Timeless romantic comedy returns under the stars

PHOTO: Ben Fon

Shakespeare Under the Stars is returning to Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens next week when the romantic, hilariously funny and magical adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing opens on The Southern Cross Lawn.

The Australian Shakespeare Company is reprising the fusion of rock imagery, pop music, sitcom and pantomime from February 23 to March 17, following their season of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Shakespearian classic is molded into a musical retelling in this production that promises to leave audiences humming its original tunes.

Australian Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Glenn Elston said it showcases the complexities of the English playwright’s work in a way that can be easily grappled with.

“Because of the musicality in it and the regular appearance of songs and and musical riffs, it makes it very palatable in terms of the storytelling,” he said.

“No one should be put off by the fact that it’s Shakespeare. It’s a great story, it’s very easy to follow and it’s very exciting.”

Elston has built Australia’s largest independent theatre company. Its productions have become a summer tradition for Melbournians who revel in the joy of theatre outdoors.

The original script for Much Ado About Nothing includes one musical number, but Elston said it was easy to follow that lead and extract more opportunities for musical storytelling.

“When I was reading it over and over, I just couldn’t help but notice so many musical references in the actual text.”

“Some of the storyline (in our adaption) is told through song but the songs are created from the text. So it’s Shakespeare talking musically.”

PHOTO: Ben Fon

There is one song in the company’s production that is quite literally a monologue converted into a musical number.

Much Ado About Nothing was performed at the same time last year to crowds who jumped at the opportunity to explore the story in an outdoor setting.

It has since been added to the VCE Year 12 syllabus which gave the company an excuse to stage it once again.

The cast stars Anna Burgess (Beatrice) who returns to her role for a second year, and Hugh Sexton (Benedict) who played Don Pedro in 2023.

“If you read the reviews for the current production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (Hugh Sexton) has had some very, very wonderful comments made about his talent,” Elston said.

He described Anna’s portrayal of Beatrice as a “sterling” performance.

Anna and Hugh will join Alex Cooper (Claudio), Larissa Teale (Hero), Elizabeth Brennan (Borachio), Heath Ovy-Law (Conrade), Nicole Nabout (Leonato), Kevin Hopkins (Antonio), Meg McKibbin (Margaret), Olivia McLeod (Ursula), Madeleine Somers (Dogberry) and Tony Rive (Verges) on stage.

Tickets are on sale now at the Australian Shakespeare Company website.

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