Huzzah! The Zephyr Theatre is presenting Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” a clever, crowd-pleasing piece of professional theatre. No small feat in the middle of a pandemic.

This is the fourth year the downtown Stillwater theatre has staged Shakespeare in the Park. It’s the first year the event has been dubbed Shakespeare in the Park…ing Lot and is delivered on the theatre’s property, where seating is spread out and capacity is limited to 250.

In this comedy, Beatrice (Anna Hermanson) and Benedick (Taylor Evans) are tricked into love. Villainous Don John (Jeromy Darling) sabotages love. Claudio (Raul Arambula) and Hero (Morgan Mulford) lose love. Don Pedro (Edwin Strout) and his cohorts conspire to resurrect it.

“It is a ton of fun,” agreed Ami Vanderheiden and Steven Posthumus, both of Maple Grove, who were part of the opening-night audience, about 150 people, on Aug. 22. They said they enjoyed watching the actors maintain social distancing, turning compliance into a bit of an inside joke.

When lovers danced together, they synchronized their footwork on opposite sides of the stage. When they reconciled, they blew kisses through the air. When scofflaws were arrested and transported, they were “handcuffed” to each other — with a long pole between them.

It’s easy to believe the bard would have appreciated the addition to the cast. Wearing a massively curly wig and honking a horn, the new character, Harpo (Alan Frechtman), was the compliance constable. Silently but insistently, he used long boards and a tape measure to playfully remind actors — and the audience — to stay apart.

Director Randal Berger was mindful of the distance between his actors and skillfully used all the space the theatre had to offer. Actors perched, lounged, trotted up and rolled down the five stairways connected to the temporary outdoor stage facing the south parking lot. Benedick disappeared into the trolley car to the east of the stage. Beatrice crouched behind a traffic sign on the west. Constables marched up the porte-cochere ramp and rode their steeds in the driveway.

“That clever distancing added to the production,” said Claire Sand of Stillwater, another opening-night audience member. “The staging was expansive.”

With another nod to coronavirus rules, all the actors wore bandanas, which complemented their costumes on stage and doubled as face masks backstage.

The actors also wore microphones, another smart move. They were competing with Main Street evening traffic, particularly the roar of a few passing motorcycles, but almost always were easy to hear.

For Don and Judy Maurer of Stillwater, crisp sound was a huge plus. These sustaining members also saw a lot to like. “The actors were wonderful, very professional,” they said. “As good as the Guthrie.”

The Zephyr — like almost all theatres in the Twin Cities — had been closed for weeks during the coronavirus crisis. The outdoor stage has been booked with musical events during some summer weekends, but “Much Ado About Nothing” is the first stage production The Zephyr has presented this year.

“Much Ado About Nothing” will be presented at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 27 and Aug. 28 and 1 p.m. Aug. 29 and Aug. 30 on the outdoor stage at The Zephyr Theatre, 601 Main St. N., Stillwater. Please pay what you can. Capacity is 250. Seating provided. Social distancing observed. Masks required inside, recommended outside. For more information, go to stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org.

Limited premium front-row box seating, by reservation only, is $150 for a box for 4 people and $100 for a box for 2 people. To reserve box seats, email boxoffice@stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org.

Events 

Restaurant expo, Sept. 20

On Sept. 20, when the theatre hosts an outdoor restaurant expo, the entertainment will be all about food and drink.

This first-time event for the theatre “is a great way to create a relationship with multiple Stillwater restaurants while providing a fun community-minded event,” said Jessica Thienes, the Zephyr’s development director.

Event-goers will get to sample food and drink from featured restaurants, still to be named. They also will get to witness a “chopped”-style cooking competition, starring area chefs, and the final heat in the Bartender Olympics — both projected for easy viewing on a large outdoor screen.

“We also are using this event as an opportunity to officially announce our partnerships with Lift Bridge Brewing Co. and Tattersall Distillery,” Thienes said. Both companies have committed to an ongoing relationship with The Zephyr.

