In Case You Missed It: The Public Takes Another Stab at Shakespeare's Classic

News   In Case You Missed It: The Public Takes Another Stab at Shakespeare's Classic It's a big week in the nonprofit world as The Public Theater announces another musicalization of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Roundabout Underground expands. 

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The nonprofit announced this week that it would set Twelfth Night, one of William Shakespeare's most popular and durable and familiar comedies, to music.

The Twelfth Night musical will be presented as part of The Public Theater's Public Works program, which "brings together professional and nonprofessional actors from across New York City's five boroughs with song-and-dance productions of classic works," according to the New York Times. No date or staging location for the production was announced.

Music and lyrics will be written by Shaina Taub, a Jonathan Larson Award-winning songwriter who, as a performer, appeared in the Off-Broadway production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. She supplied music for the Bill Irwin/David Shiner play Old Hats, which opens Off-Broadway in January at the Signature Theatre. The libretto will consist almost entirely of Shakespeare's original text. The production will be staged by Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of Baltimore’s Center Stage.

Shaina Taub
Shaina Taub

The Public has been down this road before. It had a huge, and unlikely, success back in 1971 with Two Gentleman of Verona, a musical version of that comedy by Galt McDermot, John Guare and Mel Shapiro. The show began at the Delacorte Theatre and then transferred to Broadway, where it ran 614 performances and won the Tony Award for best musical. (Not every experiment in this vein has been a success for the Public. The music version of Love’s Labour's Lost at the Delacorte, back in 2013, with a score by Michael Friedman, did not have life after the park.) This isn't the first time composers have taken a run at Twelfth Night. It has been musicalized several times before to varying degrees of success. The version known as Your Own Thing ran 933 performances Off-Broadway, but Broadway's Music Is, in 1976, lasted just a week. All Shook Up, on Broadway in 2005, moved the story to the American South and filled it with Elvis Presley songs. Play On!, on Broadway in 1997, moved it to Harlem and filled it with Duke Ellington music. With that many previous attempts, you could, at this point, actually create a jukebox musical of Twelfth Night using songs from previous Twelfth Night musicals.

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The Public Theater had a great critical success with Richard Nelson's The Apple Family Plays from 2010 to 2013. So did Nelson himself, for that matter. The plays, set on the exact nights they premiered (usually a memorable occasion, such as an election night or the anniversary of 9/11), followed the changes in the lives of the extended Apple family, who lived in upstate New York.

It seems The Public and Nelson want more of that kind of experience. They've come up with a new family and a new series. The three-play cycle The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family, written and directed by Nelson, will begin Feb. 27 with the first of the plays: Hungry. The final play is set to open on election night 2016. In case you haven't figured it out from the title, the works will track the lives of a family throughout the upcoming presidential election year. Expect some laugh lines having to do with Donald Trump.

Sally Murphy, Jon DeVries, Laila Robins, and Maryann Plunkett in <i>The Apple Family Plays: Scenes from Life in the Country</i>
Sally Murphy, Jon DeVries, Laila Robins, and Maryann Plunkett in The Apple Family Plays: Scenes from Life in the Country Photo by Carol Rosegg

As with the Apple Family Plays, an ensemble will play the same characters throughout the entire series. The cast includes Meg Gibson as Karin Gabriel, Lynn Hawley as Hannah Gabriel, Roberta Maxwell as Patricia Gabriel, Maryann Plunkett as Mary Gabriel, Jay O. Sanders as George Gabriel and Amy Warren as Joyce Gabriel. Both Plunkett and Sanders were part of the Apple plays.

The second play, What Did You Expect? will debut in September 2016. The last is called Women of a Certain Age.

According to Nelson, the Gabriels live in Rhinebeck, NY, the same town where the a Apples live. In fact, they live right next door. Nelson also lives in Rhineback — apparently in a tent pitched between the two houses.

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The Roundabout Theatre Company hit a home run its first time at bat when it founded the Roundabout Underground program. The first play it produced in the series, Speech and Debate in 2007, was by Stephen Karam. Karam has since gone on to write Sons of the Prophet, which was a Pulitzer finalist, and The Humans, which will transfer to Broadway this winter.

Roundabout announced this week that it will expand the program to two plays per season. The program's expansion will begin in fall 2016 with the world premiere of Jenny Rachel Weiner's Kingdom Come, set to begin performances Oct. 7, 2016, at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre.

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Here's an odd couple producing team if there ever was one. The North American wing of the great and mighty National Theatre of Great Britain will partner with Off-Broadway's tiny, scrappy Barrow Street Theatre, as well as Jean Doumanian Productions, to stage the U.S. premiere of Lucy Prebble's The Effect, directed by David Cromer, in spring 2016.

The Effect, which won the 2012 U.K. Critics Circle Award for Best New Play. The play follows the relationship between psychology student Connie and "charming drifter" Tristan. Both have signed up to a clinical trial for a new antidepressant super-drug.

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