BWW Review: Seattle Shakes Musical MIDSUMMER Hits Several Bad Notes
I've never been a fan of transplanting classic works such as Shakespeare to "new and exciting" locales and time periods but I have seen it work as long as the adaptation enhances the existing story somehow or at the very least makes sense with the story. Unfortunately, Seattle Shakespeare Company's current musical adaptation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with a 1930's movie musical bent fails on both respects and then some. It's got a few elements in it that work but overall it makes little sense and the added music adds nothing but confusion.
I'll start with the original story (mostly due to the fact that I'm not entirely certain what the new telling was going for). Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta (George Mount and Crystal Dawn Munkers) are getting married but the Duke also must figure out a marriage situation for his friend Egeus (Brandon Felker). Egeus wants his daughter Hermia (Mallory Cooney King) to marry Demetrius (Adam St. John) but Hermia is in love with Lysander (Casey Raiha) and Helena (Keiko Green) is in love with Demetrius and Demetrius is in love with everyone. In step the King and Queen of the fairies Oberon and Titania (Terence Kelley and Vanessa Miller) with troubles of their own. They're fighting about the new Indian changeling boy that Titania has adopted so Oberon decides to have some fun. He commands his servant Puck (John David Scott) to put a love spell on Titania to make her fall in love with someone unsuitable and while he's at it he puts the same spell on the four lovers making them all fall for the wrong people. Then enter the Mechanicals, a group of amateur thespians who want to perform a play for the Duke. But the leading player Bottom (MJ Seiber) gets mixed up in Puck's scheme when he is transformed into an ass by Puck and becomes the object of Titania's affection.
That's how it should go. But in 1930's musical land we seem to be backstage at a theater and not in the woods and everyone seems to be part of the theatrical company in some way and human. At least I think they're human. I honestly couldn't get where they were going as the fairy folk would at one moment interact and sing and dance with the mortals and another they were supposedly invisible. And if they are human then Oberon's infatuation with the new Indian boy becomes really creepy. Then there's the fact that we're in a theater and musical numbers are being performed but only backstage? And if we're in a theatrical troupe then why would we need the mechanicals who were the janitor and plumber and ticket taker, etc. to perform a play? The whole transplant of the story just made for several moments of "Wait. What?!"
The musicalization of the piece by Nir Sadovnik does not help in the slightest. Production numbers come out of nowhere and none of the musicalized bits of dialog are very catchy or memorable. In fact, for the most part they just tended to drown out the dialog being sung as the band kept overpowering the actors. And the band often times would drown out the actors with some serious clunkers of notes making the musical aspect even worse.
There were some decent points especially when there were no forced musical numbers involved. The Mechanicals, especially Seiber, Felker and Shanna Allman, are absolutely delightful and their scenes worked as isolated moments. And the lovers were fun and quite clear in their intents and even had one of the rare musical moments that succeeded when Helena was being pursued by both men. But that's really the extent of what worked. Miller and Kelley didn't have the gravitas or authority needed for a mystical King and Queen (assuming they were still supposed to be mystical). Scott has some nice dance numbers but again, I was confused on his role in this world. And the big production numbers made no sense as all worlds collided. Especially the finale where for some reason Theseus and Hippolyta got married ... again. (Didn't they already do that the night before?)
The whole thing felt like Seattle Shakespeare Company just wanted to put on a musical but didn't know how to go about it so they jammed music into what they do know, Shakespeare. But it ended up one misstep after another and so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Seattle Shakespeare Company's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" a confused and annoyed NAH. There are some decent musical versions of Shakespeare out there including one I can think of for "Midsummer". They should have looked at some of those.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" from Seattle Shakespeare Company performs at the Cornish Playhouse through May 21st. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Shakespeare Company box office at 206-733-8222 or visit them online at www.seattleshakespreare.org.