Friday, June 26, 2009

Twelfth Night


By William Shakespeare. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. Delacorte. (CLOSED)

Critics mostly love this Twelfth Night like nobody's loved Twelfth Night, come rain or come shine. They praise this free outdoor Shakespeare for its eclectic powerhouse cast headed by a winning Anne Hathaway; for its lovely musical score (by brilliant Brooklyn folksters Hem); and for director Daniel Sullivan's unforced balance between knockabout comedy, romance, and melancholy. A few dissenters point out some off-key performances, interpretive lacunae, and design quibbles, but the overall tone of these reviews (some of which explicitly hope for a Broadway transfer) is resoundingly: Play on.

The Daily News A+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Director Daniel Sullivan's audience-friendly mounting is an all-too-rare take on Shakespeare — one that's not overly stylized, petrified or simply memorized. Even with an occasionally finicky sound system making for a couple of murky passages, there's an invigorating sense that the events are unfolding spontaneously, right here, right now...Hathaway is the main attraction, but the revival bursts with star-level performances. The cast, chosen and guided with exceptional care, is a who's who from theater, TV and film. Standing out are two incredibly versatile actors. Four-time Tony winner Audra McDonald ("Private Practice") plays Olivia and it's exhilarating to watch her trade unsmiling despair over her dead brother for girlish excitement as she falls for Viola in drag. David Pittu is invaluable as Olivia's clown, Feste. A Broadway vet, he's got the keenest comic chops in town and a fantastic way with a tune...The Brooklyn-based folk-rock band Hem wrote the melodies to go with the Bard's text; like the show itself, they're a dreamy mix of melancholy and merry.

Variety A+
(David Rooney) An enchanting endorsement of love in defiance of convention. It's hard to imagine a more satisfying staging of the crowd-pleasing romantic comedy than this one orchestrated by director Daniel Sullivan, a superb design team and an impeccable cast assembled around Anne Hathaway, who makes a thoroughly winning and accomplished professional Shakespeare debut. Add in the soul-stirring music of neo-folk ensemble Hem and you have one magical night in Illyria...There's a bewitching confidence in the creation of mood and atmosphere here that makes Shakespeare's melancholy comic exploration of the twisty paths and regenerative power of love, in all its mysteriousness and recklessness, truly soar.

Associated Press A+
(Michael Kuchwara) This revival practically floats through the night air at the outdoor Delacorte Theater where a sterling ensemble shines in the Bard's blissful take on mismatched romances and the things besotted creatures do for love, both real or imagined. It's that chaotic confusion that director Daniel Sullivan has marshaled so effectively in this playful revival...Cumpsty's performance is so delightfully comic that he earns the audience's sympathy even though his comeuppance, planned by the play's other laugh-getting pranksters, is justly deserved...Major scene-stealing is committed by Hamish Linklater, who portrays Olivia's most comic suitor, the dithering Andrew Aguecheek...The actor is matched for laughs by David Pittu, as Feste, a fool who's supplied with the play's wittiest banter.

New York A+
(Scott Brown) Daniel Sullivan’s perfectly cast, exquisitely pitched, thoroughly winning (though never merely winsome) production absolutely beams. I’d swear there are moments when the clouds part just for this show.

Backstage A+
(David Sheward) Raúl Esparza, Audra McDonald, and Anne Hathaway convey such depth in these roles that they are unquestionably the center of the production, while the more obviously comic characters are rightfully in support...Esparza is so intense in his unrequited ardor that Orsino's passion engulfs the stage...Hathaway demonstrates she is one of our most promising young actors. Not content to rest on her film stardom, she bravely takes on one of the Bard's trickier heroines...Audra McDonald shines the brightest in this comic constellation....Rather than stealing the spotlight, Sir Toby and crew are charming entertainers who romp on stage while the lovers get a rest...John Lee Beatty's sylvan-glade set, Jane Greenwood's colorful 18th-century costumes, and Peter Kaczorowski's poetic lighting enhance the beautifully bucolic Central Park environment for one of the best productions of Twelfth Night I've ever seen.

