nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
October 23, 2008
The Hudson Guild Theatre, an intimate space of maybe 100 seats, is the perfect venue for the thoroughly charming musical comedy Illyria, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, written by Peter Mills and directed by Cara Reichel. Reichel, producing artistic director of the Prospect Theater Company, returns to the production after staging the original version in 2002. The material, as I understand it, has been edited slightly in further productions and a new opening has been implemented. Not having seen the original production, I can't speak for whether or not the changes are to the show's benefit, but I will say that Mills and Reichel (who shares "co-adaptor" credit) have done a terrific job of streamlining the original source material.
Synopsis and other information about Twelfth Night, can be found here. There are a few differences between Illyria and the original: rather than take the name "Cesario," Viola takes the name of Sebastian, her brother whom she assumes is dead, adding for some great farce-like comedy; development and trickery have been added to Toby and Maria's love story; and Malvolio's ending is much more upbeat.
Mills's script and score are utter delights, and I would probably run out of positive adjectives in describing the rest of the production. The tunes, ranging in style from Broadway ballad to tango to drinking song to torch song, are all strikingly melodic. I can safely say I exited the theater humming "Cakes and Ale," the big comic number, and "Save One," the gorgeous love-triangle ballad that closes the first act.
The crackerjack cast features performers whose passion for the material and the fun they're having on stage shines through their work. Jessica Grové as Viola has a beautiful voice and, as the "straight man" of the piece, admirably holds the love stories together. Brandon Andrus is appropriately goofy as Orsino, and his big number, "Whoever You Are," in the second act, is a high point. Laura Shoop completes their love triangle as Olivia, and the chemistry among the three of them is as natural as it gets. There's spot-on work from the rest of the ensemble, especially Jim Poulos (Feste), Dan Sharkey (Sir Toby), and Ryan Dietz (Sir Andrew).
Production values are larger than I expected and it shows in the ornate costumes by Naomi Wolff and scenic design by Erica Beck Hemminger. Ji-youn Chang's cool-colored lighting provides for some very eye-catching moments. Director Reichel keeps the production moving speedily along, and Christine O'Grady's choreography is a lot of fun to watch.
One (small) problem: amplification—or lack thereof. The actors aren't mic'ed and, acoustically, the stage struck me as one where if you take a step in the wrong direction, you can't be heard. As a result, some words or lyrics were lost. Perhaps the actors aren't projecting enough. Still, Illyria is so enjoyable that you can look past that last part. If anything is deserving of a high profile transfer, it's this.