at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse.

Don’t let the words ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘musical’ chase you away. Peter Mills has written a book and score that takes the plotline of the Bard’s 17th century comedy, modernizes it a bit in speech and time period, sets it to music and comes up with a terrifically entertaining piece of theatre.

Shakespeare’s tale involves shipwrecked and separated twins Viola and Sebastian (played by Carmen Mitchell and Lorenzo Alviso), Duke Orsino, the lovelorn leader of the isle of Illyria (played by Burton Thomas), and Olivia, the in-mourning object of his affection (as played by Tracy Hinman.) There’s also Andrew Aguecheek, a silly suitor for Olivia’s hand, Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s soused uncle, Malvolio, a stuffed-shirt steward, Maria, a servant with eyes on Sir Toby, and Feste, a fool who narrates the tale. Impersonation, mistaken identity, gender confusion, and trickery all come into play before things get sorted out and everyone ends up with his or her intended. Well, most everyone.

To fully enjoy this production, more than the usual suspension of belief is required in a couple of areas. One must accept Ms. Mitchell being regularly mistaken for a male and Ms. Hinman is a more mature Olivia than one usually sees in the role, but just go with it.

Mills’s 20+ songs vary in style from a lilting ballad (the beautiful “Save One”) to English Musical Hall numbers like the hilarious “Cakes and Ale”. Musical director Lucas Sherman has a six-piece band delivering the beguiling score flawlessly while director Craig Miller’s cast brings superb vocal talents to bear. As strong a group of voices I’ve heard on a North Bay stage, this may be the best sounding musical 6th Street has produced. It’s gratifying that the characterizations provided by the performers match their vocal quality.

Mitchell charms as the gender-bending Viola and is matched by Burton’s flustered Orsino. Orsino’s musical confession of love to Alviso’s Sebastian (whom Viola was impersonating) shows Shakespeare was a couple of centuries ahead of society when it came to same-sex relationships. Ample comedic support is provided by Seth Dahlgren as Toby Belch, Larry Williams as Malvolio, and Stephen Kanaski as the foppish Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Tim Setzer’s clowning and dancing as Feste was rakishly amusing.

Craig Miller ends his tenure at 6th Street Playhouse on a high note with this delightful production.

‘Illyria’ runs Friday through Sunday through July 8 at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa; Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30pm; there are Saturday & Sunday matinees are at 2pm.

For more information, go to 6thstreetplayhouse.com

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