REVIEW — In addition to excellent performances, music reigns supreme in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of Shakepeare’s “Twelfth Night,” a show that’s perfect for anyone who enjoy whimsy, farce and love.
From the onset of the endearing and timeless comedy of “Twelfth Night,” the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production sets the tone – quite literally – with music, as a merry bunch of players takes the stage singing the words of Shakespeare and inviting the audience into a rich world of imagination that weaves a musical theme throughout.
It is a fitting way to start the production for director Sam White, who said in the director notes that her love of Shakespeare came from a punishment for listening to the wrong music.
“When I was eight years old my mother introduced me to Shakespeare by giving me ‘The Complete Works’ as a punishment for listening to rap music after she had emphatically told me that it was not allowed in our home,” she said.
White went on to explain in her notes that by the time she became a teenager, she grew to love the book of Shakespeare’s plays and allowed them to thrive in her imagination.
White’s pure joy in the language and stories of William Shakespeare shines in “Twelfth Night” as she deftly stitches together Shakespeare’s mad-cap comedy of mistaken identity, cross-dressing, dressing cross-gartered and, of course, love into a tale that almost anyone could understand and appreciate.
For proof of this, as a mother and a firm advocate of introducing children to theater, I brought my 10-year-old son, who, with a little bit of background on the story, was easily able to follow this production of “Twelfth Night.” I often looked over to see him doubled over laughing, and he even once shouted out loud, “oh, burn,” at one of Shakespeare’s famous insults.
A story where every character plays their part in the chaos
In “Twelfth Night,” twins Viola (played by Sarah Hollis) and Sebastian (Tristan Turner) are separated when their ship wrecks. Viola finds herself stranded in Illyria. Fearing that her brother is dead, she decides to disguise herself as a man named Cesario and enters the service of Duke Orsino (René Thorton Jr.), who is in love with Olivia (Betsy Mugavero).
Olivia is being courted both by Orsino and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Josh Jeffers), but she has sworn off men for seven years while she mourns for her own dead brother. Olivia has taken on the clothing of mourning and spends her time shut up with only the people of her household, which include her uncle Sir Toby Belch (Todd Denning), her chamber maid Maria (Katie Cunningham), her steward Malvolio (Chris Mixon) and her fool Feste (Trent Dahlin).
But Olivia shows her fickle side when she suddenly falls for Viola/Cesario, who was sent to woo Olivia on behalf of the Duke.
And here is how it all plays out: Orsino is in love with Olivia, Olivia is in love with Cesario (whom she thinks is a man), Viola is in love with the Duke (who doesn’t know she is a woman), Malvolio finds himself in love with being in love, and Feste, Maria, Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek are in love with playing tricks on everyone and each other.
Things really get complicated when Sebastian, who didn’t die in the shipwreck, finds his way to Illyria.
Without a doubt, “Twelfth Night” is an ensemble production; every character, from the musicians to the fool to the lovers, plays their part in the chaos.
Cunningham, Hollis and Mugavero each play a very distinct type of woman in this production. Cunningham’s Maria is full of mischief and mayhem, Mugavero’s Olivia is dramatic and silly and Hollis’s Viola is both manly and effeminate.
Providing laughs upon laughs are Jeffers, Denning and Dahlin, whose physical comedy is just as brilliant as their grasp of the bawdy and bodily side of Shakespeare.
All that said, it is Mixon as a hilarious Malvolio who steals the show and the stage. His transformation from serious and sullen steward to yellow-stocking wearing silliness is pure genius.
The show is complemented by beautiful scenic design by Apollo Mark Weaver, featuring giant statues of twin gods Artemis and Apollo, which White said evokes the affinity of twins Viola and Sebastian but is also used to great comedic effect. And of course, there’s the music, with score and sound design by Lindsay Jones and music director Brandon Scott Grayson.
As Duke Orsino famously says, “If music be the food of love, play on.” And so it should. Play on, Utah Shakespeare Festival, play on.
“Twelfth Night” is appropriate for all ages and plays on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. in the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre through Sept. 7. Tickets vary by seating section and can be purchased online, by calling 1-800-752-9849 (1-800-playtix) or at the box office at the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.
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- What: Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Twelfth Night.”
- When: Twelfth Night plays on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. until Sept. 7.
- Where: Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts, Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, 195 W. Center Street, Cedar City.
- Cost: Varies by seating section.
- Purchase tickets: Online, by calling 1-800-752-9849 (1-800-playtix) or at the box office at the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.
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