Bergen Record A+
(Robert Feldberg) Hilarious and joyful – a terrific evening. The play has an unusually generous number of significant roles, with three pairs of lovers and no fewer than six comic figures. And the strength of the production – besides the boundless imagination of director Daniel Sullivan, who's supplied dozens of witty staging touches — is the depth of the cast. There are superb performers all the way down the line, even in the smaller roles...You might think the weak link in the company would be Anne Hathaway, a movie star with little stage experience. But...she's a revelation. Not only does she speak Shakespeare's poetry clearly and with feeling, and provide a lovely, spirited presence, she turns out to be a marvelous physical comedian...Everyone in this production seems to have been touched by the same antic inspiration...It's a pity the name is already taken; otherwise, the play could aptly be titled "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Talkin' Broadway A+
(Matthew Murray) Not only multi-megawatt in terms of talent, but also as some of the best Shakespeare - to say nothing of one of the best versions of this play - that New York has seen in years...These disparate personalities and performing styles don’t just mesh, they blend so seamlessly that you’re never aware of the bevy of star turns unfolding before you...There’s no lack of the artists’ singular sparks - it’s just that none is granted more importance than any of the others...Sullivan has not burdened this play with the weight of the sorrow that taints so many of the characters’ lives - something that routinely sinks any potential fun. Instead, everyone is enterprising, willing and ready to turn the saddest of circumstances into the happiest of new situations. This pays remarkable dividends - not just for the audience, which receives an uncommonly joyful treatment of many sorrowful souls returning to the game of life - but for the characters too: Rarely has this group felt as irrepressibly alive.

CurtainUp A+
(Les Gutman) The key to its pleasures can be summed up in one word: balance. In this telling, the play's deeper and darker threads play second fiddle to the comedy (as one might argue is most apt for Shakespeare in the Park in any event), yet the entirety of the losses from which the play arises, and the romances that spring forth, are manifest throughout. None of this would be possible without an acting ensemble as thoroughly grounded as the one Mr. Sullivan has, almost magically, brought together and then led...With two major stars of the New York stage and one formidable film star, none of whom have substantial Shakespearean chops, who would have anticipated the nuance and sheer brilliance these three display? Esparza resists the posturing Orsino we so frequently see, substituting a far more human, and therefore meaningful, character. Hathaway manages to transport her impressive film presence to the stage, radiating infectious comic instincts without abandoning the sense of love and loss that defines Viola. McDonald is, well, magnificent; no matter how wonderful she has been before, nothing has topped the honesty and reverberation of her effort here...Casting David Pittu as Feste, the clown who makes the most sense of any character in the play and consistently delivers its truths, is a stroke of genius. Not only does he keep the entire endeavor on course, but he also carries the laboring oar in the singing department, which is here quite substantial...There is not a weak link in this cast.

The New York Times A
(Charles Isherwood) “Most wonderful”...seems an apt reaction to the scintillating new production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy...the most consistently pleasurable the city has seen in at least a decade. And it is certainly one of the most accomplished Shakespeare in the Park productions the Public Theater has fielded in some time...On screen or onstage Ms. Hathaway possesses the unmistakable glow of a natural star, but she dives smoothly and with obvious pleasure into the embrace of a cohesive ensemble cast. A frankness of manner and a brisk emotional clarity are the hallmarks of her performance...It’s true that Ms. Hathaway’s speaking of the verse could benefit from a more sophisticated lyric impulse. The wit and meaning are delivered purely while the music is a little muted...Despite all the present mirth Mr. Sullivan weaves throughout the production an equally present melancholy.

Newsday A
(Linda Winer) Where has Anne Hathaway been all our theater lives? OK, we know all about the sizzling movie career, blah, blah. But she takes to the stage in "Twelfth Night" - incredibly, her professional Shakespeare debut - with the intelligence, charm and dazzle of someone who has always belonged right up there. And she is far from the only allure in Daniel Sullivan's luscious and nutty dreamboat of a production - the sort of sure-handed combination of glitz and grace that Joseph Papp must have imagined for his audacious free Shakespeare in the Park. Instead of the customary watery set on a mystical island, this story of shipwrecks and mistaken identities unfolds in a 19th century landscape of rolling hillocks carpeted in yummy green lawns (designed by John Lee Beatty) - all the better for expert toppling, flopping and luxuriating amid exceptionally lucid versifying.

