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Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


Illyria
6th Street Playhouse
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of Dry Powder and School of Rock


Carmen Mitchell and Burton Thomas
Photo by Eric Chazankin
Illyria, the clever musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night created by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel, has been around since 2002, but is rarely produced, perhaps owing to its operatic demands on both performers and orchestra. Its virtual non-stop music, including 15 numbers in act one alone and underscoring for almost every scene, yields a few memorable songs, but it's the script, turning Shakespeare into musical comedy, that ultimately charms us. 6th Street Playhouse Artistic Director Craig Miller directs the show as his swan song before he departs for a university position, gifting a lovely farewell to the theater he has called home for almost eight years.

The characters are essentially the same as in Shakespeare's play. Viola (Carmen Mitchell) has been shipwrecked and washes up on the foreign shores of Illyria. Believing her brother Sebastian to be drowned, she decides to impersonate him as a form of protection, and finds employment as a manservant to Duke Orsino (Burton Thomas), with whom she promptly falls in love. Orsino, however, longs for always-in-mourning Countess Olivia (Tracy Hinman), who wants nothing to do with him, but falls madly in love with Viola/Sebastian when the Duke sends her/him to plead his case. When Viola's brother, the real Sebastian (Lorenzo Alviso), shows up, it's a fine recipe for hilarity in mistaken identities and skewed love scenes.

Olivia's hard-drinking uncle Sir Toby Belch (Seth Dahlgren) hangs around her estate with savvy handmaiden Maria (Gillian Eichenberger) and a foppish, timid knight named Andrew Aguecheek (Stephen Kanaski). They're fed up with the churlish threats from Olivia's prim major domo, Malvolio (Larry Williams), and their plot to bring him down supplies much of the slapstick comedy.

All is overseen and somewhat narrated by Feste (Tim Setzer), an amusing jester who serves Olivia, but who seems to know-all, see-all, and understand everything. Mills' script gives him prominence and turns the play into a memory, framing the action with Feste's ode to love and silliness.

A few lovely ballads are definite highlights, including "The Ring" and "Patience" sung by Viola, and "Save One," the haunting trio that ends act one sung by Olivia, Orsino, and Viola as they pine for love. The comedic numbers are less remarkable, although it would be hard to forget the breakneck speed and friskiness of "Cakes and Ale." The score overall suffers from almost endless modulation and often the underscoring is distracting. The script also feels overlong, with the addition of a scene or two not in the original play, and every scene showcases a lengthy song.

The cast, fortunately, is in excellent voice and totally capable of delivering comedy both subtle and broad, and even finding touching moments in the lovelorn ballads. Mitchell is a standout as Viola, with a velvet voice and fine acting. She's well-matched with Thomas as Orsino, and their duets are quite pleasant. Thomas gets to play the most modern scene added to the play, when he realizes he's in love with "Sebastian," and gives it utter believability.

Alviso, Eichenberger, Dahlgren and Kanaski all have wonderful moments to shine. Williams' Malvolio could be even more priggish in the beginning, but his letter scene and subsequent "madness" are delightful. Setzer as Feste breathes welcome life and satire into the character. The one jarring casting note is that of Olivia—Hinman possesses a fine voice and admirable acting skills, but her apparent age doesn't match up with her various love interests, and merely detracts.

Director Miller has staged the show well, but slow scene changes add considerably to the running time, clocking act one alone at 90 minutes. Scenic design by Jesse Dreikosen is pretty, but could have used less furniture and quicker transitions, and lighting by April George adds to the beauty. Music director Lucas Sherman does a terrific job with the herculean demands on orchestra and vocals.

Give yourself a break from the daily grind and spend some time in the enchanting land of Illyria. We can all use the welcome laughter and the enjoyment of love stories that turn out happily.

Illyria, through July 8, 2018, at 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA. Tickets $22.00-$35.00 can be purchased online at www.6thstreetplayhouse.com or by phone at 707-523-4185 ext. 1.


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