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Review: ‘Twelfth Night’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

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Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s visually and musically stunning production of Twelfth Night is a creative resetting of Shakespeare’s play. Set in 1929 Hollywood, it is a loving tribute to the romantic comedies of the era, with identical twins, mistaken identity, pranks, lots of singing and dancing, and true love winning out in the end. Directed by Sally Boyett, it is a fun and touching fresh take on a classic.

Olivia Ercolano as Olivia. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Olivia Ercolano as Olivia. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Jack Golden’s set plays a large role in this production. A movie screen is in the back of the stage, contained in a dark pink frame and showing images throughout the play. For instance, when the show opens, a newspaper flashes on screen, the headline reading that identical siblings Viola (Laura Louise Smith) and Sebastian (Bill Dennison) are lost at sea. When Malvolio (Brian MacDonald) is imprisoned for appearing to be insane, images of him looking particularly wild appear onscreen. Orsinio (Steven Hoochuk) obsesses over a blown-up moving image of Olivia’s (Olivia Ercolano) head.

Joshua McKerrow does a wonderful job as Director of Photography and Projections Designer, and Jack Golden is a talented Scenic Designer, creating a clean, modern-looking set that feels like a Hollywood movie star’s home during the old days. Kudos to Vocal Coach Nancy Krebs for her fine work.

Music is also incredibly important in this production. A piano is in the far right corner of the theater, which James Fitzpatrick, who also plays the role of Curio, plays brilliantly. He plays during scene changes and throughout scenes, adding a musical zing to Feste’s (Jamison Foreman) punning punchlines, for instance. It feels like the musical accompaniment to a silent movie.

As Composer and Musical Director, Fitzpatrick has done an excellent job in updating the songs from Shakespeare’s time to feel like they belong to the 1920s. The songs range from festive drinking tunes and celebratory ditties to romantic ballads with a melancholy edge. Feste’s final number is performed by the entire cast in this show. It adds another element of fun and excitement to the play.

Adam Mendelson contributes very effective lighting design. In Malvolio’s mad scene, the stage is nearly dark, so that it truly feels like he could not see anyone else there with him. During the tender, romantic moments, the lighting is soft and glowing, while bright for the comic scenes and encounters.

Sandra Spence’s costumes accurately depict the 1920s, with many touches to Hollywood actors of the time. The outfits for the final song and dance number are particularly stunning, with top hats and tails for the men and white gowns, purple sashes, and fans for the women. It’s glorious!

The cast has many opportunities to show off their talents, particularly their comic timing. Laura Louise Smith, plays Viola as a convincing young man, and has some tender moments with Orsinio, talking about love with her. Pining for Orsinio, she sings him a love song, and her feelings for him are crystal clear, as he looks at her tenderly.

Olivia Ercolano’s Olivia is larger than life, with a highly expressive face. Told that Malvolio (Brian MacDonald) is smiling, she gasps. Her eyes flutter, both in person and on screen. Declaring her love for Viola (as Cesario), she gives a comically dramatic speech, followed by a scene-stealing dance.

Tony Tsendeas is a great source of fun as Sir Toby Belch. Dressed in a brown tie, plaid vest, and beige jacket and pants, and carrying a cane and flask, he is very physical, dancing and singing with Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Johnny Weissgerber) and Feste (Jamison Foreman). He is terrific at physical comedy, as we see him following Malvolio while the servant reads a phony love letter.

Sir Andrew Aguecheek is another fun character, who usually plays the straight man, and Johnny Weissgerber  is having a blast playing him. When Sir Toby introduces him to Maria (Renata Plecha), the older man encourages him to “accost” her and Sir Andrew mistakenly calls her “Accost.” His duel with Viola is particularly funny, and it’s hilarious to watch Sir Toby and Fabian (Kim Curtis) guide them in their duel skills. Fight Direction Designer John Bellomo also staged a comic fight between Sir Andrew and Viola (disguised as Cesario). Bellomo’s excellent work lead to many of the production’s highlights.

Brian MacDonald has many wonderful comic moments as Malvolio.He looks particularly silly with long yellow, cross-gartered socks, his pant legs pulled up to expose them.

Jamison Foreman (Feste). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Jamison Foreman (Feste). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Jamison Foreman is a human dynamo as Feste, singing and dancing throughout, as well as joking and punning. Dressed in a black suit and a bowler derby like Charlie Chaplin, he has a wonderful comic relationship with the other characters. Bill Denniso is terrific as Sebastian, the cause of much confusion and many plot twists. Joshua Witt has one of the few sad roles playing Antonio and is convincingly…sad.

Sally Boyett is a remarkable director and choreographer. With so many actors onstage at once, their movement feels natural and fluid, and they work together perfectly. The comedy comes across well, both the physical and the wordplay. The dancing and singing by all the actors is superb.

With brilliant direction by Sally Boyett and exceptional performances from its dream cast, Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s enjoyable Twelfth Night is an enchanting, fun night of laughter and romance. Don’t miss it!

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

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Twelfth Night plays through November 13, 2016, at Annapolis Shakespeare Company – 111 Chinquapin Round Road, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 415-3513, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1548.gif

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