Theater to stage musical twist on Shakespeare

Kendra Holten Helten as Perdita and Drew Mierzejewski as Florizel are MFA in acting candidates appearing in William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.”
Kendra Holten Helten as Perdita and Drew Mierzejewski as Florizel are MFA in acting candidates appearing in William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.”

William Shakespeare is coming to the NIU campus … with a musical twist!

Opening Thursday, Oct. 20, the NIU School of Theatre and Dance will stage an updated version of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” with settings and circumstances designed to incorporate popular music from the 1950s through 1970s.

The play’s slightly altered setting will move through a place patterned after late 1950s Las Vegas, featuring jazz standards and pop tunes from the era of Bobby Darin, Lena Horne and the Rat Pack in Act I.

Stanton Davis, director and School of Theatre and Dance faculty member, says the play then will move to “ …  an early1970s Appalachian North Carolina in Act II, adding songs reminiscent of the cosmic bluegrass and country of the likes of Country Joe, The Band, The Grateful Dead and Gram Parsons.”

The production will feature live musicians and vocals in combination with recorded music compositions arranged by S. Joel Norman especially for the show.

“Aside from the fun musical numbers,” Davis says, “ ‘The Winter’s Tale’ is a hilarious play, and as funny as anything he (Shakespeare) ever wrote.”

Although the play begins as a psychological drama with the first two acts being incredibly serious and with many tragic elements, when the setting moves to Bohemia, Davis says, “this play becomes as broad a comedy as Shakespeare ever put on the stage.”

Kendra Holten Helten plays Perdita, Caitlin Cavannaugh plays Dorcus and Kaitlyn Finkelstein plays Mopsa in “The Winter’s Tale.”
Kendra Holten Helten plays Perdita, Caitlin Cavannaugh plays Dorcus and Kaitlyn Finkelstein plays Mopsa in “The Winter’s Tale.”

“The Winter’s Tale” is generally considered one of Shakespeare’s most problematic plays, first presenting the tragedy of betrayal between childhood friends, jealousy and wounded love, and then becoming what Davis calls “comedic stages of redemption, resurrection and restored order.”

“This comedy is character driven,” Davis says. “This is a later work by Shakespeare, and the characters are more three-dimensional and subtle – the comic component comes out of real life. It’s about the folks who take a stand against the bully and create hope for rebirth.”

Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. weekdays and 2 p.m. Sundays in the Stevens Building O’Connell Theatre on the DeKalb campus. The Stevens Building is located behind the McDonald’s and Pizza Hut restaurants on West Lincoln Highway.

Tickets are $16 for adults, $13 for seniors and $8 for students and are available by contacting the Stevens Building box office at (815) 753-1600 from noon until 5 p.m. weekdays.

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