You probably know Lyle Lovett as a singer/songwriter whose Texas bluesy folk style has won him four Grammy awards. Or maybe from his film and television roles. Now Lovett’s trying something a little different — Shakespeare.
Lovett is performing with a star-studded cast in the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles production of "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Under the direction of Ben Donenberg, it's the first time in the company’s 25-year history that the Shakespeare Center has staged a production indoors. It opened Dec. 1 and runs through Dec. 19.
Lovett and Donenberg met a few years ago and the director invited the musician to be part of this production, even though Lovett had commitments up through the beginning of this month — and despite the fact that this is the “first time I’ve ever been in a play, really,” he says.
Lovett had just three days to rehearse before joining the production on Dec. 10.
“The cast has been incredibly generous,” he says. “They’ve been rehearsing for well over a month and don’t need to rehearse any more, but they’ve been really generous in coming in for me in the afternoons and guiding me through the show.”
Lovett continues to be in awe of his co-stars, including Helen Hunt and Tom Irwin, and he calls Donenberg a wonderful teacher.
“Ben Donenberg makes Shakespeare accessible and understandable for us guys who don’t know a lot about Shakespeare,” says Lovett. “Ben has just such a wonderful way of explaining the plays and showing the real life that happens through all those words and explaining the world play.”
Donenberg sets this story about two couples who are tricked in and out — and back in — of love in a California vineyard. He underscores the setting with Lovett’s music performed live each night. Playing along with Lovett are Sara and Sean Watkins of the band Nickel Creek.
“I did make up one song specifically for the play,” says Lovett. “But Ben took existing songs of mine and worked them into the script. To see Ben’s take on my songs and how they fit into Shakespeare's words is really something to me. It’s quite an honor to have my songs right in the middle of a great work like ‘Much Ado.’”
Lovett calls the whole experience something like “acting fantasy camp.” As a musician, he’s no stranger to the stage, but it’s been fun, he says, to watch the process of mounting a Shakespearian play. He also feels the pressure to hold his own amongst the talented cast.
“Never in my life did I think I’d be standing on stage in the middle of a real Shakespeare production singing one of my songs. As I looked around the stage today at rehearsal, I imagined what it will feel like this evening looking out into the audience. I feel really grateful.”