TWELFTH NIGHT (Wilma): Beach blanket Bard

Jered McLenigan as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and MK Tuomanen as Viola in TWELFTH NIGHT at the Wilma Theater. Photo by Johanna Austin.

There’s a lot of Twelfth Night going around in the Philadelphia area, all different. The Wilma conjures a fresh seaside setting. A dock moves forward. There’s a flipping fish. And a good-time boy, Toby Belch in the guise of Neptune, chases after a merman with his trident. In the playbill, Director Yury Urnov notes that the Wilma cast is in “creative and playful dialogue with this 400-year-old text.” It’s a fun show, a modern take-off. 

There was a shipwreck. A young gentlewoman, Viola, fears that her twin, Sebastian, was lost in the waves. But it turns out he’s OK. Duke Orsino, seeing Viola and her twin together, cries, “One face, one voice, and two persons!” The twins have creative costumes: An outfit on one side and a different outfit on the other. Viola, in disguise as a page, is the go-between for Cesario (the Duke’s page) and Olivia (a Countess). Olivia is in love with the page who she doesn’t realize is a girl. And then there’s the rascal, Sir Toby Belch, and a charming fool, Feste. The famed tragi-comic Malvolio, the smiling scapegoat with cross gartered yellow stockings, is a hoot. And Maria, Olivia’s gentlewoman, who forged a note later gets to sing “With hey ho, the wind and the rain.” An apple cart, upset, spills across the stage. A keyboard is hauled in and beach balls whiz off the stage and into the audience. Jam-packed with joyful music and production number dancing, the whole crew gets to tread the boards, strut their stuff, and they clearly have fun doing it. Got that? Sounds complicated? It is! This is not exactly Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.  

The excellent actors are blessed with talent. Charmingly  borderline in their behavior, they carry on even as funny becomes silly. And the Wilma’s approach to the Bard’s coherent mirth is sometimes clever and sometimes over-the-top nonsense. It’s playful and there’s a whole lot of fooling around. Fine actors, designers, and crew support the show. Although well choreographed, well rehearsed, and well played, it takes liberties with the script.  Clever, antic, joyful, tuneful, filled with singing and dance and myriad silly stuff, the production, an upbeat and raucous show, is lots of fun, and the first-night audience loved it. The acting is superb, the songs masterful, and the choreography is spot-on.  It’s an impressive offering, and if you want an upbeat and joy filled evening, this is right down your street. 

The Wilma can afford to pull out the jams and take chances, but sometimes it can be hard to find Shakespeare under all the fun and nonsense. “Rollicking with the Bard” would have been quite a suitable title for the show.

[Wilma Theater, 265 S Broad Street] June 9-25, 2023;

Directed by Yury Urnov
Assistant Director, Skye Fort

Krista Apple: Feste
Ross Beschler: Duke Orsino
Keith J. Conallen: Malvolio
Suli Holum: Valentine, Curio, Priest, Fabian
Justin Jain: Antonio, Sea Captain
Jared McLenigan: Sir Andrew Aguecheek
Campbell O’Hare: Maria
Brett Ashley Robinson: Olivia
Lindsay Smiling: Sir Toby Belch
MK Tuomanen: Viola, Sebastian

Patreshettarlini Adams: Stage Manager
Kellie Mecleary: Dramaturg
Misha Kachman: Set Design
Ivania Stack: Costume Designer
Michael Kiley: Sound Design, Composer, Music Director
Thom Weaver: Lighting Design
Jungwoong Kim: Movement Coordinator
Leslie Rivera: Projection Design & Videographer
Chloe Kincade: Assistant Stage Manager
Leo Mock: Gender and Intimacy Consultant
Abby Weissman: Gender and Intimacy Consultant

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