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Illyria: a Twelfth Night Musical

a Musical Comedy
by John R. Briggs and Eric Frampton

COMPANY : Georgia Shakespeare [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Conant Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 4315

SHOWING : June 06, 2012 - August 05, 2012



It’s cross-dressing – Shakespeare style! An assumed identity sets off a comedy of errors in this wildly funny adaptation of Shakespeare’s most musical play. Two different women grieve the loss of a brother; one swears off men, while the other puts on a pair of trousers and joins them. The show features an eclectic mix of musical styles ranging from rock and roll and country to gospel and Andrew Lloyd Webber-esque American theater classics. Don't miss this raucous, rocking good time!
*Appropriate for ages 6 and up

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Play On!
by Dedalus
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
<I>If Music be the Food of Love, Play On!</I>

�12th Night� is one of those Bardic Pleasures that sing to me no matter how often I see it, and I have seen it very often. Filled with the music of love and comedy and wit and heartfelt emotion, it never fails to find a wide range of emotional buttons to play with in my over-stimulated imagination.

Add to that the fact that I�ve enjoyed the CD of Georgia Shakespeare�s 1999 production of �Illyria� for years, and the stage is set for a whole sack-full of preconceptions, biases, and I-Can�t-Wait-To-See-It expectations before the first guitar is even strummed.

To be sure, this production was filled with �hits,� with ecstatically entertaining production numbers and �moments� and performances. I left the theatre smiling (even laughing) at lingering memory, and the songs have been ricocheting through my mind all week.

That being said, there also a few too many �misses� that I have to talk about, misses that, to my mind, may be more the result of tech-week burn-out than conscious choice (or insurmountable performance shortcoming).

<I>�What is this Land?�</I>

The short answer is, of course, Illyria, the strange and alien landscape upon which our mourning heroine, Viola, finds herself shipwrecked. The longer (and more meta) answer is that it is a mythical Arabian Nights Middle East, a purely theatrical locale in which those with scimitars consult priests and not mullahs, in which the local royalty are Counts and Countesses, not Emirs and their nameless, faceless, multiple spouses. It is a world in which the musical idiom is the panoply of American popular music, riding the range of folk, country, pop, rock, gospel, blues, and even a little Day-O pseudo-reggae.

If you don�t know the story, you should have paid more attention in English class. Viola and her twin brother are cast overboard and shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria, each thinking the other has perished. Viola disguises herself as a boy (not difficult here, since the males seem to wear tutu-esque dresses), names him(her)self Cesario, and enters the service of the Count Orsino, with whom she falls in love-at-first-sight. But Orsino is pining for the Countess Olivia, a woman who has forsworn all men due to grief over her own lost brother. Orsino sends Cesario to carry his message of love to Olivia, who immediately falls in love-at-first-sight with Cesario.

Okay, you got all that? Viola is disguised as Cesario and loves Orsino who loves Olivia who loves Cesario who is really Viola. Viola and Olivia are both mourning dead brothers, one of whom is not really dead. And let�s not even talk about Sir Toby Belch and his feud with Olivia�s steward the holier-than-thou Malvolio (�I am NOT of your element!�).

It�s a wonder there aren�t more musicals based on this story, �Play On!� and �All Shook Up� notwithstanding!

<I>�If you would laugh yourself into stitches, then follow me!�</I>

And, indeed, I often found myself laughing at the sudden and bizarre song transitions -- a tequila-soused Viola suddenly becoming a girl-band leader with �You Can�t Wait,� Feste donning a cowboy hat for the Opry-esque �Come Today Death,� a robed choir joining Feste and Malvolio for the tambourine-spangling amen-rousing �Lord Have Mercy,� and Feste (again) channeling Elvis for �Oh, Mistress Mine.� In fact, the only numbers that didn�t quite gel for me were Sir Toby�s, the drinking song �Let it Drink� (could use a lot more abandon), and the comic tango �Tango of the Blades� (could use more clarity and more, well, comedy).

The cast was made up of actors who sing, rather than musical belters, but that was fine. I thought Courtney Patterson�s 2006 Viola was a much more interesting creation than her work here, and though she has a pleasant voice (and a way with a microphone that truly works), she seemed to be �trying too hard� during the musical numbers. Joe Knezevich�s Orsino breaks no new ground or finds no new levels, despite �nailing� what I sometimes think is the best song in the show (�You�ve Never Loved�). I did enjoy Anna Kimmell�s Olivia, Megan McFarland�s Maria, and Mark Cabus�s Sir Andrew. I was (only a trifle) disappointed with Chris Kayser�s Sir Toby and Allen O�Reilly�s Malvolio, bth who were competent, but �by-the-numbers,� needing a bit more spark to truly sing to me.

