New York City, NY

The Great Tradition Of Free Theater In Central Park Returns With Shakespeare In The Park

Jeryl Brunner

Since 1962, over five million people have enjoyed more than 150 free productions of Shakespeare and other classical works and musicals at The Delacorte Theater as part of Shakespeare in The Park.

The Public Theater’s founder Joseph Papp dreamed of a way to make great theater accessible to all. Even all these years later Shakespeare in the Park continues to be free for all and is the bedrock of The Public Theater's mission to increase access and engage the community.

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Shola Adewusi and company rehearse for the Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Merry WivesJoan Marcus

This beloved summer tradition of seeing Shakespeare In The Park was on interrupted for the first time ever during Covid-19. However, beginning July 6 The Delacorte will re-open with the play Merry Wives which will run through September 18.

“We are thrilled with the news that we will be able to welcome far more New Yorkers into The Delacorte than was previously possible. What better sign that New York is returning than our theater in Central Park full of laughter, applause, and excitement,” said the Public Theater’s Artistic Director Oskar Eustis.

“The Governor's decree to lift restrictions acknowledges a beautiful reality. We are finally starting to recover from Covid-19,” added Eustis. “And how gorgeous that when we gather, we’ll be in the most democratic of civic spaces. Shakespeare in the Park is free because the culture belongs to everyone. From July 6 on, there will be a rousing acknowledgement of that truth every night at our beautiful theater. We're back. Let us come together.”

This joyous adaptation of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor is set in South Harlem with an all-black staging. The action takes place amidst a vibrant and eclectic community of West African immigrants. It is a raucous spinoff featuring the Bard’s most beloved comic characters. This hilarious farce tells the story of the trickster Falstaff and the wily wives who outwit him in a new celebration of Black joy, laughter, and vitality.

Adapted by award-winning playwright Jocelyn Bioh, Merry Wives is directed by The Public’s Associate Artistic Director and Resident Director Saheem Ali. With the lifting of New York State’s COVID-19 restrictions, The Delacorte Theater’s seating capacity will be significantly increased to 1468 seats or approximately 80% with both full capacity and physically distanced sections to allow more New Yorkers to attend Merry Wives.

The all-Black cast of Merry Wives will include Abena (Anne Page), Shola Adewusi (Mama Quickly), Gbenga Akinnagbe (Mister Nduka Ford), Pascale Armand (Madam Ekua Page), MaYaa Boateng (Fenton/Simple), Phillip James Brannon (Pastor Evans), Brandon E. Burton (Ensemble), Joshua Echebiri (Slender/Pistol), Branden Lindsay (Ensemble), Ebony Marshall-Oliver (Ensemble), Jarvis D. Matthews (Ensemble), Jacob Ming-Trent (Falstaff), Jennifer Mogbock (Ensemble), Julian Rozzell Jr. (Shallow), Kyle Scatliffe (Mister Kwame Page), David Ryan Smith (Doctor Caius), and Susan Kelechi Watson (Madam Nkechi Ford).

During Shakespeare in the Park’s 59-year history, The Merry Wives Of Windsor has appeared on The Delacorte stage only twice before. It was last seen in 1994, directed by Daniel Sullivan and featuring Brian Murray as Falstaff, Tonya Pinkins as Mistress Ford, David Alan Grier as Master Frank Ford, and Andrea Martin as Mistress Quickly. The first production at The Delacorte was in 1974, directed by David Margulies and featuring Barnard Hughes as Sir John Falstaff, Cynthia Harris as Mistress Ford, and Danny DeVito as John Rugby.

Tickets to Merry Wives are free. This year, free tickets will be distributed, two per person, entirely via an advanced digital lottery hosted by new partner Goldstar. The lottery will accept entries through the Goldstar app and website each Tuesday and Friday, until 12pm ET, one week prior to the next week’s scheduled performances, beginning Tuesday, June 29.

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The company in rehearsal for the Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Merry Wives, adapted by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Saheem AliJoan Marcus

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The company in rehearsal for Merry WivesJoan Marcus

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New York based journalist who has written for Forbes, Parade, InStyle, National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and The Wall Street Journal. Author of the book "My City, My New York, Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places" and podcaster, ("When Lightning Strikes"). I cover the arts, theater, entertainment, food, travel and people who are motivated by their joy and passion.

New York City, NY
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