Baughman Theatre - Jackson MI
Michigan Shakespeare Festival
"Twelfth Night is notable for a tremendously talented ensemble, which has performed a simple, yet marvelous trick. By simply letting Shakespeare speak through them, letting his words pour over an audience like summer honey, every line and character is as enchanting as they were 400 years ago. The playwright's legacy is secured by those who perform him so well." - Encore Michigan
"The Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Twelfth Night,” or “What You Will,” is a beautiful, funny and absolutely delightful surprise. With a strong cast and creative flourishes, Artistic Director Janice L. Blixt’s production, set in a lovely Jane Austen world, is sure to please theater-goers." - MLive
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Michigan Shakespeare Festival's 'Twelfth Night' is a Delightful Surprise - Ann Holt, MLive
The Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Twelfth Night,” or “What You Will,” is a beautiful, funny and absolutely delightful surprise.
With a strong cast and creative flourishes, Artistic Director Janice L. Blixt’s production, set in a lovely Jane Austen world, is sure to please theater-goers. This is the perfect production for reluctant or first-time festival attendees.
The play begins in the aftermath of a storm that has left Viola shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria and mourning the loss of her twin brother Sebastian. Hoping to serve Duke Orsino, the country’s ruler, her only recourse is to dress as a man so she can become a page in a bachelor’s household. Not unexpectedly she falls in love with him. Orsino, on the other hand, is attempting to court the Countess Olivia, who has pledged to mourn her brother for seven years. When Orsino sends the new young page to Olivia to press his suit, Olivia falls in love with Viola/Cesario instead. Complicating matters is Olivia’s pompous steward Malvolio. Her gentlewoman, Maria, tricks him into thinking Olivia is secretly in love with him.
The tomfoolery generated by these confusions results in some very funny physical comedy. The director and cast have either found or made moments of exquisite nonsense.
Everyone in this production of “Twelfth Night” knows how to speak fluent Shakespeare, making it understandable and sharing the jokes with the audience.
Melanie Keller (Viola/Cesario) is charming as the young woman attempting to pass as a young man but desperately in love with her master. Not afraid of physical comedy, her fencing scene is laugh out loud funny as are her scenes with David Blixt (Orsino), who is confused by his attraction to the page. (Blixt is also the Fight Director.) Watching Janet Haley (Olivia) go from a dour and unhappy woman to one giddy and infatuated with love will make you smile. Imagine her confusion when Wesley Scott (Sebastian) shows up.
One of the funniest and best known scenes belongs to Paul Riopelle (Malvolio) and he makes the most of it. Discovering a letter, supposedly from his mistress Olivia, he struggles to understand the odd favors she asks of him. John Byrnes (Sir Toby), Caleb Probst (Sir Andrew), and Brandon St. Clair Saunders (Fabian) are perfect foils as they hide and observe the pompous Malvolio make a fool of himself.
In an excellent ensemble cast, Alan Ball (Feste) stands out. His portrayal goes beyond that of a fool. Whether he is juggling, singing, dancing, or dispensing a fool’s wisdom, his character holds this world together.
The set design by Jeromy Hopgood is breathtaking. With Diane Fairchild’s lighting design, what starts as gauzy, sheer white panels magically becomes a beautifully romantic world full of changing colors and twinkling lights. The set changes in a variety of inventive ways throughout the production.
Sound design by Kate Hopgood sets the mood with breaking waves and birds singing. She has also created six original songs with lyrics taken from Shakespeare. The final number strikes the perfect ending to this enchanted production.
Melanie Schuessler’s Regency-like costumes are some of the most romantic and lovely seen on the Michigan Shakespeare Festival stage.
Designated Michigan’s Official Shakespeare Festival in 2003 by the Governor and State Legislature, Jackson is home to a true cultural gem.
With Dame Judi Dench and Stacy Keach, both acclaimed actors in their own right, willing to be Festival Champions, the Michigan Shakespeare Festival continues to grow its national reputation.
The production is approximately 3 hours long including a 15-minute intermission.
MSF Delivers a 'NIGHT' to Remember - John Quinn, EncoreMichigan
This critic has enjoyed an embarrassment of Shakespearean riches this weekend. I have seen an adaptation of The Bard's first, flawed tragedy, followed last night by the Michigan Shakespeare Festival's elegant romp through one of his best comedies, his last for many years. "Twelfth Night" is a frothy, mid-summer night's dream, a show so disarming that the playwright invites you to make of it "What You Will."
