By Doris Faltys
“That first line of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night, or What You Will,’, sounded in my head, and the voice I heard saying that line was Elvis Presley,” says Scot Whitney, Managing Artistic Director for the local theater company, Harlequin Productions.
Whitney is talking to me about how the idea for Harlequin’s production, “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Twelfth Night: An Original Musical Comedy with Apologies to William Shakespeare,” came to be.
“It was about 16 years ago and Harlequin had recently produced ‘A Rocky Horror Picture Show,’” says Whitney. “We had a great guitar player for that show, Bob Hart, who very much wanted to play for another show. My brother, Bruce Whitney, and I said to each other, ‘Let’s write something.’”
Bruce Whitney would be writing the music and Scot Whitney would write the lyrics, but first, a play needed to be chosen. Scot thought that Shakespeare would be great and that it ought to be a comedy. “I listed to myself all the comedies: ‘As You Like It,’ ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ ‘Twelfth Night.’ The first line of each came to mind, and when I got to ‘Twelfth Night’ and heard that line in Elvis’ voice I stopped looking. It took me two days to get my brother to agree to the idea.”
Whitney explains that they went through the play and came up with a rock-and-roll star to relate to each of the characters in the play: Elvis, Madonna, Johnny Rotten, and John Lennon are a few of the celebrity characters who grace the stage.
“We put it into our next season line up. We had 13 months to get it written. Bruce and I sat down with the script and we found 28 spots where a song could go. We made a title for each song, and those are the songs we wrote. It didn’t even occur to me that I couldn’t do it,” says Whitney.
Whitney continues, “We were six months in, and we were only one fourth done. I began to think, ‘What if we can’t do this?’ What if it is terrible…? Of course we can! It will be fabulous.’”
The first showing of “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Twelfth Night” was in 1996. The show was produced twice more after that first year. After the last time they put the show on, Whitney did not think of it for eight years. He was done with it.
“Then, two summers ago, we were having an evening event and Bruce was playing music. He started singing one of the songs from ‘A Rock ‘n’ Roll Twelfth Night.’ I thought to myself, ‘That is a good song, did we write that?’”
That was when Whitney began to think about producing the show for a fourth time.
Harlequin’s promotional material promises a hilarious evening. “This revival of our rollicking adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” takes us to the island of Dyleria where all of Shakespeare’s characters bear a striking resemblance to rock icons. An Elvis-like Orsino carries a burnin’ love for the beautiful and Madonna-like Olivia. Jake Blues, John Lennon, Janis Joplin and Johnny Rotten, among others, also become involved in a storm of romances gone awry. When Viola arrives disguised as a boy, no one can predict the effect she will have on the inhabitants of this rock-song wonderland.”
“Serious Shakespeare. Serious Rock’n’Roll.”
Mark Alford, the Development Manager for Harlequin Productions, is also a current cast member. He plays Antonio as Johnny Rotten. Alford graduated with a degree in theatre from The Evergreen State College two years ago. He has been a cast member in previous Harlequin productions, including “The Philadelphia Story,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and “Stardust Christmas Blizzard.”
Alford, excited to be a part of the production, comments, “I was very surprised hearing the music. It is better than a lot of established musicals that I have been to.” With excitement in his voice, Alford adds, “The lyrics are creative and add a lot to an already fabulous story. At the end of the day, it’s just so much fun.”
Whitney says, “It’s fun to revisit the show, bring in new people, and have fun.” A huge success in its previous three incarnations, “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Twelfth Night” promises to be no less enjoyable the fourth time around. After all, where else can you see Elvis and Madonna recite Shakespeare?
Harlequin Productions’ “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Twelfth Night” runs June 19-July 20. More information is available on their website here. The production is sponsored by All Star Ford, WSECU Washington State Employees Credit Union and Lucky Eagle Casino.