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N.C. State University Center Stage: Much Ado About Nothing and Return to the Forbidden Planet Are a Delightful Double Feature for Triangle Theatergoers

March 22, 2006 - Raleigh, NC:


Trivia Question: What Shakespeare play might well have inspired the “Seinfeld” television series? Answer: Much Ado About Nothing.

It is irrelevant whether stand-up comic Jerry Seinfeld was thinking about English playwright William Shakespeare’s rib-tickling 1598-99 romantic comedy when he was creating his long-running series about “nothing.” Much Ado About Nothing is a great idea for a comedy, and Shenandoah Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Stage Company — brought to Raleigh earlier this week by N.C. State University Center Stage — takes the Immortal Bard’s scintillating script and turns it into a veritable laff riot, with 1940s-style British military uniforms and women’s fashions (deftly designed by Kimberly G. Moss) and Top 40 tunes from the Forties (performed live on acoustic instruments) providing icing on the cake for this delectable tale of romance and deception in old Messina.

Blackfriars Stage Company (née the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express), which is always an audience favorite at Triangle universities, made a triumphant return to NCSU’s Stewart Theatre and earned a pair of standing raucous ovations for its brilliant back-to-back performances of the classic comedy Much Ado About Nothing (March 21st) and Bob Carlton’s uproarious rock-and-roll musical Return to the Forbidden Planet (March 22nd), which was inspired by Shakespeare’s valedictory play, The Tempest (1611), as well as that play’s vintage science-fiction film adaptation Forbidden Planet (1956).

Much Ado About Nothing, directed with great style and wit by Jacquelyn Bessell, starred Tyler Moss and Alyssa Wilmoth as Benedick and Beatrice, a confirmed bachelor and the disdainful niece of Leonato (Tom Loughlin), the Governor of Messina. The vicious verbal jousting of Beatrice and Benedick, which echoes the barbed badinage of Katharina (Kate) and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew (1590-94), is hilarious, and so is their comic courtship after their friends separately trick each of them into believing that each secretly loves the other.

Olivia Braza and especially Gregory Jon Phillips are likewise entertaining as Leonato’s daughter and Beatrice’s best friend Hero and Benedick’s boon companion Claudio. Claudio and Hero fall in love at first sight and make plans to be married until the jealous bastard Don John (Kevin Perri) tricks Claudio and his commander Don Pedro (Daniel Carlton) into believing that Hero, a virtuous lass and a true innocent, is a wanton woman carrying on a torrid affair with licentious Borachio (Andrew Gorrell).

Alyssa Wilmoth and Tyler Moss are terrific as Beatrice and Benedick; Gregory Jon Phillips and Daniel Carlton are highly amusing as Claudio and Daniel Carlton; Kevin Perri and Jessica Marcus are thoroughly hissable as the evil Don John and the wanton Margaret, Hero’s lascivious gentlewoman whom Borachio easily seduces; and Tom Loughlin and Olivia Braza are good as Leonato and Hero.

Andrew Gorrell plays a saint (Friar Francis) and a notoriously unrepentant sinner (Borachio) with equal verve. Christopher Seiler doubles delightfully as Leonato’s brother Antonio and the bumbling constable Dogberry, Messina’s hysterically funny Mr. Malaprop. Kevin Perri is a delight as Dogberry’s dim-bulb buddy Verges; and Loughlin, Moss, and Wilmoth are a stitch as the inept but high-spirited Watch, whom Dogberry commands.

Return to the Forbidden Planet, superlatively staged by director Jim Warren and flamboyantly costumed by Kimberly Morris and her assistant Erin M. West, stars Gregory Jon Phillips as the straight-arrow Captain Tempest of the ill-omened starship Albatross, Jessica Marcus as the ship’s haughty new Science Officer and Tempest’s nemesis; Tom Loughlin as the mad scientist Prospero, Alyssa Wilmoth as his beautiful virginal daughter Miranda, and Tyler Moss as their roller-skating goofball robot Ariel.

The plot, such as it is, is a combination of choice comic elements from The Tempest and Forbidden Planet; but mainly it is an occasion for cutting the fool that lives up to the troupe’s motto, “We do it with the lights on,” and an opportunity for performing highly animated acoustic versions of a series of rock-and-roll and rhythm-and-blues golden oldies, such as “Wipeout,” “It’s a Man’s World,” “Good Vibrations,” “The Shoop, Shoop Song,” and “Only the Lonely.”

Gregory Jon Phillips is a scream as the stolid starship captain, and Alyssa Wilmoth gives an enchanting performance as Miranda. But it is Tyler Moss who steals the show with his outrageous loose-limbed antics as Ariel. Daniel Carlton, who plays Cookie, also contributes a choice comic characterization as an incurable romantic who foolishly tumbles head over heels for Miranda.

Tom Loughlin is a real wild and crazy guy as the mad scientist Prospero, exiled to the inhospitable backwater Planet Deliria by his horrified wife Gloria, after she discovers the true nature of his mind-bending experiments. Jessica Marcus is appropriately tart as the ship’s Science Officer; and Christopher Seiler and Sarah Bowles are amusing as Bosun Arras and Navigation Officer Tanya Hyde. This must-see musical comedy’s humor is also heightened by crackerjack comic characterizations by Olivia Braza as Gorgon Zola, Andrew Gorell as Eddie Setgo, and Kevin Perri as B.B. Gunz, the devilish denizens of the starship’s Damage Control Crew.

N.C. State University Center Stage: http://www.ncsu.edu/centerstage/. Shenandoah Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Stage Company: http://www.americanshakespearecenter.com/touring/ [inactive 8/08]. Much Ado About Nothing: http://www.americanshakespearecenter.com/touring/cast.php?id=46 [inactive 8/08]. Return to the Forbidden Planet: http://www.americanshakespearecenter.com/touring/cast.php?id=45 [inactive 8/08].