Twelfth Night Review
Free Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater
By Robert Viagas
The Public Theatre’s free Shakespeare in Central Park series delivers a joyous, fun-and-games musical adaption of Twelfth Night with a cast of dozens, representing multiple ages, ethnicities and genders.
Shakespeare’s story of romance, cross-dressing, and mistaken identities on the shore of Illyria has been stripped down to a 90-minute intermissionless playdate that includes only the most famous speeches and scenes from the Bard’s original, intercut with swirling color and heartfelt melody.
Those melodies (and lyrics) are supplied by Shaina Taub, who serves sextuple duty, also playing the piano and accordion, co-conducting the orchestra, and still finding time to perform the role of Feste the jester.
Andrew Kober steals the show as the fussy, bossy servant Malvolio. His song “Count Malvolio” captures his flight of ego-driven fantasy. The idea of imprisoning him in a port-a-potty instead of a cell provides the production with a funny visual.
Nikki M. James brings a sweetness that ripens into toughness as Viola/Cesario. She sings the soul-flavored ballad “Is This Not Love?” as a duet with Ato Blankton-Wood as Orsino.
“You’re the Worst,” a comedy number for Sir Toby Belch (Shuler Hensley), Maria (Lori Brown-Noang) and Sir Andrew (Daniel Hall), is full of funny twists and turns.
Staged by Public Theatre Artistic Director Oskar Eustis, the production packs the Delacorte Theater stage with as diverse a cast as ever seen there, including mobs of children, a Malvolio who winds up in a couple with Antonio, and the whole production signed for the deaf throughout by the cast members themselves.
In keeping with the production’s playful concept, the audience invited on stage before the show starts, to skip rope, work a giant checkerboard, play instruments with the cast, etc.
Twelfth Night is scheduled to run through August 19 at the outdoor Delacorte Theater in Central Park.