By Sarah Beck
A successful musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” exists and it is absolutely astounding as it sounds. Shenandoah Conservatory tackled “Illyria” this weekend at the Glaize Studio Theatre. A Shakespeare musical may sound odd to those who know Bard’s work, but for those who aren’t as familiar, llyria told the classic story of “Twelfth Night” through song, which provided a very entertaining night in the theatre.
The plot line of “Twelfth Night” is full of love triangles and plot twists. If you’ve seen the movie “She’s the Man,” this plot summary might sound familiar to you: Viola (played by senior Claire Wittman) and Sebastian (played by junior Christopher Castanho) are two fraternal twins that have been shipwrecked and separated by a violent storm, causing Viola to surface to the coast of a land called Illyria. She dresses as her brother and assumes the name Sebastian for protection. Viola then becomes the servant to Orsino, the Duke (played by sophomore Drew Becker), and lives her life in her brother’s shoes while desperately trying to find him.
These characters were challenging to say the least.
“This was a great opportunity to work on a classic comedy whilst also taking Shakespeare acting class with Carolyn Coulson,” junior Christopher Castanho explained.“I think Sebastian was a more difficult role for me to play because he is farther from myself than the past couple roles I’ve played at Shenandoah.”
The wickedly talented Castanho has been in several roles at the Conservatory, ranging from “Dill” in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” to “Arpad” in “She Loves Me.” He has also assisted in directing “City of Angels.”
“Having to become more of a strapping young man was a challenge for me. My goal was to portray a sense of grounded reality within the face that is Illyria,” he said.
From an audience standpoint, one of the biggest highlights of the show was the song “Cakes and Ale.” Musical Theatre majors Nick Lenz, Stephen Drainsfield, Seth Walker and Brittany Irish starred in this number, and brought a huge comic relief to this rather tragic tale. The song gave life to the fictional world of Illyria and made everyone laugh uncontrollably.
For cast members, the show had personal ties.
“I think my favorite part of working on Illyria was watching Claire Wittman, who played my twin sister Viola, shine throughout the process and also being able to learn from her was such a gift,” said Castanho. “She has grown so much as a performer and artist since she’s been here.”
Even though it may have seemed that the actors knew Shakespeare well, some did not have as much prior experience as others.
“I had actually read “Twelfth Night” in high school and seen a production of it directed by my favorite director, Darko Tresnjak, at the Hartford Stage,” Castanho said, “but I have never performed any of Shakespeare’s work.”
Under the direction of Carolyn Coulson, “Illyria” was humorous to no end and became enjoyable for all audience members.
Missed the opportunity to see it? The show premieres for another weekend from April 22 to 24 in the gardens of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. Bring the friend of yours who you’ve been dying to expose to the work Shakespeare and enjoy the show!
Feature photo by Allison Noah