"If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it." So begins one of the opening scenes in Shakepeare's comedy Twelfth Night, one of my favorite of the bard's for its liberal use of ribald humor and clever hijinks.
Salt Lake Shakespeare's modern take on the original script is refreshing and entertaining, and the production (which runs Wed-Sat through Aug. 9) incorporates a hefty musical element that helped keep things running smoothly throughout the lengthy acts, part I and II, with a brief intermission to check out the cast's impressive head shots/resumes.
Chris Johnston, who also plays Feste, put together all of the evening's music, from one original song that streamed softly through Babcock Theatre before, after and between acts, to understated interludes that set the tone for each scene, to hilarious musical breakdowns that touched on Run DMC-style raps and a Twisted Sister's biggest hit. If you've never pictured Malvolio reciting sweet nothings from a fake love letter while playing a mean air guitar and screaming old English to "We're Not Going to Take It," then you're really missing out. Malvolio, played by Whit Hertford (a Provo native, Upright Citizens Brigade alumn and voice behind several cartoons including Tiny Toons and TailSpin) delivered one of the night's standout performances. In fact, all of the actors responsible for the play's comic relief were downright hysterical. Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Auguecheek, for example, took the swarmy drunk role to a whole new level. Dressed in various tacky outfits with loud shirts, gold chains and mismatched suits, they shouted and cajolled their way from one scheme to the next like a couple of wiseguys (who aren't so wise).
The entire cast really brought to life the somewhat complicated comedy of mistaken identity, creating unique identities for each of the characters so that suddenly you weren't just watching one of Shakespeare's send-ups--you were watching a funny play. Period.
The entire cast is spot on. Amanda Fulks turns fair Olivia into a powerful drama queen in black and tattoos, Eric McGraw's Fabian is a wisecracking hick...
Salt Lake Shakespeare's modern updates are fairly subtle, and at times a little ingenious. The scene where Malvolio is being tricked into thinking Olivia loves him takes place with him in the living room and the comedic fools watching him from a kitchen via webcam as he scrolls through the correspondence via cell phone.
The play ends with Johnston singing the closing lines in a clear, beautiful voice. The rest of the cast joins in and though your stomach might be rumbling because you missed dinner, you will be tempted to shout, "Play on."
Here's a clip from the 1996 film version depicting one of the funniest scenes in Salt Lake Shakespeare's production: