Illyria: a Twelfth Night Musical Synopsis & Notes
A brother and sister (twins) are homeward bound when their ship encounters a raging storm. The ship is torn apart, and they are separated. They wash up on different beaches of Illyria; each thinking the other has died in the storm. A local seaman, Antonio, rescues the boy, Sebastian. The ship’s captain rescues the girl, Viola. Both decide to travel to the court of the ruler of Illyria, Duke Orsino. Duke Orsino is desperately in love with Olivia, who has recently lost her brother. She has no affection for Orsino, even though he pursues her relentlessly. Viola, now dressed exactly like her brother and using the name Cesario, is in the employ and trust of Orsino. Orsino sends her to woo Olivia in his name, even though Viola is desperately in love with Orsino. Sir Toby Belch, the uncle of Olivia and living in her house, is drunken nightly, drinking toasts to his niece. He wants her to give up her mourning and get on with her life. He brings a silly nobleman into the house, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, whom he continually cheats out of his money for continued boozing, to woo her. Maria, Olivia’s handmaid, loves Toby and chides him for his drinking. The prudish Malvolio, Olivia’s steward, imagines himself married to Olivia, and he plots to rid the house of Toby and Aguecheek. Upon meeting Orsino’s messenger, Cesario, Olivia immediately falls in love with the disguised Viola. Maria and Toby plot to have Malvolio locked up for being crazy. Toby plots to instigate a fight between Cesario and Aguecheek. Sebastian comes to Olivia’s house, where he immediately falls in love with Olivia. Believing Sebastian to be Cesario, Olivia accepts his love. They marry. Orsino comes to Olivia’s house only to find that she is in love with Cesario, whom he believes has betrayed his trust. Sebastian enters to find his sister dressed exactly as himself. Sebastian ends up with Olivia, Viola with Orsino, Toby with Maria, and all live happily ever after.
- John R. Briggs
Pictured: Allen O'Reilly, Travis Smith and Anna Kimmell in Illyria: a Twelfth Night Musical. (Bill DeLoach Photography)
by John R. Briggs
Being both the director and writer complicates things but only if you are not surrounded by gifted collaborators, a problem I do not have. I first began writing Illyria in 1984, as the Associate Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas. My model was Rice and Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; but circumstance postponed my finishing it until 1996, when Richard and Georgia Shakespeare afforded me the opportunity to finally put it on the boards. Although we couldn’t realize it fully in the “tent,” I knew what it could become, and after some tweaking and a few productions to iron things out, it has returned to Georgia Shakespeare. What I love about R&W’s Joseph is their use of different musical genres to tell the story. Besides being enormously entertaining, it also provides a musical context to what is happening in a scene, or it can reflect what is in a character’s mind or what his or her emotional state is. It can also provide a musical anachronism to a particular moment, thereby giving the audience a different perspective of a scene and/or character, which is why musical theatre is so interesting and wonderful in the first place. Of course, there are many other sources that use this form as well. Most of Disney’s and Spielberg’s recent animated films use it to great effect too.
As the director/writer, I wanted something visually exotic, and the world of Aladdin fit the bill: it is colorful, it can be comic, and it is exotic. Even though setting it in an ersatz Aladdin-world, I wanted it to speak to an American audience, another reason for using the multi-genre musical form. Also, making it an American musical meant staying focused on it being a musical, which sometimes meant editing those things that seemed to confuse that purpose or that were redundant to what is said in song. These are the same issues that face any person adapting another writer’s work into a musical. However Twelfth Night lends itself to the musical form, it being such a lyrical play.
Since the early 1980s I have worked hard to make Shakespeare’s plays speak to an American audience. I have had the privilege of having my editions and adaptations produced by Shakespeare festivals throughout the South and New York City. Some of them have achieved great acclaim, others have missed the mark; but they make up what I now label Shakespeare Jazz, and it’s what I do. Shrew: the Musical was born here at Georgia Shakespeare, and I am proud to bring Illyria back to its home.
I owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to Richard and Georgia Shakespeare and to this incredible company of artists. Enjoy.
Pictured: Brian Harrison and Tess Malis Kincaid in Antony and Cleopatra. (Bill DeLoach)