It was one of the most exhilarating afternoons of merrymaking I’ve witnessed in local theatre this season, when I attended a Sunday matinee of “Twelfth Night” at The Play Ground at IndyFringe Theatre. A musical adaptation of William’s Shakespeare play of the same title, the work was conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub, who also wrote the music and lyrics. The outdoor production is presented by Southbank Theatre Company, one of Indy’s newest performing arts organizations and the brainchild of educator and playwright Marcia Eppich -Harris, who is its visionary founding artistic director.
It is always helpful to read Shakespeare’s plays or at least a synopsis prior to seeing them on stage, especially “Twelfth Night,” with a plot that requires a scorecard to keep track of its crisscrossing romantic entanglements. But for purposes of brevity, here’s a super-brief plot summary with a few spoilers. Viola, separated from her twin Sebastian, dresses as a boy and is employed by the Duke Orsino, whom she falls in love with. Orsino is in love with the countess Olivia, and sends Viola to court her for him, but Olivia falls for Viola instead. Sebastian arrives, causing a flood of mistaken identities, and marries Olivia. Viola then reveals she is a girl and marries Orsino.
Impressively directed by Max McCreary (whose day job is box-office manager for IndyFringe), this ebullient work proved to be everything he described in the program notes that read, “The spirit of ‘Twelfth Night’ is inclusivity, empathy and unbridled joy and the labor of ‘Twelfth Night’ is self-discovery.”
Featuring a 14-member cast, the production boasts a uniformly talented ensemble of performers, with nary a weak link, all of whom are accomplished actor-singer-dancers. Particularly strong were Michelle Wafford, as gender-bending Viola, dynamic David Pelsue as Orsino, Natalie Fischer as Olivia, and comedic favorite Paige Scott as Feste the Fool, who sang the affecting “Is This Not Love?” Standing out for the power and intensity of her striking performance was Hannah Boswell as Malvolio, who brought down the house in “Count Malvolio,” in which he dreams of his eventual rise to greatness as expressed in the text “Some are born great, some have greatness and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.”
Taub’s effervescent score, using pop, funk and ballads to enhance the original text with catchy tunes one can hum to, closely follows the story. Interpreting Taub’s jaunty score was a superb seven-piece band, all deserving of mention, comprising Ginger Stoltz on piano/keyboards, Chris Burton on tenor sax, Douglas Everette on trombone, Trace Coulter on trumpet, Eddie McLaughlin on guitar, Aric Harris on bass and ukulele, and Lisa Kincaid on drums and percussion.
The show’s exemplary creative team responsible for “Twelfth Night’s” distinctive look and sound, includes music director Ginger Stoltz, choral director Brad Thompson, choreographer Dani Gibbs, and costume designer Casey Ross.
I recommend you “hie thee hither” to see this uplifting, exuberant reimagining of “Twelfth Night,” Thursday, May 5, through its closing performance at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 8, the second offering of the intrepid Southbank Theatre Company’s inaugural season.