Once again, students of Point Park University’s Conservatory Theatre Company, singing superbly, do wonderful things with a musical. This time it’s Illyria, Peter Mills and Cara Reichel’s take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Company director Scott Wise has come up with a great look to the production giving it lots of style, personified in Michael Montgomery’s Maxfield Parrish-like costumes. And choreographer Jeremy Czarniak has added some very clever steps and effects.
Mills wrote the music and lyrics devising attractive melodies and, occasionally, quite clever lyrics. Despite having written them seven years ago, his songs have the sound and feel of traditional ones at the heartbeat of musical theater rather than aiming for something more contemporary. Particularly fun: note Feste yodeling Malvolio’s name.
The Shakespeare story and conception remain intact but only a few of his words are used. Although the plot and characters have become very well-known and you could have seen a great production of the play by Quantum Theatre a little over three months ago, here are reminders: Duke Orsino has a crush on Countess Olivia and engages a young woman named Viola, recently arrived on the shores of Illyria and disguised as her brother Sebastian, to court Olivia. Viola falls in love with Orsino and Olivia falls in love with disguised Viola. Add to this, three memorable members of Olivia’s court: her uncle Sir Toby Belch, her haughty, self-impressed steward Malvolio and her sometimes wise jester Feste. Plus she has a new suitor, foolish Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Mills and Reichel’s script does a fresh take on Feste, making the jester actually jest, being more of a wise guy than a wise person. And L. Fox plays the role with smart personality, also singing with class. Paul Koudouris exceptionally stands out personifying Malvolio with edgy panache, never pushing it too far. On the other hand, as Sir Andrew, Connor Russell flutters and flits so often that, at on opening night, I expected him to sprout wings and fly up into those of the theatre. Plus Jaron Frand’s performance of the real Sebastian has convincing charm with his attractive singing adding to the production’s consistently appealing sound, as does the impressive voice of Jaclyn McSpadden’s Olivia.
Shakespeare’s original script opens with these words: “If music be the food of love, play on…” Although the rest of that speech suggests that Orsino is unhappy, happily this version of the story could make you love its sound, its look and its feel.
Illyria plays on through Sunday November 20th at Pittsburgh Playhouse’s Rauh Theater, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-392-8000 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com
Incidentally, the Conservatory also has performances of Shakespeare’s play itself December 9th through 18th