In a world of musicals based on movies and TV shows, why not Shakespeare? Such is Illyria, a melodious adaptation of Twelfth Night first produced Off-Broadway in 2002 and now running at 6th Street Playhouse.
Don’t let the words ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘musical’ alarm you. Peter Mills has written a book and score that takes the plotline of the Bard’s 17th century comedy, modernizes it a bit in speech and time period, sets it to music and comes up with a terrifically entertaining piece of theatre.
Shakespeare’s tale involves shipwrecked and separated twins Viola (Carmen Mitchell) and Sebastian (Lorenzo Alviso), Duke Orsino (Burton Thomas), the lovelorn leader of the isle of Illyria, Olivia (Tracy Hinman), the in-mourning object of his affection, Andrew Aguecheek (Stephen Kanaski), a silly suitor for Olivia’s hand, Sir Toby Belch (Seth Dahlgren), Olivia’s soused uncle, Malvolio (Larry Williams), a stuffed-shirt steward, Maria (Gillian Eichenberger), a servant with eyes on Sir Toby, and Feste (Tim Setzer), a fool who narrates the tale. Impersonation, mistaken identity, gender confusion, and trickery all come into play before things get sorted out and everyone ends up with his or her intended.
To fully enjoy this production, more than the usual suspension of belief is required in a couple of areas. One must accept Ms. Mitchell being regularly mistaken for a male and Ms. Hinman is a more mature Olivia than one usually sees in the role, but just go with it.
Mills’s 20-plus songs vary in style from a lilting ballad (“Save One”) to English Musical Hall numbers like the hilarious “Cakes and Ale”. Musical director Lucas Sherman has a six-piece band delivering the beguiling score flawlessly while director Craig Miller’s cast provides superb vocal talents. As strong a group of voices I’ve heard on a North Bay stage, this may be the best sounding musical 6th Street has produced. It’s gratifying that the characterizations provided by the performers match their vocal quality.
Mitchell charms as the gender-bending Viola and is matched by Burton’s flustered Orsino. Orsino’s musical confession of love to Alviso’s Sebastian (whom Viola was impersonating) shows Shakespeare was a couple of centuries ahead of society when it came to same-sex relationships. Ample comedic support is provided by Dahlgren, Williams, and Kanaski with Setzer’s clowning as Feste rakishly amusing.
Craig Miller ends his tenure at 6th Street Playhouse on a high note with this delightful production.
Rating (out 5 five): ★★★★
‘Illyria’ runs Friday–Sunday through July 8 at 6th Street Playhouse, 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. Friday – Saturday 7:30pm; Saturday & Sunday 2pm. $22–$38. 707.523.4185. 6thstreetplayhouse.com
Photos by Eric Chazankin
An edited version of this review appeared in the North Bay Bohemian