Remember the giddy emotions surrounding the turn of the 21th century? One imagines those hard-partying Elizabethans were in the same mood at the turn of the 17th. For Shakespeare, the party ended early; in 1601, his patron, the Earl of Southampton, was imprisoned and nothing seemed funny anymore. But this play was already finished; its first performance on record was Jan. 6, 1602, the "twelfth night" after Christmas and the traditional end of a rollicking holiday season.
"Twelfth Night" is a rollicking play. Shakespeare was at the top of his game, master of the language and wise commentator on the human condition. This work contains a traditional plot, about romance among the upper class, and a very rich subplot played out by those commonly referred in scripts as "clowns."
The romance is driven by one of Shakespeare's favorite devises, mistaken identity. The subplot revolves around a conspiracy to hoist an overly proud fussbudget on his own petard. MSF artistic director Janice L. Blixt, the show's director, has worked a wonder; in mining the text, she unearthed comic gems otherwise buried in the romantic scenes. The result is an effervescent, laugh-filled delight.
Two twins, Sebastian (Wesley Scott) and Viola (Melanie Keller), are shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria. Separated, each fears the other has drowned. Viola, a woman alone in a man's world, seeks protection by disguising herself as a man and seeking employment in the bachelor household of Orsino, Duke of Illyria (David Blixt). "Cesario" quickly gains favor with the Duke, who sends "him" to a widowed countess, Olivia (Janet Haley). Orsino is in love, and hopes his servant can coax Olivia out of her self-imposed seven years of mourning. The catch? The disguised Viola has fallen for Orsino and Olivia falls for "Cesario" at first sight. The unlikely triangle becomes a wrecked tangle when Sebastian appears, and the twins become, "One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons."
Meanwhile, a couple of ne'er-do-wells are sponging off the Countess' largess. They are her drunken sot of an uncle, Sir Toby Belch (John Byrnes) and his cowardly crony, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Caleb Probst), who hopes to win the fair Olivia for himself. Their rude behavior arouses the ire of Olivia's puritanical steward, Malvolio (Paul Riopelle), a man as bad-tempered as his name implies. Urged on by Maria, Olivia's lady-in-waiting (Amy Montgomery), the revelers conspire with festive fool Feste (Alan Ball), and fool-in-training Fabian (Brandon St. Clair Saunders) to trick Malvolio into believing the countess is in love with HIM. The tighter the twists, the happier the ending; all is sorted out and everybody lives happily ever after – well, maybe not Malvolio.
The various designers have given Janice L. Blixt a beautiful canvas upon which to paint Shakespeare's story. Much of the fun rests in the fact that "Twelfth Night" is set in "once upon a time"; the designers designate no particular place or time. Olivia uses a ballpoint and dollar store notebook; Feste is equipped with a portable karaoke machine. Melanie Schuessler's costumes are a passing nod to Regency, but are in playful colors and tailoring. Jeromy Hopgood's scenic design defines a dream-like space; gauzy, flowing curtains that Diane Fairchild's colorful, pastel lighting plays over. But the outstanding technical achievement is the incorporation of original songs by Kate Hopgood, festival composer, using lyrics adapted from various Shakespearean works. They are absolutely beautiful, the more so that the thoroughly modern adaptations so well reflect the old themes.
That's just the back drop; in this show, the players are the thing. "Twelfth Night" is notable for a tremendously talented ensemble, which has performed a simple, yet marvelous trick. By simply letting Shakespeare speak through them, letting his words pour over an audience like summer honey, every line and character is as enchanting as they were 400 years ago. The playwright's legacy is secured by those who perform him so well.
Some of the most beautiful lines in Shakespeare's works are given to Viola in "Twelfth Night." Melanie Keller delivers each with sincerity and passion, but shows she has the chops for broad comedy. In this production, it's Viola, not Orsino, who speaks the opening lines of Act I and Keller sets the bar high for the performances that follow.
It's easy to see why John Byrnes and Caleb Probst are instant audience favorites. Their intensely physical performances are a show in and of themselves. But if you must "send in the clowns," let it be Alan Ball. He sings, he dances, he juggles – but even deep in the tomfoolery, he brings subtle dignity to a character dear to Shakespeare's heart, the Wise Fool.
If there is a moral found in "Twelfth Night," it may be "carpe diem" – "seize the day." Whether the magic of love or the satisfaction in serving up just desserts, life's pleasures are as fleeting as good weather in Michigan and we must enjoy them while we may. MSF gifts us with one more pleasure to enjoy.