Time Out NY A
(David Cote) The cast’s jollity is catching: We too feel young again—or, at least, that we’re reliving the early joys of Shakespeare. There’s not a weak link in this buoyant, musical delight (with delicate tunes by the folk ensemble Hem), and Anne Hathaway’s outdoor-Bard debut is impressive. Not only does she toss off the poetry with breezy verve (slow down, Anne!), she displays solid physical-comedy chops...Sullivan’s approach is to go easy on the outdated wordplay and the slapstick zaniness, with the surprising result that this Twelfth Night (in 18th-century costumes) plays out with admirable clarity. Mainly, the cast and crew conjure a rich sense of wry wonder and romance. They roll giddily through this classic comedy, and we happily follow.

The Hollywood Reporter A
(Frank Scheck) Beautifully captures the melancholy and comedic qualities of the Bard's classic...Hits on just about every level, with director Daniel Sullivan having assembled an eclectic ensemble of performers who mesh beautifully...The musical interludes, in fact, are among the high points of the show, with the score composed by the indie folk-rock group Hem filled with hauntingly memorable songs. Productions of Shakespeare's lighter works often suffer from a lack of comic inspiration, but there's no such problem here thanks to the wonderfully farcical and hilarious interplaying of Hamish Linklater...David Pittu and Jay O. Sanders...This is a magical "Twelfth Night" that will long linger in your memory.

Theatermania A
(Dan Balcazo) Delightful...A hilarious romp that's only enhanced by scenic designer John Lee Beatty's set of rolling green hills and trees that fit right in with the natural Central Park landscape. Hathaway makes for a very cute and passably convincing boy, and costume designer Jane Greenwood and wig designer Tom Watson have done a good job in emphasizing her resemblance to Sands' earnest and appealing Sebastian. The actress fares best in her more comic scenes, particularly with McDonald's love-struck Olivia. For her part, the four-time Tony winner is an absolute delight to watch, with facial expressions and body language that seem like they should be over-the-top, but are somehow still grounded in McDonald's grin-inducing portrayal. Esparza gives a more low-key yet still very funny performance, while Linklater's Andrew Aguecheek is pure comic genius...Cumpsty endows Malvolio with an appropriate smugness...Pittu gets to sing the majority of the show's many songs, beautifully composed by musical ensemble HEM and featuring a folk sound with Celtic influences...Here, music really is the food of love, and this production should leave audiences fully sated.

American Theatre Web A
(Andy Propst) A buoyant delight through and through...Director Sullivan has not only beautifully calibrated the performances from his two leading ladies, but from a host of actors involved in plots and subplots that unfurl alongside this romantic triangle...Perhaps most notable is Sullivan's work with the actors playing the boisterous members of Olivia's household...They seem like a marvelously dysfunctional family. These are people who have lived together for a while and know one another inside out. This sense of unity, ultimately, enriches this "Night" immensely. Also adding to the script and the production is the gorgeously eclectic score from the songwriting team known as Hem.

Lighting & Sound America A-
(David Barbour) A deft balancing act, giving each of the play's emotional colors its due, and providing a playground for an unusually starry cast...All in all, Sullivan's direction has a sharp eye for understated comic detail, when Toby piously crosses himself, his whiskey bottle firmly in hand, or, at the end, when Orsino, unable to tell Viola and Sebastian apart, accidentally picks the wrong sibling for an embrace. And everyone looks great in Jane Greenwood's Regency-era costumes...This production's double vision reaches its fulfillment in the final scene in which all secrets are revealed and the paired lovers are serenaded with the oddly introspective final song...Cheers to Sullivan and company for providing three hours of civilized amusement.

AM New York B+
(Matt Windman) Hathaway gives a convincing but rather unimposing performance as Viola, the smart gal who disguises herself as a male servant but then falls in love with her master...Hathaway is kind of overshadowed by some of New York’s finest theater actors including Audra McDonald, Raul Esparza, Michael Cumpsty, Julie White, David Pittu, Stark Sands and Jay O. Sanders. Don’t ask us to pick and choose our favorite performances, but the most memorable include Esparza as a self-pitying and blooding Orsino and Hamish Linklater, who takes broad physical comedy to a silly extreme as the foppish Sir Andrew. Dan Sullivan’s enjoyable production emphasizes the play’s storytelling, its comedic elements, and is happily free of any awkward directoral concepts or unnecessary messages...But Sullivan’s most appealing contribution was the addition of a small folk band at the side of the stage, allowing his cast to show off their strong voices whenever possible.

