Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts
Directed by Adam Adolfo
Musical Director– Kristin Spires
Choreographer – Meagan Marie Stewart
Scenic and Lighting Designer – Bradley Gray
Costume Designer – Joshua Sherman
Sound Designer – Mark Howard
Technical Director – Allen Dean
Maegan Marie Stewart – Alice
Mitchell Stephens – Feste
Aigner Mathis –Rosalind
Erin Hardy –Viola/Cesario
Jonathan Flippo –Orsino
Adrian Godinez- Malvolio
Joshua Sherman- Sir Toby
Tyler Cochran – Sir Andrew
Jason Solis – Antonio
Jake Harris – Sebastian
Emily Stewart – Constance
Eduardo Aguilar – Fabian
Rodney Harris – Curio
Bentleigh Nesbit – Valentine
Edwin Osaze – Gregory
Angeles Alvarado – Ariel
Kristin Spires – Maria
Brittany Adelstein – Olivia
Reviewed Performance 2/14/2015
Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Twelfth Night, aka What You Will, a comedy by William Shakespeare, is believed to have been written around the turn of the 17th century as entertainment for the close of the Christmas season. The term “Twelfth Night “ is in reference to the twelfth night after Christmas Day, called the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany. This was originally a Catholic holiday, but by Shakespeare’s time had become a day of revelry and party much like Mardi Gras or Carnival in Rio, which is also the setting for Artes de la Rosa’s current production of Twelfth Night, A Musical Comedy Carnival.
During the festival of Twelfth Night, it was customary for servants to dress up as their masters, and men and women to dress as the other gender, often causing comedic confusion. Such is the case here, including mistaken identify, gender reverse roles, unrequited love, revelry, companionship, a fair amount of ribald humor, physical comedy and true love that wins out in the end. Or, at least, couples pair off with each other.
The play centers on twin brother and sister, Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck during a storm at sea. Viola comes ashore with the aid of the ship’s captain but has lost contact with her brother and is convinced that he died in the storm. Believing she has a better chance of survival if people believed she was male, she disguises herself as a boy and enters the service of Duke Orsino. Meanwhile, Sebastian, who has been rescued, arrives on the scene. Beyond lots of mistaken identities and confusion are several subplots, including a conspiracy to embarrass and take revenge. Add lots of comedy, some farce, love lost and won and you have a recipe for fun as only Shakespeare could write.
Over the years I have seen many variations of Shakespeare’s plays, including Twelfth Night, though none have the creative concept shown by Adam Adolfo, Artistic Director with Artes de la Rosa. Adolfo takes the play as written and expands on the carnival theme by adding music, songs, and high energy dancing in place of the transition scenes. He places most of them on the beach, adding colorful feather costumes, beach balls, beach bodies and music that includes Richie Valens “You’re Mine”, “Quando, Quando, Quando” and other more contemporary songs sung by the characters throughout the performance. Adolfo also changes the location of the story from the Mediterranean to a festive beach near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Clare Floyd Devries’ set creates the illusion of a beach, complete with the look of multiple levels of sand hills. The backdrop is painted a mixture of pastels and bright colors to enhance the feel of a Rio beach front.
Kristin Spires provides musical direction for the production while also playing the role of Maria. The selection of songs interspersed throughout the scenes is surprisingly fitting for their situations. Spires’ vocal direction provides notably strong and inspiring singing from Michael Stephens (Feste), Erin Hardy (Viola/Cesario), Josh Sherman (Sir Toby), and Jake Harris (Sebastian) in a duet with Jason Solis (Antonio), who also has a well-presented solo. There are some volume difficulties, especially with a duet between Harris and Hardy, and Adrian Godinez’ (Malvolio) solo that lacks a depth of conviction. Jonathan Flippo (Orsino) has some songs that are difficult to understand but also has a solo clearly heard and sung with nuance of character.
Sound Designer Mark Howard has the actors on wireless mics, and for the most part they work well, the audience easily able to hear the dialogue between the actors, with the only difficulty being when they move upstage. Several sound effects are used in the production, such as birds on the beach, a thunderstorm and waves rolling onto a beach, and all add more ambience to the production.
Maegan Marie Stewart’s choreography is largely high energy and makes use of the athleticism of the actors and dancers. They open each act with big numbers that fill the stage with bodies moving to the rhythm of the music. Stewart certainly upped the energy level with the second act opening, which is considerably more energetic than the first act opening. The second act uses the same actors and dancers, but now there’s flying beach balls and an actor doing upside down and one arm push-ups, like at Venice Beach or any beach where guys are competing for attention and showing off their abilities. In addition to the high energy dances are more nuanced choreographed moments worth appreciation. The subtle, comedic timing of these moments are crucial to the success of the scenes.
