Forth Worth — Twelfth Night has been one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies for many reasons. It has cross-dressing twins, a shipwreck, music, clowns, drunkenness, sword fights, a forged letter, eavesdropping, food, sex, and revenge. Director Adam Adolfo and Artes de la Rosa add even more flavor to those tasty elements—emphasizing the tuneful ones—to create a modernized “musical comedy carnival.”
Adolfo uses Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and television shows such as Glee, Smash, and the musical episode of Grey’s Anatomy as inspiration for what he calls a “contemporary gateway for audiences” to enjoy the Bard. He achieves a sort of Shakespeare and samba hybrid by setting the action in Brazil and infusing the play with popular music, dance numbers, and heavy audience participation that all work quite well within the framework of the original language.
The play begins with a rousing rendition of Gloria Estefan’s "You'll Be Mine (Party Time)" on an understated yet functional set (by Bradley Gray) of brown canvas/burlap fashioned to look like beach dunes with a painted, vintage-looking postcard background that reads: “Greetings from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.” Like many of the full ensemble numbers of the play (including the awesome closer of Enrique Iglesias’ "Rhythm Divine"), the cast flourishes together. It is only with some of the solos that things begin to waver a bit vocally.
Switching back and forth between Shakespearean acting and pop singing can be quite a challenge; however, Adolfo’s cast pulls it off (for the most part) admirably. Jonathan Flippo, who has one of the standout voices, embodies Orsino as a soccer-loving playboy who loves life, music, and taking off his shirt. His musical introduction via the song “The Boy from Ipanema” is spot on.
Longtime Trinity Shakespeare Festival member Mitchell Stephens delivers a charming and physically striking Feste, and an imperious and fabulous Brittany Adelstein works every bit of her “fair cruelty” as Olivia, the countess in mourning.
Joshua Sherman as the merrymaking Sir Toby and Tyler Cochran as the delightfully daft Sir Andrew show off some impressive comedic chemistry even if it is a bit odd seeing a young, trim and handsome drunken uncle. The festive night scene with Sherman, Cochran, Stephens, and a delightful Kristin Spires (who is also the musical director) as the meddling Maria, where they sing and taunt Malvolio (Adrian Godinez) with Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” is a hoot. The fact that Godinez can simultaneously maintain the levity of his role with the quasi-tragic nature of the “madly used” Malvolio is a testament to his gifts as an actor and Adolfo’s direction.
Also funny and fun is the vaudeville-infused duet between Antonio and Sebastian (Jason Solis and Jake Harris) singing Carmen Miranda’s “Cuanto le Gusta.”
Any version of Twelfth Night hinges on the performance of one of Shakespeare’s strongest and most demanding female roles, the disguised-as-a-boy page Viola (Erin Hardy). She must be subtle enough to convince the lovesick Orsino to see through her façade, “accidentally” attract Olivia, mourn her lost twin brother, and elude capture in a dangerous land—all while singing and dancing. Hardy is more than up to the task. She certainly has far and away the best pipes in the show (in particular, her version of Estefan’s “Coming Out of the Dark” is transcendent), but her acting chops are equally extraordinary.
A special mention goes to Maegan Stewart’s choreography and Aigner Shadea Mathis’ mesmerizing dancing.
The tempo of the non-musical parts of the play is a bit sluggish; however, I imagine things will speed up quite a bit once they get some more shows under their dance belts.
What You Will is the other part of Twelfth Night’s double title and it is one that is well-taken with Adolfo and company’s bright and dance-happy comedy.