The restaurant expo starts at 4 p.m. Sept. 20 in the parking lot at The Zephyr Theatre, 601 Main St. N., Stillwater. General admission is $10. Social distancing observed. Masks required inside, recommended outside.

Fundraising gala, Sept. 25

The Zephyr Theatre’s 2020 fundraising gala is labeled Let the Art Move You, and for good reason. The event will be progressive.

Gala-goers will begin and end the evening at the theatre, and they will visit three other downtown Stillwater entertainment locations. Small groups of guests will hop on and off a Stillwater Trolley at the Lumberjack Bar, Matchstick Restaurant, and the Andiamo Showboat docked on the St. Croix River. At each destination, specialty food, drink, and entertainment will greet them.

Each venue will feature “a variety of artistic expressions throughout the night, highlighting the importance and impact of art in our lives,” Thienes said.

Let the Art Move You, The Zephyr’s 2020 fundraising gala, will be held Sept. 25 at The Zephyr Theatre, 601 Main St. N., Stillwater. The progessive gala has six time slots, every half-hour beginning at 4 p.m. Each time slot is limited to 20 guests and will last for approximately 3 hours. Tickets are $75. When purchasing tickets, please select a time slot. stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org.

Concerts

Back Up & Push, Aug. 30

Steeped in the music of first-generation bluegrass visionaries, the four members of Back Up & Push bring a forceful and vibrant enthusiasm to the stage. Their sound — vocals accompanied by guitar, fiddle, banjo, and bass — is straight-forward and unvarnished traditional bluegrass.

Back Up & Push will perform from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 30 on the outdoor stage at The Zephyr Theatre, 601 Main St. N., Stillwater. Tickets are $20. Purchase tickets online until 4 p.m. Aug. 30 at stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org. Walk-up ticket sales begin at 5 p.m. Aug. 30. Seating provided. Social distancing observed. Masks required inside, recommended outside.

The Jorgensens, Sept. 5

The Jorgensens — Kurt Jorgensen and Brianna Tagg-Jorgensen — are Twin Cities-based songwriters and performers. Their music is rooted in rock, blues, pop, and soul.

The Jorgensens will perform from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 5 on the outdoor stage at The Zephyr Theatre, 601 Main St. N., Stillwater. Walk-up reservations start at 5 p.m. Please pay what you can. Seating provided. Social distancing observed. Masks required inside, recommended outside.

Mario Carboni & Norm Hamlet With Mark Wayne, Sept. 12

Mario Carboni started playing keyboards when he was 9 and is now known as the Honky-Tonk Rebel. Norm Hamlet, a steel guitarist, performed with Merle Haggard for 49 years. With Mark Wayne, a singer and steel guitarist, the threesome entertains with vocals, piano, and pedal steel guitar.

This performance is sponsored by Midwest Country Music Organization, BOB Total Country 105.5, 106.1, 107.5, Stillwater Motors, and MedLegalMD.

Mario Carboni & Norm Hamlet with Mark Wayne will perform at 5 p.m. Sept. 12 on the outdoor stage at The Zephyr Theatre, 601 Main St. N., Stillwater. Tickets are $25. Purchase tickets online until 3 p.m. Sept. 12 at stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org. Walk-up ticket sales begin at 4 p.m. Sept. 12. Seating provided. Social distancing observed. Masks required inside, recommended outside.

Phil Thompson presents “Elton & Billy: The Hits,” Sept. 19

Pop pianist and vocalist Phil Thompson returns to The Zephyr to perform a night full of Billy Joel’s and Elton John’s biggest hits, including “Crocodile Rock,” “Movin’ Out,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “My Life,” “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” “Rocket Man,” “Your Song,” “Daniel,” and, of course, ”Piano Man.”

Thompson will perform from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 19 on the outdoor stage at The Zephyr Theatre, 601 Main St. N., Stillwater. Tickets are $25. Purchase tickets online until 4 p.m. Sept. 19 at stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org. Walk-up ticket sales begin at 5 p.m. Sept. 19. Seating provided. Social distancing observed. Masks required inside, recommended outside.

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