Don’t expect your father’s Twelfth Night in Elmwood Park this weekend. You may have seen Sarah Carlson-Brown before in Shakespearean comedy, but not like this. When her Olivia falls in love she breaks into “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen.
And she’s costumed like Lady Gaga. That’s how director Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek, in his Nebraska Shakespeare on the Green debut, converts Elizabethan romance into an ultramodern musical he redefines as “Seuss-punk.”
Expect characters in colorful Mohawk haircuts dancing Gangnam Style. When Sebastian falls for Olivia, Mitch Conti will have him rocking to Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” He gets a Justin Timberlake look.
Speaking of Justins, Bieber’s “Boyfriend” joins a few Elton John songs, Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” and many more, mostly with their own lyrics but some of Shakespeare’s lines as well. “They’re not just there for the songs’ sake,” the director explains. “They advance the plot forward.”
It’s the story of shipwrecked twins, each assuming the other has drowned, and a lot of mistaken identities and unrequited love. As Clark-Kaczmarek describes it all: “For the sake of love, music and Illyria, we sing.” Illyria, he adds, “is a fantastical place where music explodes as a true expression of emotion.”
Deprived of the love they desire, they sing. “We use music to probe our heart,” Anthony muses, connecting his theory to Duke Orsino’s famous lines: “If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it… .”
Orsino, desperate for the love of Olivia, even brings a musical name to the cast. He’s Beethoven Oden, winner of an Ossie Davis acting award and a newcomer to Nebraska Shakespeare.
The play’s great comic character, Malvolio, is played by an Equity veteran of the Bard’s roles. John Hardy, as the pompous fool who suffers indignities from Sir Toby Belch and his buddies, has appeared in the past as Hamlet, Macbeth and Oberon.
Another Equity import, Brittany Proia, has played Lady Macbeth but now stars as the shipwrecked Viola who disguises herself as Cesario. Many key characters, including Nick Albrecht as Sir Toby, Dan Chevalier as Sir Andrew Aguecheeck and Moira Mangiameli as Maria, are Omahans of proven talent.
When treated more traditionally, most of Twelfth Night’s music comes from Feste, played by Joe Lullo, a playwright who lives in Glenwood, Iowa. Joe does some Elton John, and joins others to form the “What You Wills,” a group of singers including Scotty Pace, who provided music for a recent UNO treatment of Shakespearean comedy.
Clark-Kaczmarek, an Omaha Public Schools administrator, calls it “Suess in color and tone,” promising bright pants, tutus, punked-out hair and leather topcoats. He taught this play “all the time” at Bryan High and often included Shakespeare while directing two plays and a musical each year.
So how does he work Gangnam Style into the show? “It’s a dance celebrating the prank played on Malvolio.” His cast has given him “no pushback” on the musical treatment, which he credits to the belief “that the music works.”
The approach provides a sharp contrast to the summer’s second show, the seldom-performed Titus Andronicus. Running the following weekend before both plays alternate in early July, Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy will be presented traditionally by its director, Vincent Carlson-Brown, the festival’s interim artistic director. The setting is first century Rome.
“Vince was looking for balance, and he knows comedy is kind of my wheelhouse,” Anthony noted. He’s won awards for such physical comedy as A Servant of Two Masters.”
When we talked about Twelfth Night, he had four indoor rehearsals remaining before moving onto the Elmwood Park stage for the final four rehearsals. Although he’s directed some 50 plays, the outdoor setting is a new experience. “You have to make sure the audience can hear you, and it requires a broader style to communicate.”
He’s grateful to be given evening rehearsal times to follow his day job. Wife Kimberley joins him while directing the two-minute Shakespeare plays performed before each night’s play. And they’re joined by their daughter, Stella, nearly 7.
Twelfth Night runs 8 p.m. June 20-23, July 3, 5, 7 following the 7 p.m. Greenshow with juggler Jek Kelly and others, at the upper end of Elmwood Park south of UNO’s Bell Tower; Titus Andronicus runs the same hours June 27-30, July 2, 6. Admission is free. Audiences may bring picnics, blankets, lawn chairs, etc.