Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. Produced by Seattle Shakespeare Company. Directed by George Mount. Choreography by Crystal Dawn Munkers. Assistant Tap Choreography by John David Scott. Composer: Nir Sadovnik. Music Direction by Dayton Allemann. Scenic Design by Craig B. Wollam. Costume Design by Doris Black. Lighting Design by Roberta Russell. Properties Design by Robin Macartney. Sound Consultant: Terry Gray. Cast includes: Mallory Cooney King, Bob Downing, Brandon Felker, Keiko Green, Terence Kelley, Vanessa Miller, George Mount, Crystal Dawn Munkers, Casey Raiha, John David Scott, MJ Sieber, Adam St. John. Now through May 21, 2017 at Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center.
Ya gotta have a gimmick nowadays when it comes to producing Shakespeare. You seldom get a straightforward production actually set from Shakespeare’s time frame in the first Elizabethan Age. Or, even for his “historical” plays set in an era before Shakespeare was alive. Which is fine. We understand why theater companies want to do something different with the work of the Bard. It keeps everyone on their toes and gives the design departments a challenge to come up with sets and costumes for “Space Age Hamlet!” and “Genderqueer Othello!” and “Cyberpunk Cymbeline!”
Seattle Shakespeare Company didn’t go too extreme with their latest version of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedic romance, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. You know. The one about the two cute couples, and the working class folk putting on a play for King Theseus and his court and the Fairies who fiddle with everything with their fairy magic and cause comedic chaos and confusion where the wrong lovers pitch woo to the wrong partners and the pompous star actor of the working class players, Bottom gets his head replaced with a donkey’s head.
It’s so popular that Seattle Shakes’ current production comes only 6 years or so after their previous production…which was a mixed bag of treats both great (a very funny Terri Weagant as Helena; Todd Jefferson Moore as Bottom) and not so great (sloppy design; casting choices that didn’t work; choreography that suggested a bargain basement version of the awful musical CATS…)
Their current production of “Midsummer” has a firmer time and setting…we’re in a Golden Age of Hollywood film studio circa 1935 or so and the characters frequently burst into song and dance numbers. Which, on paper, is a terrific idea for a Shakespeare production (and it should be noted one that has been used by many other productions over the decades…) “Midsummer 2017” features a better utilized setting and design, mostly better casting and far better choreography than “Midsummer 2011”. It has some charm and wit to it.
But, it’s still not as good as it should be.
I think the main problems with “Midsummer 17” are: Lack of a budget to adequately fulfill the needs of the setting and the lack of experienced musical theater people at the helm. Which, in a nutshell, means the costumes are nice but really need to be nicer, and the set also has its DIY charms but everything needs to be a lot more polished looking if you’re going to base your production on those gorgeous old Hollywood films of the 1930s. The look needs to be more Paramount Pictures’ glamour and less Poverty Row grit. And, maybe that was the premise of this production, that it’s a bargain basement studio but…if you’re going to do Thirties Hollywood Deco Glamour, you really need the budget to pull that look off.
The second problem with this “Midsummer” is the musical theater aspects of the production. They went with creating new tunes using Shakespeare’s text and…it’s not very musically compelling. While it would be less Shakespearean, my own personal choice if I was doing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as a Hollywood musical set in the 1930s would be to plop in some gorgeous period songs by Cole Porter/Irving Berlin/Rodgers & Hart/the Gershwins/etc. Delicious toe tapping hits of the era would be faaaaaar more entertaining than the not very tuneful songs in this show.
This is also a production that really requires a larger pit…this setting requires a lush sound in addition to a lush look and this show doesn’t really have either of those things. It does however have some lovely choreography from Crystal Dawn Munkers who also plays Hippolyta in this production. Despite having a cast that varies greatly in dance ability, she works wonders with them all with the chief highlights being some great tap numbers with John David Scott’s Puck character. (And, it should be noted that Mr. Scott apparently helped choreograph these tap numbers.)
Acting wise, it’s no surprise that all the usual suspects in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” come off well. MJ Sieber is delightfully pompous as Bottom; the aforementioned Mr. Scott is appropriately puckish as Puck; Keiko Green charms as the awkward lover Hermia. Casey Raiha, Adam St. John and Mallory Cooney King nicely fill out the rest of the quartet of young lovers and Terence Kelly is handsomely compelling as Oberon, the king of the fairies. His queen, Titania was played by Vanessa Miller who didn’t seem to be musically suited to the material..she also lacked the steely ethereal quality required for the role.
Seattle Shakes’ artistic director George Mount is on triple duty here as AD, actor and director of this production. He does a lovely job playing Theseus, the king and in this production, the head of the movie studio but his direction of the play is less sure of itself. The musical components never fully coalesce with the rest of the play. There’s an uncertainty and hesitancy felt throughout this production. It’s fun but it’s never really fully realized FUN! It just doesn’t get where it needs to be.
This production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has some delights….some lovely dance numbers and funny performances, but it never quite lives up to its promise. It’s a minor treat and not the decadent frolic it should be.