Anne Hathaway shines in Shakespeare debut

Gotham stages have seen their share of major productions of “Twelfth Night” in the past two decades, but few of them have managed to entirely woo the New York critics. The Public Theater’s latest staging, featuring Anne Hathaway in her professional Shakespeare debut, came closer to unanimous approval than most.

It follows two relatively recent, starry appearances of the romantic comedy on the same Delacorte Theater stage in Central Park — a 2002 production with Jimmy Smits, Julia Stiles, Oliver Platt and Zach Braff; and a 1989 run with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeff Goldblum and Gregory Hines — as well as a 1998 Lincoln Center Theater outing with Helen Hunt, Kyra Sedgwick and Paul Rudd.

Daniel Sullivan’s new production for Shakespeare in the Park opened June 25, flanking Hathaway with such New York stage regulars as Raul Esparza, Audra McDonald, David Pittu, Michael Cumpsty, Julie White, Jay O. Sanders and Hamish Linklater.

Here’s what the critics said:

  •  Variety‘s David Rooney gave the entire production — cast, direction, music by indie ensemble Hem and design elements — a stellar review: “There’s a bewitching confidence in the creation of mood and atmosphere here that makes Shakespeare’s melancholy comic exploration of the twisty paths and regenerative power of love, in all its mysteriousness and recklessness, truly soar.” He also singled out Hathaway as “thoroughly winning and accomplished.”

  • Charles Isherwood of the New York Times declared the Central Park production “the most consistently pleasurable the city has seen in at least a decade,” saying of its leading lady: “Hathaway possesses the unmistakable glow of a natural star, but she dives smoothly and with obvious pleasure into the embrace of a cohesive ensemble cast.”

  • Lamenting that the production isn’t scheduled for a move to Broadway, the AP’s Michael Kuchwara applauded Sullivan’s work: “This revival practically floats through the night air at the outdoor Delacorte Theater where a sterling ensemble shines in the Bard’s blissful take on mismatched romances and the things besotted creatures do for love, both real or imagined.”

  • Echoing that enthusiasm, David Cote of Time Out New York said, “There’s not a weak link in this buoyant, musical delight.”

  • Newsday’s Linda Winer also lavished high praise on the show: “(Hathaway) is far from the only allure in Daniel Sullivan’s luscious and nutty dreamboat of a production — the sort of sure-handed combination of glitz and grace that Joseph Papp must have imagined for his audacious free Shakespeare in the Park.”

  • The Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli was more mixed in her assessment, but approved of the casting of Hathaway, the production’s major draw: “She may not unearth any new nuances in the part, but it’s also difficult not to bask in her contagious enthusiasm.”

  • While he gave high marks to the leads, Bloomberg’s John Simon came down on the cooler side among reviewers, finding the production lacking in darker undertones: “This ‘Twelfth Night’ is mostly for gushing innocents or indulgent sophisticates; those in between had better beware.”

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