“If music be the food of love, play on” commands the lovelorn Count Orsino as “Twelfth Night” opens – and it is indeed music that sustained a wonderfully joyous performance throughout a rare, clear night at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park this week. And the music provided by Brooklyn based indie-folk band Hem is only one of the many delights of this delightful production of perhaps the most beloved of Shakespeare’s comedies.
Although, given the recent weather the performance was miraculous just for the fact that it was completed. I originally was slated to attend Sunday’s performance. It was actually a lovely evening until about 7:45 when the heavens, as they say, opened and the rain came pouring down. The resultant one hour wait until the performance was called wasn’t much fun, but I quickly found out that it was much less fun for the profoundly disgruntled theater fans that had spent the entire day waiting for tickets.
Anyway – Daniel Sullivan, the Tony-winning director of Proof, has directed an ensemble of stage, screen and musical theatre veterans in Shakespeare’s comedy of mistaken identity and mismatched lovers that opened Wednesday evening and runs through July 12th. Starring Anne Hathaway, Audra McDonald, Julie White and Raul Esparza the production follows the example of many Delacorte performances past which combine big name stars from various venues and Broadway veterans, with decidedly uneven results. This effort is very happily the exception as the cast fits seamlessly together and manages to create what I think is one of the most remarkably complete productions to take place in the park that I’ve ever seen.
From her first moment on the perfectly designed stage it is obvious that Ms. Hathaway is the equal to anyone else on stage and having a great time proving it. Playing her gender bending role with the perfect combination of winsome femininity and boyish gallantry the actress is the perfect foil for the increasingly giddy attentions of Lady Olivia, played to lusty perfection by Audra McDonald. Raúl Esparza plays Count Orsino with wit and grace and, along with the ladies, gets to show off his impressive vocal abilities on several occasions throughout the evening.
The evening also features comic turns from Tony-winning actress Julie White as Maria, two-time Tony nominee David Pittu as the fool Feste, Hamish Linklater as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Jay O. Sanders as Sir Toby Belch, Michael Cumpsty as Malvolio, as well as Herb Foster as Valentine, Kevin Kelly as Sea Captain, as Curio and Jon Patrick Walker as Fabian.
Shakespeare in the Park most recently staged Twelfth Night in 2002, starring Jimmy Smits, Julia Stiles, Kathryn Meisle and Zach Braff. Additional stagings have featured Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer (1989); Kim Greist, F. Murray Abraham and Peter MacNicol (1986); and Barbara Barrie and Ralph Waite (1969).
Performances of Shakespeare in the Park are Tuesday-Sunday at 8 PM. Tickets are free and are available on the day of the performance (two per person) at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park beginning at 1 PM, or by entering the Public’s online ticketing lottery at PublicTheater.
The closest entrances to the Delacorte are located at 81st Street and Central Park West or 70th Street and Fifth Avenue.