I went into the concept of a musical “Twelfth Night” with a healthy level of skepticism.
Is there ever any need to put lyricism on the already melodious rhythms of the bard’s eloquence? Apparently, there was, I just didn’t know it until Monday night when I saw and heard the words of one of my favourite Shakespeare comedies anew.
This show does what “Hamilton” and “Poet in Da Corner” have done for different genres; Made the classics, history, revolutionaries of yesterday, accessible to today’s youth and audiences of all incomes. I am very impressed with the idea, the general execution, the staging and above all the direction of the new artistic director of the Young Vic, Kwame Kwei-Armah.
I won’t say every number was, the proverbial, one. For example, I found the opening number, an attempt at the extenuation of Orsino’s speech “If music be the food of love, play on” to be closer to a miss than a hit. I have always understood Orsino’s line to be one full of the pangs of unrequited love, not a jazzy, peppy box step. However, once I got through that, the majority of the rest of the score was breathtaking and beautifully put together, both lyrically and musically. Some of the songs went beyond the scope of the speeches in the text and worked fantastically well to give us back stories to the characters that the play script would never have been able to do without being too expositional. Shaina Taub has done an exceptional job on the lyrics.
Now to more specific aspects. The community chorus was a brilliant stroke of genius. There were obviously a fair few young actors in there seeking an opportunity and I loved the chance it gave, especially to the, almost “Diana Ross & the Supremes“- esque “word on the street” singers, helping us signpost what was going on and underscoring the show with elegance and comedic lightness. Obviously these girls, and I dare say a lot of the rest of the chorus, are not lacking in talent. But that raises an issue for me as an actor, as they obviously would have put in a lot of unpaid hours for this show. I hope this opportunity leads to many paid opportunities for these gems.
The leads/main actors were impeccable but my hats off especially to Gabrielle Brooks (Viola) and Melissa Allan(Feste) whose singing elevated this show from an ingenious attempt to a credible hole-in-one. The acting was exceptional across the board but the chops of Gbemisola Ikumelo(Maria), Martyn Ellos (Sir Toby) and above all Gerard Carey (Malvolio) were second to none. I do believe of all things Kwei-Armah got right, the casting was without a doubt, the first and actually, the most important thing he did to transport this show to a higher level of fantastic.
There were elements however that could have been sharper. The choreography, beautifully constructed by Lizzie Gee, could have been more tightly executed, especially in the bigger, showier numbers. But I believe for the average audience member, and given that the chorus was from the community as opposed to dance colleges, this may not be too much of a problem. For me, however, there are three elements to judge musicals on; The acting, the singing, and the dancing. None should be weaker than the others and unfortunately, it felt, at times, like the dancing took a tumble compared to the exceptional singing and acting.
This all being said, I have the utmost respect for what was done and successfully carried out. Shakespeare just became richer in my ears, in my understanding, and in my heart as a result of this show.
Twelfth Night runs at the Young Vic until the 17th of November. Find out more and book your tickets here.