Bard beats: Colorado Shakespeare Festival launches music-focused season

Pulitzer Prize in Drama finalist Rinde Eckert composes, acts in first CSF production, 'Twelfth Night'

Composer Rinde Eckert (as Feste) in rehearsal for “Twelfth Night” (Colorado Shakespeare Festival 2019, photo by Jennifer M Koskinen)
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William Shakespeare’s words were never meant to be delivered in a lifeless monotone.

Shakespeare wrote with rhythm, cadence and music in mind. No matter whether it’s a history play examining the tangled web of English royal politics, a carefree romance tracking the progress of young lovers or a heartfelt sonnet paying tribute to a mysterious patron, Shakespeare imbued his work with a spirit, flow and movement that’s tied closely to the lyricism and pacing of song.

That feature of the Bard’s oeuvre will be on full display in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s 62nd season.

For a lineup including some of the playwright’s most popular and recognizable titles, the creative brass at one of North America’s oldest and most well-reputed Shakespeare festivals has decided to highlight the musical side of the work. The upcoming productions of “Twelfth Night,” “As You Like It” and “Romeo and Juliet” will feature accomplished musicians weaving a live soundtrack into the action. These three titles will come along with an “Original Practices” performance of the history “King John,” as well as a production Kevin Bartlett’s 2014 imagined future history, “King Charles III.”

According to CSF Producing Artistic Director Tim Orr, the heart of the season is about paying homage to Shakespeare’s skill as a creative pioneer, an artist who fused the realms of drama and song. Long before bright lights illuminated Broadway, William Shakespeare was a forerunner of drawing on popular songs, catchy melodies and evocative rhymes to further the progress of a nuanced plot.

  • Director Timothy Orr in rehearsal for “Twelfth Night” (Colorado Shakespeare Festival 2019, photo by Jennifer M Koskinen)

  • Aguecheek) in rehearsal for “Twelfth Night” (Colorado Shakespeare Festival 2019, photo by Jennifer M Koskinen)

  • Amber Scales (Viola, dressed as Cesario) and Rinde Eckert (Feste) in rehearsal for “Twelfth Night” (Colorado Shakespeare Festival 2019, photo by Jennifer M Koskinen)

  • L to R: Rinde Eckert (Feste), Rodney Lizcano (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), and Robert Sicular (Sir Toby Belch) in rehearsal for “Twelfth Night” (Colorado Shakespeare Festival 2019, photo by Jennifer M Koskinen)

  • Scenic model for “Twelfth Night,” designed by Caitlin Ayer (Colorado Shakespeare Festival 2019, photo by Jennifer M Koskinen)

  • Rodney Lizcano (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) and Amber Scales (Viola, dressed as Cesario) in rehearsal for “Twelfth Night” (Colorado Shakespeare Festival 2019, photo by Jennifer M Koskinen)

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“The three full production titles that we’re kicking off the season with are examples of some of Shakespeare’s most lyrical writing,” said Orr, who’s going into his seventh season as CSF producing artistic director. “He’s at the top of his game in these pieces. They’re why these titles are the most enduring. To connect that with live music in order to heighten that effect is just going to be spectacular.”

Original music will be at the heart of the 2019 season. The CSF production of “Twelfth Night,” for example, will feature an original score provided by New York City-based composer, musician and actor Rinde Eckert, who will also play the role of the fool Feste in one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies featuring long-lost siblings, mistaken identities and love discovered in unlikely places.

Eckert, who won a Grammy Award in 2012 for his original ensemble work “The Lonely Motel,” will help steer the mood and feel of the CSF season opener slated to debut on the Mary Rippon stage Saturday. The production will also mark Orr’s first turn directing a season opener and offer emotional connections to his own roots as a composer and musician.

“I really put a lot of effort into prepping for this show,” Orr said. “I’ve known Eckert for 10 years. I called him and asked if he had any interest in playing Feste. He said, ‘Sounds great … It would be preferable if I could write the music.’”

Carolyn Howarth, a CSF veteran who’s helmed some of the festival’s boldest takes on Shakespeare’s most iconic works, will imbue this summer’s production of “As You Like It” with a similar amount of music and lyricism. Shakespeare’s lighthearted comedy that flips between the French court and the pastoral setting of the Forest of Arden will feature a cast of eight actors flipping between multiple roles and performing live music.

“This is considered the most musical of Shakespeare’s plays. The author included more songs in ‘As You Like It’ than in any other play, so I started from there in approaching the piece,” said Howarth, who enlisted the skills of singer-songwriter Sam Misner to help create the score. “Those songs will be an integral part of the production.”

The songs will come along with another novel aspect of the production, which will debut on June 22 and will run in the indoor University Theater: a small cast that takes on multiple roles and plenty of work.

“I only have eight actors. It’s going to be a fairly theatrical, non-realistic version of the play,” Howarth said. “That’s what I really admire and why I really enjoy working at CSF. It’s about being able to look at things through a different lens than has always been the case with these plays,” she added, directly referencing her take on “Hamlet” that saw a woman in the title role and that drew national coverage, “It’s about continuing to take risks.”

Director Christopher DuVal, who led previous CSF takes on “Taming of the Shrew” and “Cyrano De Bergerac,” will direct “Romeo and Juliet,” which debuts July 7 at the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre. DuVal will mine the original language of one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies for the production, and Orr said his sensibility aligns with the dynamic of the two season openers.

“He’s got such a sensitive, theatrical eye for storytelling and for deploying talent on the stage,” Orr said, adding that the directorial skills will be useful for one of the Shakespeare’s most popular shows. “There is going to be a large segment of the audience that is very familiar with the story and the language and the famous speeches. At the same time, if there are going to be people who saw the last production, or who are in love with the film versions.

“They’re going to come in with real expectations,” he added.

But that’s nothing new when it comes to producing the work of William Shakespeare. A canon that’s more than 400 years old is bound to carry some expectations and associations, and since 1957, the CSF has been doing its best to add their own spin. This year, they’ll find inspiration for their work in song.


Colorado Shakespeare Festival 2019 season

Twelfth NightDirected by Timothy OrrJune 8–Aug. 11, Mary Rippon Outdoor TheatreAs You Like ItDirected by Carolyn HowarthJune 22–Aug. 11, University TheatreRomeo and JulietDirected by Christopher DuValJuly 7–Aug. 10, Mary Rippon Outdoor TheatreKing Charles IIIBy Mike BartlettDirected by Kevin RichJuly 20–Aug. 10, University TheatreKing JohnDirected by Kevin Rich6:30 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 4, Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre

Tickets: Season tickets and single tickets are available online at coloradoshakes.org, at 303-492-8008 and in person at the CU Presents box office, 972 Broadway, Boulder.

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