Due to a residency commitment, I couldn’t get to Southbank Theatre Company’s production of Twelfth Night” until its final weekend. And while I didn’t attend as press, I still wanted to share some thoughts on the outdoor production by this new and ambitious Indianapolis-based company.
— Why is it such a surprising joy when a new musical has catchy numbers? Shaina Taub’s tune stack here is playful, fun, and character building (with the exceptional of the final number, which is a bit too “here’s the message” for my taste). There’s a giddiness to scores such as this –see also “The Book of Mormon,” “The Producers,” and “Something Rotten” — that deliver on first listening and pull audiences in. Thank goodness for a decent sound system that kept mic crackles and drops to a minimum.
— I get annoyed by people who say things like “Afterwards I couldn’t remember any of the songs.” That’s said often about new musicals and it’s a nonsense standard that naively forgets that, unless a chorus is repeated ad nauseum (I’m looking at you, “Mame”) or a song has substantial airplay prior to being experienced in the theater (“Hamilton”), songs are tough to remember after only one hearing. It’s more important to remember the feeling induced rather than the specifics of the music or lyrics. Right now, I couldn’t hum any of the “Twelfth Night” songs or recall lyrics, but I won’t soon forget the collective joy in the audience when the fully committed Hannah Boswell wowed us with “Greatness,” whenever Paige Scott’s Feste had a musical moment, or when the cast ripped into “You’re the Worst,” the best theatrical drinking song since “Heave Away” from “Come From Away.” The fact that it will take more listens to the score to be able to recall some of the music and lyrics doesn’t diminish Taub’s excellent work here.
–Side note: If you happen to be in NYC over the next few months, Taub’s original musical “Suffs” is running through the end of May and her adaptation of “As You Like It” will be offered in Central Park Aug. 10-Sept. 11.
— For me, the make or break moment in any production of “Twelfth Night” comes when Viola and Sabastian are reunited. Strike that. It starts when Viola realizes that her twin brother may still be alive and it culminates when they reconnect. That connection has to ring true, as it does here thanks in large part to Michelle Wafford Mannweiler, who not only sings the role beautifully but also acts it with purpose and passion.
— At last, a production of “Twelfth Night” where Orsino isn’t the weak link in the core triangle. That’s thanks to a thoughtful and well-sung performance by Dave Pelsue and some smart tweaks to the script that allows him to acknowledge his attraction to Viola-as-Cesario.
— At last, a Sir Topas scene that isn’t cringe-inducing. Not only that, but it made hilarious use of the location by having Malvolio imprisoned in the Indy Fringe Theatre’s ticket booth. (Direction is by Max McCreary.)
— Small musical theater productions often mean a small sound from the orchestra. Kudos to the band and Musical Director Ginger Stoltz for elevating the sound with brass and gusto.
— Indianapolis would be a better place if Southbank Theatre Company had the means to offer this production every year. We’ve had a strong few months of meaty productions around town. We need bread, but give us roses, too.
— I now have hope that someday, someone in Indy will stage the wonderful Michael Friedman musical version of “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”