It's an out-there concept — one that Shakespeare purists might regard as some kind of heresy.
But director Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek's idea of infusing the bard's “Twelfth Night” with snippets of contemporary tunes worked like gangbusters at Nebraska Shakespeare's 27th opening night Thursday.
Whether it was rowdy and ridiculous Sir Toby Belch (Nick Albrecht) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Dan Chevalier) doing the “Brass Monkey,” or Olivia (Sarah Carlson-Brown) pining for her new heartthrob with “Call Me Maybe,” or mischievous servant Maria (Moira Mangiameli) and her co-conspirators breaking into “Gangnam Style” dancing, the crowd of nearly 900 seemed to get a big charge out of it all. (Courtney Stein's choreography is right on.)
Clark-Kaczmarek and music director Joel Johnston carefully chose the tunes to fit the feelings of the characters and plot, and they even inserted some of Shakespeare's words into the lyrics. “Moves Like Jagger” became “Moves Like Feste,” the fool (Joe Lullo). And the show opened with Duke Orsino (Beethovan Oden) crooning “When the Lights Go Down in Illyria,” where the story is set, rather than in the city.
The plot is just silly enough that contemporizing it with smartphones and hip-hop and hair streaked in fluorescent colors mostly feels right on the money.
“Twelfth Night” revolves around shipwrecked twins Viola (Brittany Proia) and Sebastian (Mitch Conti), each believing the other may be dead. Viola decides to disguise herself as a man, Cesario, in order to become Duke Orsino's manservant.
The duke is in love with Olivia, but when he sends Cesario to plead his case, Olivia instead falls for Cesario. But Cesario, that is Viola, is actually head over heels for Duke Orsino. It's your basic unrequited love triangle.
Meanwhile, Olivia's coterie — Sir Andrew, Sir Toby, Maria and Fabian (Konrad Case) — is tired of her stuffy household steward, Malvolio (John Hardy). They make a fool of him by forging a love letter from Olivia, which causes him to become a gigantic fool for love (“I'm Sexy and I Know It”).
But then, isn't everybody in this story? Toby pushes drinking buddy Andrew as a suitor to his niece, Olivia. And Olivia, mistaking Sebastian for his sister Viola (that is, Cesario), marries him.
Clark-Kaczmarek infuses the entire evening with inspired bits of funny business. Chevalier, Case and Albrecht are particularly adept at executing it, and Mangiameli is a hoot and a half with her mischievous ways.
Costumer Lindsay Pape has a field day with bright colors and outlandish fashion. This is probably the only “Twelfth Night” you'll ever see in which Viola wears Converse All-Star tennies, Sir Toby wears his hair in cornrows, Sir Andrew combines a kilt with a Poison T-shirt and Feste sports a 6-inch-high mohawk.
Clark-Kaczmarek is also lucky to have some accomplished crooners in his cast. They include, in particular, Oden as the Duke, Carlson-Brown as Olivia and Proia as Viola/Sebastian — all of whom are terrific in principal roles.
Yes, a couple of songs go on a little long or are not as well sung — Elton John tunes are vocal alchemy — but the overall concept is one you'll likely either love or hate.
Thursday's crowd was overwhelmingly into it, and the show looks to be a comedic hit.