‘Twelfth Night’ born great at Public’s Shakespeare in the Park

Jeanette Toomer | 8/16/2018, 12:13 p.m.
What a gloriously wonderful night!

What a gloriously wonderful night! Yes, it rained and stormed outside but in Central Park the cast of the musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy, “Twelfth Night,” created theatrical magic through uplifting music, song, dance and laughter. Produced by the Public Theater and in collaboration with Public Works, this highly engaging and entertaining musical brought a spirit of undeniable sunshine with its original upbeat score and vivacious cast.

“Welcome to Illyria” greeted the ushers as the rain-swept audience members entered the Delacorte Theater. Ironically, the play began with a funeral march for the brother of Countess Olivia. However, with Shakespeare’s enduring machinations of mistaken identity and gender cover-ups, only the audience knew the truth as the plot unraveled and unrequited love blossomed in secret.

The star of the show is Tony-winning actress Nikki M. James as Viola. Ato Blankson-Wood is her beloved as Orsino. Andrew W. Kobe gives a standout performance as Malvolio. Shuler Hensley is perfectly cast as Sir Toby Belch, a lusty fool. And Troy Anthony is Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian.

“Twelfth Night” expertly delivers fun reversals and ironic twists as the plot ends resolutely and happily with three couples marrying each other. Music and lyrics by Shaina Taub are ingeniously crafted to carry the themes and ironies within this ageless comedy.

The shining gem of this musical is the score, which features whole company numbers such as the exuberant “Play On” and tender love songs “If You Were Beloved” and “Is It Not Love,” as well as the biting sarcasm of “You Are the Worst.” Well, what is a good Shakesearean comedy without insults. Look at it as a precedent to the “dozens.” Kobe steals the show with his solo turn in which he yearns for the day “when he finally gets his due.” Daniel Hall as Sir Andrew, Olivia’s would-be suitor, leads a contagious hambone and step dancing number early in the musical. Modern and hip-hop choreography by Lorin Latarro adeptly illustrates the creative movement and agility of the core and ensemble cast of 35 singer-actors.

The Public Theater’s collaboration with Public Works produced a beautiful multicultural diversity on the stage. This production included sign language, not just from deaf performers but from James and other leading actors and chorus members integrated into the songs and dialogue. Among the community partners in “Twelfth Night” were the Brownsville Recreation Center, New York Deaf Theater, Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education, Military Resilience Foundation and DreamYard.

Directed by Oskar Eustis, “Twelfth Night” borrows selected dialogue and famous lines generously from William Shakespeare’s original play. Conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub, this musical adaptation is a definitive work of modern American musical theater for audiences of all ages.

“Twelfth Night” is also free and continues to play on at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park only until August 19. This musical comedy runs for 90 minutes without an intermission. Just remember that even it if rains, it is sunny in Illyria! Don’t miss this one!

For more information, visit www.publictheater.org.