"It's actually one of my favorites," says Austin Shakespeare artistic director Ann Ciccolella in reference to Much Ado About Nothing. "The last time Austin Shakespeare did it was ten years ago, when I started as artistic director."
"We did it in the park [ten years ago], and I really wanted to do an indoor production, because the Rollins theatre is so intimate," she says of the current production, which is being staged at the cozy Rollins Theatre space at the Long Center.
At the heart of Much Ado is the romantic pairing of Beatrice and Benedick. "They are very argumentative with each other; they love each other but they get in their own way," says Ciccolella of the pair. She tapped veteran stage actors Gwendolyn Kelso and Marc Pouhé to play Beatrice and Benedick, after working with them as a different romantic-but-feuding couple in a recent production of Taming of the Shrew.
While Ciccolella was eager to revisit Much Ado, she was also eager to create a new and different vision for the play. One change she brought was to set it in the Belle Époque period. That decision informed not just the sets and costumes, but led her to comission original music by local composer Greg Bolin.
"I love to set Shakespeare lyrics, or text. It's just a pleasure because the meter's already there," Bolin says of the task of composing new music for the play's song "Sigh No More Ladies."
"She trusts me as a composer, I think, and as an artist," Bolin says of Ciccolella. "I knew that she was using bossa nova, Belle Époque Italy... and then I had free reign, so I came up with something that had a little Latin influence, a little Renaissance influence, a little pop influence."
Mezzo-soprano Shelley Auer will be singing in duets and trios while also appearing in Much Ado as Margaret. "It's great, as a singer, working with the composer of a piece," she says. "Becuase they're able to say 'this is what I want, this is what I don't want,' or 'let's make a change here.'"
Ciccolella is also loving the collaborative process. "As I work more and more in the theater over my lifetime, I realize that it's better to not come in with, 'it's going to be like this!'," she says. "And be open to everybody's input, so it just becomes something more and more wonderful."