Twelfth Night

Shakespeare in Cuba

PSU Theater’s “Twelfth Night” sings with an Afro-Cuban beat

“Twelfth Night"

March 2 - 10

Lincoln Performance Hall
Tickets $6 - $15


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Music is always an important part of “Twelfth Night”—Shakespeare included lyrics for several songs in the play’s script. But Portland State’s new production might be the first time those lyrics are sung to an Afro-Cuban beat.
In its March production, the School of Music & Theater transports the fictional island of Illyria to 1920s Cuba. Duke Orsino lives in a casino, the sea captain Antonio is a smuggler, and the jester Feste plays the bongos. On a side stage and before the play begins, a nightclub combo sets the mood with Latin jazz standards like “Bésame Mucho.” 

The modern setting helps audiences recognize themselves in the characters and to identify with the humor and frivolity of the play, says PSU theater professor Karin Magaldi, the play’s director. Plus, it’s just fun.
 The original music is a big part of the play’s festive atmosphere. Composer David Spear, an artist in residence at PSU, drew inspiration from Cuban bandleaders like Peruchín and Chucho Valdés, who popularized Latin jazz in the 1950s. 

Fitting Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter to a bossa nova rhythm was a musical challenge, Spear reports, but the lively results complement the comic energy of the play. The composer even managed to lighten up the Bard’s mournful lyrics for “Come Away Death,” which, as the name implies, could easily become dirge-like. Spear’s biggest influence was the language of the play itself. The famous opening line, “If music be the food of love, play on!,” inspired a melody that became the theme song for the production. “Every line in the script sings to me,” he says. “It’s music that just happens to be in the form of words.” 

--Suzanne E.W. Gray
Photo Caption: Composer David Spear