Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Rock ‘n’ Roll Twelfth Night at Harlequin

Josh Krupke as Malvolio

Christian Doyle as John Lennon/Feste

Mark Alford is an explosive Johnny Rotten
Harlequin Productions’ original musical A Rock ‘n’ Roll Twelfth Night (with apologies to William Shakespeare) has become a modern classic dear to the hearts of Olympia theater lovers. It is now playing for the fourth time, and it has been far too long since the last time — 2003. That was so long ago for the cast of relatively young actors that only one of them has ever even seen the show, as stated in a program note by Scot Whitney. It might be further noted that the actors have to be relatively young because the energy required of actors in this frenetic musical could be the cause of heart attacks in older actors.
A Rock ‘n’ Roll Twelfth Night is unlike any musical you’ve ever before seen, although it does bear a slight resemblance to parts of Spamalot and The Rocky Horror Show. It is also unlike any other version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (although the story line adheres fairly closely to the Shakespeare comedy).
Imagine this: Shakespeare set to music with original rock ‘n’ roll tunes performed by the likes of Elvis Presley, Madonna, Janice Joplin and Little Richard. Crazy, huh? But that’s what Whitney and his brother Bruce have created. They wrote songs based on lines from Shakespeare’s play, put them to music in the style of rock icons, and inserted them in appropriate places in the play — fairly closely sticking to the bard’s words and plot lines but with occasional pop references thrown in (like suddenly bursting into a bit of “Time Warp” from Rocky Horror, and a line from the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”). In other words, controlled insanity.
Scot wrote the lyrics and Bruce wrote the music, with lyrics to “Electrocution” by Bob Hart and lyrics to “The Way I Feel Tonight” by Linda Whitney. There’s a grungy, industrial look to the set by Linda Whitney and dramatic lighting by Amy Chisman, and some wild costuming by Darren Mills — check out Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s yellow socks.
The cast is outstanding, from Kody Bringman as a spot-on Elvis playing Duke Orsino to Josh Krupke’s crazy and very changeable Malvolio. Most of the cast members are easily recognizable as rock stars, but a few I could not place, either because I’m not that hip to singers of certain eras or perhaps because not all of them were meant to be specific stars.
Stacie Calkins, for example, as Viola. If she is playing her role as a particular singer I could not place her, but that doesn’t matter; all that matters is that she has a voice that rocks the house. Calkins has been wowing audiences at Centerstage, ArtsWest, Tacoma Musical Playhouse and other venues north of here for years, and Olympia audiences are blessed to finally get to hear her sing on Harlequin’s stage. She is astounding.
Lindsey Larson is unmistakable as Madonna playing Lady Olivia, and Gina Marie Russell is clearly Janice Joplin, recognizable by her costume even if her voice, while powerful enough, does not sound like Janice. Christian Doyle as Feste looks and sounds like John Lennon and quietly commands attention whenever he is on stage. Gabriel McClelland is a dead ringer in sound and movement for John Belushi’s Jake Blues playing the perpetually drunk Sir Toby Belch. Miguel Pineda is hilarious with outsized moves and expressions as Little Richard playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek (with a few moves recognizable as lifted from Michael Jackson and James Brown thrown in for good measure). Mark Alford is explosive as a bright-orange-haired Johnny Rotten.
As with Calkins, I could not recognize which rock icon Jordon Bolden was playing in the role of Sebastian, but he is entertaining and has a terrific voice.
Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s funniest comedies. It tells the tale of a brother and sister, Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a storm at sea when Viola falls overboard and is washed up on the shores of Illyria, which is renamed Dyleria for this production. Each believes the other is dead. Viola pretends to be a man and falls in love with Orsino, which creates  difficulties because Orsino thinks she is a man, and furthermore he is in love with Olivia, who falls in love with Viola, whom she also believes is a man.

This play contains some typically Shakespearean hijinks and great music, and if you pay very close attention you’ll hear Shakespeare’s dirtiest joke.

WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through July 20
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151; http://www.harlequinproductions.org/

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