Kathy Cook considers herself lucky to have been asked to direct the fall show for Naugatuck Teen Theatre. Even better, she was allowed to select the Shakespeare production that they would perform. She chose her favorite comedy Much Ado About Nothing not only because it speaks to emotions everyone can relate to, but also that the spirit of the play reminds her of her cast members--boundlessly energetic, fun and full of joy. Ms. Cook (recently seen as "Miss Maple" in Murdered to Death and as the director of the wonderful Steel Magnolias) is of the opinion (and she has an opinion about everything) that the Bard's plays need to be seen, not just read, to be understood and appreciated. I completely agree and this director has succeeded mightily in making this comedy a feast for the eye and the funny bone.
The scene is set in the early 1960s in the seaside city of Messina, Sicily. The lovely and high stage at St. Michael's Episcopal Church, which conceived of and has sponsored the NTT for the past 17 years, is decorated as such. Daniel Wagoner (Production Stage Manager for Liberty at the Warner) designed and helped build and paint it and also serves as Production Stage Manager, Tech Director, and Co-Lighting Designer and Crew. The only thing he didn't do was design the costumes; more on the magic worked by Renee Purdy later. Wonderful props, some of them by Katherine Ray and many floral, add to the sunny atmosphere.
The plot of this comedy is tricky to follow and was lost on my young companion (I told him to read the synopsis before we went, but who listens to their mother/theatre critic?) That is not to say that he did not enjoy this production; he had a lot of fun watching the antics of some of his schoolmates. Ms. Cook has made sure that the actors in the background of the scenes are present in the comic action and added some running gags that kept us laughing.
I know that I should not be so impressed by the fact that these teens, some as young as twelve, mastered their lines. Of course they did; I am not so sure that I could have done so as beautifully. They clearly understood what they were saying and thanks to excellent sound production, so could the audience. The comic elements were expertly highlighted.
The dedicated and talented teens that make up the cast must be congratulated for taking on the challenge of this work. The personable NHS junior Jason Begin (Footloose, Little Shop of Horrors at WAMS) plays the villain "Don John" with conviction. Another NHS junior, Preston Bogan, is benevolent and pious as "Friar Frances" and a riot as the always-eating soldier and friend to "Don John," "Conrade." Troy Lamaric Bond, Jr., also a junior at NHS, is a regal "Don Pedro," while freshman Jake Boudreau is the smaller soldier and friend to "Don John."The always amazing WAMS junior Zach Carter (Bye Bye Birdie, Truly Dually) is spot on as "Leonato;" the master of quick changes, he also appeared as an uncredited watchman and was hysterical.
Nolan Cummings, a freshman at WAMS, took the role of town constable "Dogberry" and ran with it; his scooter riding was great. Seventh/eighth grader Sarai Genua and NHS freshman Kayla Kusy were both strong as "Watchmen/Ensemble." The very busy Daniel Dressel (The King and I) was a fine "Claudio" and Chelsea Newman was lovely as "Ursula, serving woman to "Hero." WAMS sophomore Mackenzie Huneke (Bye Bye Birdie, Seussical) stood out as "Margaret." Michael Newman, a sophomore, is a strong "Antonio," brother to "Leonato." Brad Rotatori is the perfect comic foil for Mr. Cummings as his deputy "Verges." NHS junior Angie Taccariello (Seussical) is star material as "Beatrice," and the lovely freshman at Watertown high school Kristen VanDerlyn is a natural as "Hero." Finally, NHS senior (definitely not possible, since I had him as a first grade student in what feels like last year) Evan Merrill has developed into an amazing actor and displays all his skills in the wonderful role of confirmed bachelor "Benedick."
And on to the costumes...Renee Purdy has done an excellent job of capturing the early 1960s for all the actors. The perfect amount of petticoats under lush dresses, vintage ladies' hats for the first wedding scene, and for the second, beautiful white (taffeta?) wedding dresses with matching bow veils graced the young ladies. The young men sported uniforms, the perfect white suit for Mr. Carter, and a perfectly "bad" beach ensemble for Mr. Merrill. The young actresses in line at the back of the theatre as the audience filed out clearly loved their dresses and so did I.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention two other compliments; the beauty of the internet is that I can add them after I post my review. I really enjoyed the quirky mix of music that played during set changes; old and new pieces were carefully chosen to bring a smile. Also, the choreography was not credited, so I think the director must have helped the cast with their simple yet effective steps. Well done.
Much Ado About Nothing runs next weekend (weather permitting.)
November 1st Student's special! 7:00 performance with tickets for $5!
November 2nd at 8:00 (back to $15) November 3rd at 8:00 November 4th at 2:00. Go and support Naugatuck Teen Theatre and enjoy a bit of Shakespeare right here in Naugatuck.