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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Tufts musical theater prepares for the opening of ‘Twelfth Night’

A musical performance of a Shakespearean classic is coming to the stage this Friday.

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The cast of Twelfth Night is pictured.

Tufts Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies’ production of “Twelfth Night” opens Friday in Balch Arena Theater. The production is not your typical Shakespeare, though. “Twelfth Night” is a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s original romantic comedy and explores themes of self-discovery and gender in an exciting new way. The classic story of Viola finding her way in the mystical land of Illyria, altering her appearance and being tangled in a love triangle has been adopted by the Tufts cast and crew in a way that will surely entertain and leave a lasting impression on audiences.  

For those who may not be familiar with the original, “Twelfth Night” is a comedic play written by Shakespeare around 1602. The story revolves around twins, Viola and Sebastian, who are separated during a shipwreck. Viola disguises herself as a man named Cesario and serves Duke Orsino, whom she falls in love with. Orsino, however, is in love with Olivia, a noblewoman mourning the recent deaths of her father and brother. Olivia, in turn, falls in love with Cesario, who is actually Viola in disguise. The plot thickens with mistaken identities, romantic entanglements and humorous antics involving other characters like Sir Toby Belch, Maria, Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Malvolio. The modern musical version of “Twelfth Night” was conceived in 2018 by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub and received excellent reviews. For this production at Tufts, “Twelfth Night” is directed by Amelia Estrada. 

The cast’s excitement about the show was clear while speaking to them about “Twelfth Night.” Audrey Sacks, who plays Maria, gave some insight into the fresh elements of the production.  

“I would say this show’s being adapted into a very mystical, groovy, flowy type of city in Illyria. It's also exploring gender and gender expression and identity a lot more deeply with the costuming and the dancing, so that's really exciting.”


Ken Crossman, who plays Malvolio, shared a similar sense of enthusiasm about the contemporary nature of the production and how the original play has been adapted into a musical.

“When we're not singing, we're basically just speaking the original Shakespeare text. So it's really interesting because it's a weird kind of hybrid of shows where it's Shakespeare and it's a musical, so you kind of get the best of both worlds in that way,” he said.   

The actors also discussed their characters and the roles they play in the show.

Speaking about Malvolio, Crossman explained, “I wouldn't say there's really a villain in this story, but if there was one, he would probably be it. And he's definitely just the type of character that everyone loves to make fun of, and he's often the butt of the joke for a lot of scenarios. And so that allows for there to be a lot of really fun.”

Maria, Sacks’ character, is also a source of comedic relief. “The best way to describe her is the comedic relief character that makes a plan to allow the real comedic relief character to have his big moments, and it is really so much fun because the character Malvolio, she forms a whole plan to ruin his day,” she said.  

One of the main themes of “Twelfth Night” is gender and how people express themselves. The new “Twelfth Night” highlights this theme from the original text in a more open, accepting way. Crossman explained how director Estrada emphasizes this aspect of the Shakespeare play in the Tufts production: “I know that Amelia, the director, really likes to play around with the definition of gender and what that means, and how we can mold it and play around with it. I think we very much explore, through our costumes and through digging into the text [the idea that] gender very much is a spectrum, and we don't have to completely label ourselves one way or the other,” he said.

“There's this element of queer relationships to ‘Twelfth Night’ that doesn't get fleshed out in the original story where there's interest, like a woman's interest in another woman, but she doesn't know, and then there's Sebastian and Antonio,” Sacks explained. “During the song Is This Not Love?’  they have some really beautiful dancing between two female-presenting and two male-presenting characters.”  

When asked about how the different departments of the show worked together, both Sacks and Crossman offered their praise.

“I think all the departments have done a really awesome job with everything so far,” Crossman said. “I think my own costume is really something spectacular. I get to wear this magnificent purple sequins suit, which is probably my favorite thing that I've worn on stage, and everyone else's costumes also just look absolutely spectacular.”  

Sacks was excited about her costume too, which she described as more modern than traditional Shakespearean garb. She said, “Everyone's telling me that once my friends start getting married, this is the dress I need to wear to their wedding.”

“I think each of the departments [is] doing such an incredible job independently, and then combining them together,” Sacks continued. “Each element of the design gets highlighted by all the other elements in a way that they just shine so much more independently when they're not independent. So it's just magnificent to see them all work together.”  

As the anticipation builds for the upcoming opening night of “Twelfth Night Crossman shared his excitement for what promises to be a delightful experience for audiences. "For the audience, I think this is just a much more palatable version of a Shakespeare show that still maintains the original material, but I think it's just made a lot more fun and light-hearted with the version that we have," Crossman remarked.  

After rehearsals filled with camaraderie and thoughtful creative decisions, the cast and crew are eager to showcase their interpretation of Shakespeare's classic comedy that will leave the audience enthralled and uplifted. Don't miss the chance to immerse yourself in the captivating world of Illyria, a place of mistaken identities and romantic intrigue, as Tufts’ talented performers bring “Twelfth Night” to life on stage. “Twelfth Night” will be performed on March 12 and March 810, and you can reserve your tickets on the Tufts Tickets website.