Annette Bening joins John Lithgow in “King Lear”

The Storied Past of Shakespeare in the Park

Ever since 1961, when theatrical impresario Joseph Papp famously convinced New York City parks commissioner Robert Moses to build an outdoor amphitheater in Central Park, the Public Theater has produced the annual New York Shakespeare Festival, also known as Shakespeare in the Park, at the Delacorte Theatre.  Renowned for its unusual combination of free tickets for all, as well as highly acclaimed productions often starring household names, this outdoor festival is a rare treat for New York theatregoers.  This year, the Festival has two productions: Much Ado about Nothing and King Lear.  Though the Festival does not always feature exclusively Shakespeare, it generally has two productions in the series, and this year they are both by the Bard.  The last time that King Lear was a production of this Festival was in 1973.  Much Ado about Nothing, on the other hand, has been staged at the Delacorte three times before, most recently in 2004.

shakespeare in the park delacorte theatreJohn Lithgow Headlines King Lear

It was announced several weeks ago that King Lear, which begins performances on July 22, 2014 and runs until August 17, 2014, will star John Lithgow in the title role.  Lithgow was last seen in Shakespeare in the Park in 1975, when he played Laertes in Hamlet.  He is also well known for his work on television shows such as 3rd Rock from the Sun and Dexter, andhisfilm performances in such movies as Shrek, The World According to Garp, and Terms of Endearment.  Furthermore, he has been seen on Broadway in plays including The Columnist, M. Butterfly, Requiem for a Heavyweight, and the 2008 revival of All My Sons.  At the same time as this lead casting announcement, it was publicized that King Lear will be directed by Daniel Sullivan, who has overseen several productions at Shakespeare in the Park including The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, and The Merchant of Venice, as well as Broadway shows such as Glengarry Glen Ross and The Snow Geese.

Annette Bening Joins The Cast

Recently, an exciting piece of casting news was announced for King Lear.  Annette Bening, who was last seen on Broadway in annette bening1987 in Coastal Disturbances, will play Lear’s eldest daughter Goneril.  Bening has been nominated for four Academy Awards: for her roles in The Grifters, Being Julia, American Beauty, and The Kids Are All Right.  She has also won Golden Globe Awards for her performances in Being Julia and The Kids Are All Right.  Though she has not been since on the New York stage in over 20 years, her career originated in the theatre.  She studied at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where she played roles including Lady Macbeth.  She also has been seen onstage at the Denver Center Theatre Company, and she has recently performed at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse.  She also received a Tony Award nomination for her role in the Broadway production of Coastal Disturbances.  The other two sisters in King Lear will be played by Jessica Hecht (Regan) and Jessica Collins (Cordelia).

King Lear Follows Much Ado About Nothing in Park Season

As for the first of the two productions in Shakespeare in the Park – Much Ado about Nothing – it will star Lily Rabe as Beatrice and Hamish Linklater as Benedick, and it will be directed by Jack O’Brien (The Nance, The Coast of Utopia, Macbeth).  Much Ado about Nothing will begin performances at the Delacorte on June 3, 2014 and will run for five weeks.

Shakespeare in the Park Announces Summer Season

Jesse Tyler Ferguson

Jesse Tyler Ferguson

The Public Theater has announced the two shows that will make up its free Shakespeare in the Park season this summer at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. Unlike most seasons, which usually include one Shakespeare play along with another classic, this coming summer will boast two Shakespeare works: The Comedy of Errors and Love’s Labour’s Lost.

These comedies are among Shakespeare’s less often produced works. Directed by Daniel Sullivan, The Comedy of Errors will star two actors who often appear in Shakespeare in the Park productions: Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) and Hamish Linklater (The New Adventures of Old Christine).

Love’s Labour’s Lost will offer a totally new spin on the original play. Titled Love’s Labour’s Lost, A New Musical, the production is adapted and directed by Alex Timbers with songs by Michael Friedman. Timbers and Friedman were among the team that brought the cult favorite Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson to Broadway recently. If Bloody Bloody is any indication, their take on Shakespeare is likely to be irreverent with a contemporary twist.

The Comedy of Errors will start performances on May 28 and conclude on June 30. Love’s Labour’s Lost is scheduled to begin on July 23, closing its run on August 18. As always, Shakespeare in the Park tickets are absolutely free.

