The Davis Shakespeare Festival

This summer, the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble brings the classic comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” and the charming romantic musical, “She Loves Me” to the stage at the Veterans Memorial Theater.

During the curtain speech on Saturday, artistic director Gia Battista said that the festival’s creative staff curated these two shows to pair together specifically, meant to complement each other for a rich festival experience.

Both shows feature largely the same cast, with the addition of one extra woman for “She Loves Me.” Much of the press hubbub over the festival has focused on the inclusion of two Actors Equity Association members on the shows’ rosters. It was a delight to see our local community actors hold their own against the pair of New York veterans (and even surpass them in some regards).

The production of “Much Ado About Nothing” is really stellar. The set and lighting is beautiful, and the actors’ delivery of Shakespeare’s dialogue is so clear and well-performed that the audience was laughing at all the jokes, sighing at all the romance, and tense when the action heats up. The show’s pacing is particularly good during the comedic banter – the energy falls a little when the plot takes a sinister turn, but picks right back up once things get back on the right track.

Larua Baronet’s portrayal of Hero is sweet, and Ian Hopps as Claudio is very nice playing beside her. Matt Edwards (one of the Equity actors) as Benedick is very good, and Susanna Risser as Beatrice steals the show with her fantastic quips and great comedic timing. She gets the laughs without overdoing it.

The inclusion of live music in this production, with the band playing the city watch as well as their respective instruments, is a nice addition (as well as a nod to the productions of the Elizabethan era where music and dancing were regularly written into the performances).

The Ensemble’s performance of “She Loves Me” is their first foray as a company into musical theater territory, and is a strong premier attempt. “She Loves Me” has been called one of the most charming musicals ever written, and I wholeheartedly agree. With well-written dialogue, excellently- composed music, clever lyrics, fun characters, and a nice little story, the show has it all.

Laura Baronet (Hero from “Much Ado”) plays Amalia Balash. She has a lovely singing voice and brings a lot of spark to the character. Ian Hopps plays Georg Nowak, the play’s male lead.

A surprising highlight of the show is John Haine, who plays Ladislav Sipos, one of the clerks at the parfumerie where much of the show’s action takes place. Haine’s unassuming and straightforward Sipos is a great contrast to some of the more over-the-top characters, and is really quite charming. I absolutely loved his solo song, “Perspective.” Tim Gaffany’s performance as the Waiter (featured in “A Romantic Atmosphere”) was very good as well.

Overall, these productions are a great effort on the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble’s part, and a well-done premier festival. I look forward to seeing what they’ll have in store for audiences in the next year.

More information and the festival performance schedule can be found HERE.

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