." She put her own spin on these and other songs in a richly creative collaboration with pianist-accordionist John De Pinto and bass player Ritt Henn. Simply put, c'etait magnifique.

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Marta Sanders
Marta Sanders
Sanders Shines at Soon-to-Close Regents

Marta Sanders is a good-time girl: Whenever she performs, the audience has a good time. She proved this once again at Regents' brunch show last Sunday afternoon. Bold and brassy, she poached the crowd with her very first numbers, a combination of tunes from Gypsy. Then she scrambled their expectations with her comic patter, before frying them with her ability to make them laugh themselves silly with a number like "Gristedes" and then move them to tears with a poignant "Wonderful World." In keeping with the concept of this being a wonderful world, Marta Sanders will be back for the brunch this coming Sunday at 2pm at Regents (317 East 53rd Street).

The bad news about Regents is that it will be closing its doors on Sunday, August 15. Regulars of this homey haven for piano bar aficionados will miss it dearly. But according to the club's effervescent manager, Kelly Briggs, whose warm and engaging personality put such a stamp on the club, there is some good news: Regents' wildly popular Sunday cabaret brunch will move directly across the street to Caterina's at 316 East 53rd. Briggs will continue to book the talent for the weekly event, John McMahon will continue to musical direct it, the Regents chef will prepare the menu, and the same staff will serve (presumably) the same loyal patrons. Briggs promises that Caterina's will become a MAC member club and says that he intends to bring other cabaret-type activities to the new venue.

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]