Bloomberg News B
(John Simon) Hathaway, though slightly shortchanging the poetic, expertly blends the boyish and the womanly in Viola. McDonald, while playing a more contemporary, less aristocratic Olivia, invests her with brio. Cumpsty, auburn-wigged, puts across Malvolio’s arrogance and subsequent pathos perfectly. Sullivan is, to be sure, a canny director and you may observe countless clever staging touches...The production’s chief problem is encapsulated in that pastoral set. It’s a romantic garden sporting lush grass and bosky knolls. A path atop a verdant embankment is lined with dwarf trees harboring hidden lights that will illuminate the climax. The hills provoke droll slidings down and agile leaps up; the shrubbery provides nifty concealment for plotters. Yet there’s no trace of a human habitat in this place of enchantment -- best for some other play. The same may be said of Jane Greenwood’s exuberant costumes...My only quarrel is with the wonderful Raul Esparza, whose Duke Orsino could use more hauteur and a less Orphan Annieish wig, and who might show greater affection for Viola as a boy to make his prompt embrace of her as a fiancee more believable...Still, this “Twelfth Night” is mostly for gushing innocents or indulgent sophisticates; those in between had better beware...With visual opulence and directorial connivance, slaphappiness prevails. B
(David Gordon) Compared to others I've seen...there's nothing particularly special in Sullivan's staging. It's accessible, straightforward, and respectful. While it may not be a Twelfth Night for the ages, it provides for a most enjoyable theatrical experience, the way only a show at the Delacorte Theater can...Sullivan's risklessness with Cumpsty and Esparza is visible in their performances. As a result, Cumpsty's Malviolio is ineffective, drawing neither hatred nor pity. The role, a highlight in many productions, is rendered superfluous. Esparza has some nice moments as Orsino, but nothing is done to make the character look three-dimensional...Sir Toby Belch and Maria have the most developed relationship here that I've ever seen, with White almost tackling Sanders with a kiss the first time they're on stage together. They, along with Hamish Linklater's pratfalling Sir Andrew Aguecheek, provide the bulk of the comedy and their scenes, accordingly, are highlights. For what is essentially her professional theater debut, Hathaway acquits herself well. Her Viola is well thought-out and has very nice chemistry with McDonald's glorious Olivia.

New York Post B-
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) As the sexy, witty, modernly ambiguous Viola, laying waste to men and women's hearts, Hathaway gives a solid, committed performance. To paraphrase the immortal words of the Bard of Atlanta, T.I., all you haters can get at her, but she's serious...Despite occasional mumbling, her Viola is delightful and endearing in a puppyish way. Like the colorful, fast-paced production itself -- the three hours positively fly by -- Hathaway is light on her feet. She may not unearth any new nuances in the part, but it's also difficult not to bask in her contagious enthusiasm...Sullivan was happy just smoothing out all the kinks (pun intended) and adding broooooaaaaad crowd-pleasing sight gags whenever possible. At times it seems as if his directions to the actors consisted mainly of "Why don't you just do that voodoo that you do so well?" This hands-off approach plays to the advantage of the comic leads, who fare better than the romantic ones. It says something about the tone of a production of "Twelfth Night" when you can't wait for Orsino, Olivia and Viola to make room for Olivia's doofus suitor, Andrew Aguecheek...Yes, it's a fine and jolly evening. But there's also a little something missing--an undercurrent of wistfulness, perhaps, a certain melancholia to balance out the laughs. As a result, the show is hard to dislike--but it's also hard to love.

The Daily News A+ 14; Variety A+ 14; Associated Press A+ 14; New York A+ 14; Backstage A+ 14; Bergen Record A+ 14; Talkin' Broadway A+ 14; CurtainUp A+ 14; The New York Times A 13; Newsday A 13; Time Out NY A 13; The Hollywood Reporter A 13;
Theatermania A 13; American Theatre Web A 13; LS&A A- 12; AM New York B+ 11; Bloomberg News B 10; B 10; New York Post B- 9; TOTAL: 242/19=12.74 (A)

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