Going Into the Woods in Central Park

Into the Woods (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Into the Woods, which premiered on Broadway in 1987 and was revived on Broadway in 2002, is now going into its last week of a popular run at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.  Part of the Public Theater’s annual Shakespeare in the Park series, Into the Woods is of course not Shakespeare.  But the Public has been known to sneak a contemporary musical into its summer season every now and then, often with great results (the Shakespeare in the Park production of Hair a few years back transferred to Broadway for a respectable run).

With a score by revered composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods has carried more buzz than any Shakespeare in the Park production in recent years.  It doesn’t hurt that Oscar-nominated film actress Amy Adams (Enchanted, Julie & Julia, Doubt) is co-starring.  She plays the role of the Baker’s Wife, one half of a childless couple who must collect a series of objects in order to reverse a Witch’s curse.  They interact with numerous characters from legend in this fairy tale mash-up that features beloved characters like Cinderella, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), Little Red Ridinghood, and the Big Bad Wolf.  The big twist in Into the Woods is that, after bringing us to a happy conclusion at the end of the first act, the musical becomes quite dark in the second act as it explores the consequences of the actions each character took to achieve a “happy ending”.

This production, based on an outdoor English production from a couple years ago, is very good overall.  The set design, coupled with the naturally picturesque Central Park location, makes for an enchanting background for the musical.  A new frame story, which has a young boy serving as narrator, is a nice touch that reminds us of the power that fairy tales hold, especially for the young.

Chip Zien and Denis O’Hare (Photo by Joan Marcus)

The cast is uniformly good, with stand-outs being Jessie Mueller as Cinderella and Sarah Stiles as a hilarious Little Red.  Denis O’Hare is solid in the crucial role of the Baker, though his singing is unfortunately lacking, notably in the beautiful second-act ballad “No One Is Alone”.

A particular treat for longtime Sondheim fans is the presence of Chip Zien in the role of the Mysterious Man, who takes part in the moving duet “No More” with the Baker.  In the original Broadway production of Into the Woods, Zien played the Baker, so it is a joy to see him “graduating” to the Mysterious Man, a role that he plays with great humor and pathos.  Sondheim fans can also appreciate seeing Broadway stalwart Donna Murphy (who first made her mark in the original Broadway production of the Sondheim-scored musical Passion) in the role of the Witch, one of the musical’s most showy parts, which she plays with relish.

Due to Into the Woods‘s immense popularity, the Public Theater has already extended the run until September 1, which means you still have a week to catch it.  Tickets are absolutely free, and they are handed out at 1pm on performance days.  People have been lining up very early for this production, and we have heard that, in general, you need to arrive at Central Park before 6 or 7am if you want to actually get tickets.

There is also an online lottery that opens up each night at midnight, but, as with any lottery, there are always many more losers than winners.  Another option is to join the standby line, which generally starts forming immediately after the tickets have been handed out at 1pm.  There is no way to guarantee that you will get in via standby, but for the best chance of securing tickets that way, we would recommend arriving by 4pm.

For more information on Shakespeare in the Park, visit shakespeareinthepark.org.

Shakespeare in the Park Starts With As You Like It

One of New York City theater’s most beloved traditions, the Public Theater’s annual Shakespeare in the Park, has kicked off with the opening of the season’s first production, Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It. The play concerns lots of romantic hijinks unfolding in the forest, making Central Park’s outdoor Delacorte Theater the perfect setting on a warm summer night.

As You Like It stars several Broadway stalwarts (many of whom have been featured in previous Shakespeare in the Park productions), including Lily Rabe, Andre Braugher, Oliver Platt, and Stephen Spinella. A particularly notable element of this production, which is set in the mid-19th century American South, is that it features an original bluegrass score by Steve Martin.

The most amazing thing about the Public’s Shakespeare in the Park is that it essentially provides Broadway-level talent at the lowest possible ticket price: Free. The free tickets are distributed at the Delacorte in Central Park at 1pm on show days, and early arrival is recommended (it’s often wise to go as early as 6 or 7am, so bring a book and blanket).  Up to two tickets are available per person.

You can also try the cancellation line (arriving as early as 4 or 5pm doesn’t hurt for that), or the Virtual Ticketing online lottery at shakespeareinthepark.org.  The latter is far more convenient that waiting in line for hours, but remember that it is a lottery, so your chances of winning are pretty slim.  Whichever ticket option you choose, see it soon, because As You Like It only runs through June 30.