If you’re not familiar with Twelfth Night, here is what you need to know: cross-dressing, hijinks, love polygons, and mistaken identities were just as funny in Shakespeare’s time as they are today. Twelfth Night is timeless. Now: imagine it as a musical with clever, wisecracking wordplay, a fantastic set of songs, and an all-star cast.
Now you have Illyria.
You don’t have to be a Shakespeare enthusiast to enjoy this one. Purists might balk at the modernized language, but the adapted speech retains the feel of Shakespeare—poetry, gags and all—without compromising the understanding of anyone who hasn’t studied the play, or at least read a synopsis.
Nailing the historical time period isn’t necessary either. As the program unabashedly proclaims, Illyria’s setting is The Past. You can tell by the bright mélange of top hats and tailcoats that rather than setting a specific date, matching costumes to each character’s personality—and having fun in the process—was the designer’s main priority. The fool Feste’s pink plaid says it all: Illyria doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Neither should we. There’s just too much to enjoy.
The performances—whether spoken or sung—are wonderful. Each actor brings his or her own unique voice to the stage. Jenny Cross and David Anthony Lewis make a delightfully comic pair as Maria and Sir Toby Belch, while Don Darryl Rivera and Daniel Stoltenberg outdo each other as the mischievous Feste and uptight Malvolio.
From the light, charming introduction “Illyria” to the rambunctious “Cakes and Ale” to the jazzy “Undone,” the music is beautifully varied, the lyrics witty. “Cakes and Ale” will undoubtedly stick with you. I had planned to spend intermission contemplating the key questions of art criticism: what is Illyria trying to do? Is it succeeding? Instead, my brother and I hung around outside Taproot, eating lemon loaf, drinking apple cider, and singing: “First, you take a tiny swig of ale / Your thirst to slake, but then the taste is stale…”
Once you suspend your disbelief, Illyria will transport you—much like the twins Viola and Sebastian—to a land of whimsy and wit. It doesn’t take much.
First, you take a tiny swig of ale. Then you sit back and enjoy the show.
EXTENDED through August 17 due to popular demand