Joshua Sherman (Sir Toby) is also the Costume Designer. Costume choices for the production include a variety of dance wear and feathered costumes for the dancers, identical linen suits with matching hats for Olivia/Cesario and Sebastian, Hawaiian-style shirts and costumes for Sir Andrew, formal dress and veiled covering for Olivia, open shirts and beach attire for the muscular male actors, and my favorite, the cross gartering and yellow stockings for Malvolio.
Sherman, as Sir Toby, is highly energetic, as his character drinks and revels his way through the story. Sherman’s timing and interaction with other characters shows actor experience and maturity. In the scenes with Tyler Cochran as Sir Andrew, I am often reminded of the comic timing of Laurel and hardy and Abbott and Costello.
Tyler Cochran is hilarious as Sir Andrew. While playing Sir Andrew on stage, Cochran looks as if he is enjoying every moment of the performance. He is actively and consistently engaged in the action.
Michael Stephens, as Feste, is entertaining, consistent in character, and has a singing style that captures the attention of the audience. In one scene with Cochran and Sherman, their lines bounce back and forth with brilliant comedic timing; more importantly, their non-verbal communication shows a confidence and ease with each other to believe these three characters are real friends and co-conspirators.
Jonathan Flippo plays Orsino and carries himself onstage as a Duke would. His portrayal is a blend of authoritativeness, complete self assuredness and indifference to others. Yet he’s also able to play comedic confusion seriously, which only brings out more of the comedy of the situation. Flippo’s acting variety makes him fun to watch.
Adrian Godinez, as Malvolio, is more inconsistent in his scenes, making his character limited in expression and depth. His scene, as Malvolio chastises Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Feste, comes across as shallow and lacking nuances of real emotion. However, at other times, such as when Malvolio is convinced that Olivia is in love with him, Godinez offers a character that displays several layers of honest insecurity, confusion and embarrassment.
Brittany Adelstein plays Lady Olivia with strength of character, confidence and range of emotion. When she first comes onstage, Adelstein plays Olivia as the haughty lady in mourning while commanding those around her. Upon meeting Cesario, Adelstein transforms from a lady in mourning to a lady in lust, her body language and flirtations showing her interest. There is always an ease and the confidence of a panther stalking its prey, with a dash of coyishness to shows vulnerability. Adelstein allows Olivia’s emotions to show, through both verbal and non-verbal acting, giving the character multiple layers and depth.
Jason Solis, playing Antonio, has a singing voice that will grab your attention, and on stage energy that will keep your attention. As Antonio, friend and companion of Sebastian, Solis has great acting and timing, and after singing the duet they share, several people around me were giving thumbs up.
As Sebastian, Jake Harris has moments when he is completely connected to his character, in the present, and enjoying the story. His duet with Solis, one of the best numbers in the production, is a wonderful character presentation. Later in the show, however, when the rest of the characters finally see Viola/Cesario and Sebastian together, Harris is difficult to hear and comes across as a bit confused.
Erin Hardy as Viola/Cesario is one of the strengths of the show. Hardy’s passion, sometimes sultry and sometimes coy and timid, sings as both Viola and as Cesario. Her singing and acting alone are worth seeing the show. When Viola decides to become Cesario, Hardy handles the transition with resolve and vulnerability, portraying Viola’s decision to be a boy in a man’s world. Hardy delicately balances the comedy and awkwardness of gender confusion, interacting with the man to whom Viola is clearly attracted, or with Olivia who is attracted to Cesario. Her songs are touching, often poignant and her acting is memorable.
Before and after the show, I talked with Adam Adolfo about taking the risk to do a Shakespeare musical. Adolfo replied, “Shakespeare scares people, so Twelfth Night was an experiment... I'm a believer in what I call Gateway Shakespeare - shows that blur the lines of conventional theatrical storytelling and get to the essence of a story’s emotional content. Music can access our emotions in a far more primal manner than words, even Shakespeare’s, so when we approached what was Shakespeare's most musical text, what we found was nothing to be scared of. It wasn't quite Shakespeare, it wasn't quite a comedy, it wasn't quite a musical, but it most certainly was emotional storytelling. The goal of this show was to find a new audience for a Shakespeare they knew they were missing”. During the curtain speech, as he was telling the audience what they were about to see, Adolfo said, “It’s not Shakespeare, so don’t be scared. It’s not drama, so don’t be scared. It’s not a comedy, so don’t be scared.”
After watching their performance of Twelfth Night, A Musical Comedy Carnival, I would describe the production as none of the above, yet all of the above. There are a few rough spots that will smooth out with time, and in time, we may well see more musicals of Shakespearean plays. Meanwhile, this is something new, a hybrid, a musical of one of Shakespeare’s well known works. It is an inspiration. It is also something well worth seeing and experiencing. You too may well be inspired.
TWELFTH NIGHT, A MUSICAL COMEDY CARNIVAL
Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts
1440 N Main
Ft. Worth, TX 76164
Plays through March 1st
Friday - Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm.
Ticket prices range from $12.00 for students and teachers, $14.00 for seniors and military, and $16.00 general admission.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.artesdelarosa.org or call the box office at 817-624-8333.