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Theater review

Not all of Shakespeare’s text is present, but the buoyant romantic spirit of his comedy “Twelfth Night” is intact in “Illyria,” a musical adaptation of the play at Taproot Theatre.

From the opening number, as we are welcomed into a make-believe land populated by an array of fools in love by the top-hatted jester Feste (the irresistible Don Daryl Rivera), this sprightly show is a summer tonic — and a good fit for the compact stage and family audience at Taproot Theatre.

“Illyria,” with sparkling score by Peter Mills (also the lyricist for Village’s “Iron Curtain” a while back) is a fine showcase as well for some impressive young Seattle musical theater talent.

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With its gender mix-up and cross-dressing, the “Twelfth Night” template has timeless charm and modern zing.

When Viola (Helen Harvester) and her twin brother Sebastian (Randy Scholz) are parted during a storm at sea, they separately wind up on the shores of Illyria. Both are garbed in costume designer Sarah Burch Gordon’s debonair purple waistcoats and striped britches — Sebastian as per usual, and Viola because even on jolly mythical islands a young, solo female stranger is safer passing as a lad.

The mismatched infatuations that ensue get witty treatment in the pleasing tunes, sly lyrics (i.e., tongue-twisting rhymes in “Silly Little Syllogisms”) and book by Mills (who adapted Shakespeare’s script with Cara Reichel).

Comedy reigns as affections and repulsions fly. Viola falls for Duke Orsino (Mark Tyler Miller), who hires her as a “man”-servant, while Orsino pines for the aloof lady Olivia (April Wolfe), who in turn becomes smitten with Viola — thereby frustrating her dunderhead admirer Sir Andrew (Simon Pringle) and crushing the misled hopes of prissy major-domo Malvolio (Daniel Stoltenberg).

Every character gets to express him/herself in well-suited song, accompanied by a combo led by Edd Key.

Karen Lund’s staging scampers right along, with an attractive, appealing cast. Vocally, Scholz’s soaring solo “The Lady Must Be Mad” is a highlight, and along with his amusing clowning, Stoltenberg is an impressive singer also.

David Anthony Lewis carouses aplenty as Sir Toby Belch, making much of the ebullient “Cakes and Ale.” And Wolfe handles the trilling soprano tunes nicely.

One could do with less prissy mugging from Miller (he’s funny enough to cut back) and stronger singing from Jenny Cross as Maria and the ingratiating but pitchy Harvester.

But grumbles aside, “Illyria” is a refreshing romp. It’s one of the better musicals based on Shakespeare, and a reminder that Mills is a composer to keep an ear out for.

Misha Berson:

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