Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


University Theatre’s ‘Twelfth Night’ puts modern twist on classic Shakespeare

Actor promises fun, unique Shakespearean experience in ‘Twelfth Night’ production at Ronald E. Mitchell Theatre
Twelfth Night poster outside University Theatre
Julia Vetsch
“Twelfth Night” poster outside University Theatre

Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” will hit the University Theatre Stage in November — unlike the traditional play, it’s a musical with a modern twist for people of all ages to enjoy.

Conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub with music and lyrics by Shaina Taub, “Twelfth Night” is a contemporary musical inspired by Shakespeare’s comedy of love, mistaken identity and self-discovery. The musical originally debuted in 2018 with The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park, an open-air theatre production in Central Park in New York City, according to Playbill.

The plot still honors Shakespeare’s original work while making minor tweaks that take it from a play ranging from two to four hours to a 90-minute musical with a jazz-funk score.


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The show follows a shipwrecked Viola (Sydney Germany) who washes up on the shore of Illyria and disguises herself as a man named Cesario to survive. She goes to work in the household of Duke Orsino (Ava Childs) who is pining for the love of Lady Olivia (Amelia Eichmeier). Viola finds herself in love with Orsino and Olivia falls in love with Cesario, believing her to be a man.

Along the way we meet various characters like Feste (Ella Smith), Malvolio (Malcolm McCanles) and Sir Toby Belch (Jameson Milhaupt), the town troublemaker.

“He’s kind of like the town drunk,” University of Wisconsin freshman in the theatre department Jameson Milhaupt said. “He’s always got a flask or beer on him. And he’s just kind of like the fun-loving guy in town. Everybody knows he throws parties and everything and he likes to get into trouble.”

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For Milhaupt, “Twelfth Night” presented him with many firsts. This will be his first show at UW and his first Shakespeare show, which comes with understanding a different style of dialogue.

It’s challenging not only getting used to the Shakespearean dialogue but having to switch into modern English for the song, Milhaupt said.

“I mean, it’s very hard to sing in Shakespearean English so all of that is just the way we would talk normally,” Milhaupt said. “It’s Shakespearean dialogue, straight from the play, but then the music is different genres.”

For actors and audience members alike, understanding Shakespeare isn’t an easy feat.

Having the original Shakespearean dialogue and music with modern lyrics makes the show a lot more comprehensible, Milhaupt said.

“I think the music definitely helps convey what’s going on,” Milhaupt said. “There are about 25 songs altogether. They’re very nicely placed where you can kind of understand what’s happening, and our choreography during some of the songs is really great for storytelling.”

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The show, as he describes it, has a New Orleans vibe with several nods to the Madison community.

For example, two main character’s houses are modeled after the Red Gym.

“We’re not saying that this is Madison, the show does not take place in Madison,” Milhaupt said. “It’s just a city that has nuances to Madison. It’s kind of up in the air. But yeah, that setting is definitely more of a hipster Madison.”

The time period is a little less obvious. The cast sings modern songs, resembling classics like “The Final Countdown” but includes fight scenes using swords, similarly to what Shakespeare envisioned.

During rehearsals, which began late September, a focus for the whole cast was world building and storytelling which means actors crafted a thorough background for their characters.

Each individual person regardless of if they are a named character or a part of the ensemble has a character they portray throughout the show.

“Everybody has their own name in the ensemble and their own story and their own job in town,” Milhaupt said. “And that’s different from what I’ve ever really seen. The ensemble is just as much a part of the show and of the story as all the principles are.”

The world building process is apparent through characters’ costumes, which reflect their jobs and through their relationships with other characters on stage. There are several actors who create families with other actors to strengthen their characters, according to Milhaupt.

The play also moves through different seasons and different time periods where actors will have to envision how their characters would behave during different seasons.

“Sometimes the parents will come up with their kids and they have Halloween stuff, or they have school stuff,” says Milhaupt.

Milhaupt hopes audience members will just have fun when attending the performance. It’s a comedic show with an important message.

The show makes Shakespeare not only more understandable for those unfamiliar with the style but also a lot more entertaining for the entire family.

“Twelfth Night” will open Nov. 9 and continue until Nov. 19 at the Ronald E. Mitchell Theatre in Vilas Hall. It is directed by guest artist Aimée Hayes. Tickets are $9.00 for UW students and can be purchased through Campus Arts Ticketing or at the theatre lobby prior to the performance.

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