The mere mention of Shakespeare-related live performances in Utah might lead readers directly to thoughts of the world-renowned Utah Shakespeare Festival held annually in Cedar City each summer and fall. Yet, this spring, Shakespeare was alive and well in the heart of Salt Lake City too. Pioneer Theatre Company produced Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night from March 30-April 14 while Ballet West turned out The Shakespeare Suite from April 13-21.
Pioneer Theatre Company’s Twelfth Night
PTC’s version of Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night was set in the French Quarter in New Orleans in 1812. The story begins on the first night of Epiphany (the twelfth night) and the beginning of Mardi Gras which celebrates the acts of abandoning oneself to revelry and of gaining perspective by looking at oneself from the outside in.
Plenty of revelry was enjoyed by Kenajuan Bentley’s Sir Toby Belch—the clever yet drunken leader of party mischief—and his sidekick Sir Andrew (Conner Marx) at the expense of antagonist Malvolio (David Andrew Macdonald) who’s credits also include performances at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Susanna Florence’s Maria joined in the festivities as well with a strong character performance.
Most notable to this production was the introduction of spirited songs by Feste (Olivia’s fool), played by Richard E. Waits, who composed the pieces himself and sung them admirably. His cheerful and inspired performance brought the Mardi Gras/New Orleans theme to the forefront along with colorful costuming by G. W. Mercier.
Twelfth Night twists perspectives in this story of mistaken identities and confused love that ends in a joyful celebration that felt right at home in the heart of the Big Easy.
Next at PTC: The season ends with the songs of ABBA in the perennial favorite Mamma Mia! beginning May 11.
Ballet West’s The Shakespeare Suite
As is becoming more popular in Ballet West performances, the spring ballet brought a trio of programs to the stage at Capitol Theatre—each billed as some of Artistic Director Adam Sklute’s personal favorites. Grounded by solo pianist Jeb Moss’ evocative piano playing, Return to a Strange Land began the evening by mesmerized the audience with skillful and athletic motions. Summerspace explored music, movement and art in this rarely produced tribute to modern dance.
The headline program, The Shakespeare Suite, closed the evening of ballet with a series of pop-culture vignettes of different Shakespeare plays accompanied by a live jazz band playing the smooth strains of Duke Ellington’s 1957 record Such Sweet Thunder. A relatively new ballet composed by British choreographer David Bintley in 1999, he built upon Ellington’s score and transported seven of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters/couples into contemporary jazz settings and pop dress by Jasper Conran to bring out the humor, tragedy and romance in each role.
From the tragically somber Lady MacBeth and MacBeth danced by First Soloist Allison Debona and Principal Rex Tilton to the comedic Bottom and Titania of Soloist Tyler Gum and Principal Arolyn Williams, the entire cast kept the audience entertained and entranced. Ending in a Broadway-style finale, all of the artists came together for one last dance to close the evening with a standing ovation.
Next at Ballet West: Ballet West closes their season with the return of the National Choreographic Festival beginning May 17.
Utah Shakespeare Festival
Still the headline presenter of Shakespeare in the Beehive State, the Utah Shakespeare Festival opens for the season on June 28 in Cedar City, Utah on the Southern Utah University campus. Founded in 1961, the Utah Shakespeare Festival is one of the oldest and largest Shakespeare festivals in North America. In 2000, the festival won a Tony Award for America’s Outstanding Regional Theatre and hasn’t rested on its laurels since. Evening performances of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Merchant of Venice and Henry VI, Part One all run in the outdoor replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre—bringing Shakespeare under the stars to life each evening. Othello will be staged in the intimate Anes Studio Theater through October 13. For the complete schedule, additional plays and to purchase tickets, visit www.bard.org.