Founded 25 years ago as The Grove Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare Orange County is back where it all began, after a long hiatus, and Shakespeare's lighthearted comedy is the perfect choice for its return. Under the high-spirited direction of Carl Reggiardo, this production is a genuine knockout. Set during the Italian Renaissance, Much Ado includes Shakespeare's favorite bag of tricks: colorful pageantry and folderol, heartsick love and hey-nonny-nonny, malicious villains, and mistaken identity. Adding appeal to this timeless battle of sexes are SOC's lovely set design (Trevor Norton), lighting (David C. Palmer), authentic costumes (Brenda Mercure), and music (Daniel Bryan Cartmell, Rob Williams). But it's the high quality performances that make Much Ado sparkle, and it definitely ain't for "nothing!"
Outstanding among the performances are Michael Nehring, flawless in his strong portrayal of Don Pedro; Donald Sage Mackay, perfectly cast as Benedick, the confident avowed bachelor; and Christy Yael as Beatrice, the beautiful tart-tongued spitfire. Also excellent are Robert Pescovitz as the villainous bastard brother; John Shouse as the governor of Messina and Hero's father; Joe Sanfelippo as Claudio; and Craig Wesley Brown as Dogberry, the country bumpkin constable who mangles his words with pride. From beginning to end, the play is delivered with dazzling timing. Sparks fly between the nonstop barbed witticisms of Benedick and Beatrice, and the scenes in which the two wildcats are tricked into admitting their love for each other are hilarious. Welcome home, Shakespeare Orange County; it's good to have you back again.
"Much Ado About Nothing," presented by Shakespeare Orange County at the Festival Amphitheatre, 12740 Main St., Garden Grove. Thu.-Sat. 8:15 p.m.; pre-show 7:30 p.m. July 16-31. $26. (714) 590-1575.