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Twelfth Night

Nikki M. James (center) with the RED community ensemble           photos by Joan Marcus


                                      by Arney Rosenblat


If you're looking for an opportunity to check your troubles and visit a magical paradise, come to the Delacorte Theater in Central Park and spend a delightful 90 minutes in Illyria, a tropical party town created by Rachel Hauck, with a top-notch cast which blends the talents of both professional and community performers in the musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.


Though there has been some tidy contemporary-edge adapting to tie the story up into a comfy 90 minutes, the spirit of the musical is admirably true to its source material and is only enhanced by the diverse and delightful songs provided by Shaina Taub, who also plays Feste the clown with accordion and piano accompaniment.  Complementing Ms. Taub's musical score is Lorin Latarro's spritely equally diverse choreography. Together they explore the multi-themes of the play such as love, mistaken identity, and the nature of self


Likewise the creative hands and insight provided by Kwame  Kwei-Armah and Oskar Eustis deploy the Public Theater's corner-stone Public Works program, which is designed to integrate casts comprised of both professional and amateur performers drawn from both community centers and outreach programs, into a symbiotic seamless production. The hundred of so members of the chorus are broken up into two groups, the red and the blue ensembles, each representing the Illyrian community on stage..  "In this way," adds Mr. Eustis, "Public Works s like the idea of the City itself: a place where strangers become neighbors."


Everything about this production of Twelfth Night is welcoming from the inclusive casting, to the use of American Sign Language at key moments of the play, to the mingling of the audience with the performers on stage in "Illyria" before the action begins.


Troy Anthony and Nikki M. James


In the complex love story which underpins the musical, Viola (Nikki K. James) and her twin brother Sebastian (Troy Anthony) wash up on the shores of Illyria, each believing the other has drowned. Viola disguises herself as a man for protection, taking on the clothing and appearance of her brother and the name Cesario. She seeks employment with Orsino with whom she falls in love. 


Nanya-Akuki Goodrich and Ato Blankson-Wood (foreground) with the BLUE community 


Orsino (Ato Blankson-Wood) when they meet is hopelessly in love with Olivia (Nanya-Akuki Goodrich), who is currently in mourning over the death of her brother. Orsino sends Cesario as his emissary to court Olivia, who instead falls in love with Cesario.  Meanwhile Sebast  ian is rescued  by Antonio (Jonathan Jordan) who follows him to Orsino's court.  Olivia's uncle Sir Toby (Shuler Hensley) and his friend Sir Andrew (Daniel Hall) hedonistic ways bring them into conflict with Olivia's puritanical social climbing steward Malvolio. In retaliation, Toby, Andrew and Olivia's maid Maria (Lori Brown-Niang) conspire to trick Malvolio (Andrew Kober) into thinking his mistress Olivia is in love with him which results in his humiliation and confinement in a dark place.


Sir Toby next arranges a duel between Sir Andrew and Cesario that leads to the arrest of Antonio and Sebastian beating beating Toby. Olivia intervenes mistaking Sebastian for Cesario persuading him to marry her. In the end, the confusions are resolved.  The twins are reunited.  Sir Toby marries Maria and Orsino marries Viola.  Both Antonio and Malvolio are freed


Among the numerous shining lights in this musical adaptation of Twelfth Night is Nikki M. James who portrays Viola/Cesario.  A Tony winner from Book of Mormon, Ms. James both captures the essence of the Shakespeare idiom and the multi-layered texture of the show's lyrics, a case in point is her interpretation of the compelling solo, which examines the nature and perception of self, "Viola's Soliloquy."  Here she and the audience take note of the fact that as a man, she is far "less invisible to the world" and how she has seen herself "from both sides now."


Daniel Hall and Shuler Hensley (center) with the RED community ensemble 


Two other particularly outstanding performances are found in Shuler Hensley's (Tony Award for Oklahoma) portrayal of Sir Toby and Andrew Kober's, who bears a striking resemblance to a young John Cleese, portrait of Malvolio.  They also play key roles in two of the plays show stopping songs, "You're the Worst" in which members of Olivia's court try to out insult each other (which ultimately leads to the malicious prank against Malvolio in which he's locked up as insane)  and "Count Malvolio," where Kober's character dreams of advancing his station in life. 


Jonathan Jordan and Daniel Hall (foreground) with the BLUE community 


One of the Taub/Kwei-Armah welcome nuances that has been added to their version of Twelfth Night is the toning down of the squirm-worthy persecution of Malvolio and the touch of empathy which the Feste character adds to the situation.


Nikki M. James (center) with the BLUE community ensemble


This feeling of empathy and community is carried over into the song that bring the evening to a celebratory conclusion, "Eyes of Another," reminding the audience to "see through the eyes of another, hear through the ears of somebody else."  The integrated eclecticism in choreography, music and design reinforces once again the evening's message of inclusivity.  Twelfth Night is a joy from beginning to end.


Twelfth Night- Delacorte Theater

81 Central Park West, Upper West Side

90 minutes, no intermission


Closing August 19, ,2018