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Illyria 

Director Scott Wise has pulled together the visual elements and drawn heightened, achingly stylized performances from his cast.

click to enlarge Leah Fox, Eric Hoffmann, Connor Russell and Amy Van Norstrand in Point Park Conservatory's Illyria. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DREW YENCHAK

In a way, it's like a Magritte painting come to life.

The real "stars" of Illyria, Peter Mills' musical based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and making its local debut with Point Park Conservatory, are Gianni Downs' set design and, especially, Michael Montgomery's costumes.

A mixture of surrealism and whimsy, the production is a treat to look at, with its splashes of jewel tones and off-kilter angles. Montgomery's use of feather neck-ruffs and cinched waists create silhouettes both sumptuous and otherworldly. At one point, the already beautiful Jaclyn McSpadden, playing Countess Olivia, dons a burgundy bodice, full skirt, rust ruff, crazy wig and bejeweled cat-eye sunglasses and simply stands still for a few moments; the effect is breathtaking. There are several similarly magical tableaux throughout the evening.

Ultimately, it is director Scott Wise who has pulled together the visual elements and added his own layer by drawing heightened, achingly stylized performances from his cast. Whatever else it is, this production is a unified vision, and Wise deserves credit for that.

Oh, the show? Well, it is based on Shakespeare, so there's a lot of nonsense you gotta swallow before you reach the end. Twin brother and sister get separated at sea and sis pretends to be bro to protect herself. Pretty soon everyone's falling in love with her and meanwhile there's a clutch of low-comedy cartoon-y types straight out of Gilligan's Island.

As with Wise's direction, composer/lyricist/book-writer Mills has crafted an evening that manages to blend these disparate elements into an artistic whole. Though the score may not be as "enchanted" as Mills might want, there is an expressive and, at times, beautiful musicality at work.

Annie Jacobs sings the role of Viola with a glorious voice and effortlessly carries us through the show. Ryan Novakovich hits the perfect balance between bombast and innocence as Count Orsino while Leah Fox, as Feste, and Amy Van Norstrand provide lots of comedy and attitude as well.

Illyria is never going to be a classic in the musical-theater canon, but I can certainly see it having a life on college campuses. And I hope future productions do as well by it.

 

ILLYRIA continues through Sun., Nov. 20. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com

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