The stand-out for me, though, was Travis Smith�s Feste. This is a role that sometimes disappears beneath the shenanigans filling the story, but here, he was a true troubadour, carrying the lion�s share of musical numbers with a wide range of style and tone, and building a unique characterization that made all the disparate elements hold together. This was a fine ensemble, and Mr. Smith seemed to be the glue that held it together.

I also liked the �Arabian Nights� concept that clarified the �alienness� of Illyria to Viola, giving ample opportunities for over-the-top costuming with its it-doesn�t-have-to-synch-with-any-real-historical-era style. As to the music by John Briggs, while it doesn�t have the consistent style of his �Shrew: the Musical,� it�s stew of genres becomes a style itself � it becomes the world of popular music and all the various nooks and crannies and pigeonholes into which we love to sub-divide our likes and dislikes. And it is ALL Broadway Musical, all over-the-top razzle-dazzle and can�t-get-it-out-of-my-head melody. If the few moments of singalong or clapalong fell flat with Sunday�s sleepy matinee crown, it shouldn�t have.

This is a boisterous, funny, toe-tapping retelling of an oft-told tale, one filled with song and dance, signifying not nothing, but a terrifically exciting good time. If some of the performances and numbers seemed a little tired and not-quite-there, I�m sure that a lot of that can be traced to opening-weekend exhaustion, and I trust the show will find it�s �A+� footing by mid-July.

And, if not, we�ll let Malvolio be revenged on the whole pack of them.

-- Brad Rudy (

Is a Wonderment by playgoer
"It's a wonder there aren't more musicals based on this story." ??? "Play On!" "All Shook Up." This "Illyria." A different "Illyria" from Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Eldridge Plays and Musicals' "Twelfth Night." Broadway flop "Music Is." Off-Broadway's "Love and Let Love." Off-Broadway's hit "Your Own Thing." Not to mention all the different musical scorings of the songs Shakespeare wrote the lyrics for in "Twelfth Night." Overdone!!
Lost in CyberSpeak by Dedalus
I suppose my tongue-in-cheek sarcasm got a little lost in the translation of this sentence ...
Bard Diluted
by playgoer
Monday, July 16, 2012
"Twelfth Night" is one of the easiest of Shakespeare's works to enjoy. There's both fun and heart in the predicament of Viola, cross-dressing servant of the man she secretly loves, loved in turn by the lady her master has sent her to woo in his stead. Inserting songs in the proceedings (beyond what Shakespeare scripted) adds little to the enjoyment. The varied score by John R. Briggs and Eric Frampton has its moments, particularly in act two, but it doesn't improve on Shakespeare. It dilutes the beauty of the spoken word.

The performance of Courtney Patterson as Viola is almost all anyone could wish. Her acting clearly shows her emotions and adds depth to the proceedings from the get-go. It's a charming, delightful portrayal. Her voice, while strong and true, doesn't have the gritty rock chops her solos call for. Most of the other performances seem to drive for comedy, without much depth. Ms. Patterson provides the heart of the story.

Voices are all good. Travis Smith, in the beefed-up/buffed-up role of Feste, gets particular opportunities to shine in the vocal department. Anna Kimmell, as Feste's employer Olivia, has far and away the best female voice, and an engaging stage presence. Allen O'Reilly makes the most of his solo, "M.O.A.I," as Malvolio, Olivia's steward. All the equal-opportunity singing, though, tends to muddle relationships between masters and servants. I wouldn't know Feste was supposed to be a jester except reading it in the program.

Scenic design by J. David Blatt is functional, if more busy than visually appealing. While it appears to cover the center of the stage at the start, it soon splits apart (as the ship carrying Viola and her brother Sebastian splits apart), leaving the center free for action. Lighting by Mike Post focuses action pretty well, though it tends to have light levels changing at the starts and ends of musical numbers, in tried-and-true fashion. Costumes, by Patricia M. Wesp, aren't altogether successful. A Greek folk costume style (tights and skirt with tunic and long cap) certainly makes Viola (in her disguise as Cesario) and Sebastian stand out from the more Ottoman dress of others, but it doesn't have any other resonance. Seeing a woman disguised as a man in a skirt may have sounded like a fun idea, but it gave the impression that Viola and Sebastian were peasants, not nobility, which again muddled relationships.

The comic characters surrounding the principals have a lot of stage time, adding to the general glow of cheer the production inspires. Megan McFarland is given a bouncing bosom that steals focus whenever she is onstage. Mark Cabus, with his flaxen wig, gets all the laughs Sir Andrew Aguecheek can. Chris Kayser keeps things moving as Sir Toby Belch. I also loved the extra touches Ann Marie Gideon gave to her character (a handmaiden) and the delight she took in selling the musical numbers.

Director/author John R. Briggs ensures that this watered-down "Twelfth Night" flies by easily. There's a lot of fun onstage, but it doesn't seem particularly focused on telling the story. There are a lot of entertaining distractions, but I've got to say that Shakespeare did it better. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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