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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Illyria a delightful surprise at Redwood Theatre

Illyria
John Kelleher, Aaron Ford, Daniel Stoltenberg and Erin Sprow
Redwood Theatre, a venerable community theatre group located in downtown Redmond, Washington, earns major points for veering from conventional musical theatre fare and presenting the Northwest premiere of a generally delightful, updated musicalization of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, entitled Illyria. The book, music and lyrics are by Peter Mills, adapted with his frequent collaborator Cara Reichel, names familiar to those who attend Village Theatre's Village Originals series for such impressive shows as Iron Curtain and The Alchemists. The adaptation is nearly thorough sung, and although some of Mills' ambitious music is a bit beyond the reach of certain players in the Redwood cast, the ensemble's verve and clear understanding of the tale and its characters carry the evening under Shawn J. West's sprightly and sparkling direction. Musical director John Allman at the piano commands an expert small band that never overwhelms the un-miked singers.

Having seen Twelfth Night a scant few seasons back in a rather lumbering production at Seattle Rep, it is pleasurable to see it played out here with lithe abandon. Shakespeare's tale of shipwrecked and separated male and female twins Sebastian and Viola, whose presence on the isle of Illyria results in mistaken identities and gender confusion, is played in modern dress and with none of the bard's Iambic pentameter, but with fidelity to the originals character traits and plot twists.

Stalwart character singer/comedienne Leilani Berinobis revels in the narrator role of Feste, a clown who helps keep the plot particulars from becoming unwieldy, and bravo to the actress and the director for cross-gender casting the traditionally male role. The heavy vocal workouts go to Kate Williams as Viola, Mok Moser as Orsino and Amanda Falcone as Olivia. Williams adroitly handles her characterization posing as her own (presumed dead) brother Sebastian, while pining silently for Orsino, who of course thinks she is a fellow, well, fellow, and vocally the actress uses her lower register, in both song and dialogue quite convincingly to pass as a male. If Williams isn't totally up to the demands of Mills' most challenging (and musically intriguing) song "Patience," she pulls it off with her acting skill, and elsewhere is up to the role's vocal demands, as in a fine duet with Moser, on "We Men." As the endlessly mourning Olivia, Amanda Falcone scores in multiple musical opportunities, including the best duet of the evening, "Undone" with Williams, in which she rocks the house. Moser's Orsino is vocally confident throughout, and the actor shines in his big act two solo "Whoever You Are." The act one closing quartet of romantic confusion, "Save One," features Williams, Moser, Falcone and Berinobis, in the highlight of the score and the production.

The bawdier, goofier characters are deliciously well represented by John Kelleher as the impish and frequently besotted Sir Toby Belch, Erin Sprow as his wily co-conspirator Maria, Aaron Ford as the much abused Malvolio, and especially the lanky and quirky Daniel Stoltenberg as fey Sir Andrew. Kelleher, Stoltenberg, Berinobis, Sprow and ensemble trot into English musical hall territory with the catchy "Cakes" and Ale," Sprow has a field day belting her big number "The Man is Mine," and Ford amusingly sells "Malvolio's Tango." With most of his stage time saved till act two, Branden Edwards still earns applause with his great facial reactions and bewilderment when Moser's Orsino makes a play for him, and he shows off a quality voice on his solo "The Lady Must Be Mad." The small ensemble backing up these talented principals are fully committed participants in the action, even with little of consequence for them to do.

Unpretentious, melodic and just a whole lot of fun, Illyria is a worthy destination for all those who have wondered if the American musical is still alive and kickin'. Trust me, it is.

Illyria has its final performances May 8-9 at 8PM at Redwood Theatre. In the Fred W. Meitzer Theater, 8703 160th NE (within Redmond Municipal Campus) Redmond, WA. For information call 206-525-3493.


Photo: Michael Brunk



- David Edward Hughes



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