Shakespeare in motion

Special to The TribuneJuly 16, 2014 

The 2014-15 season of the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre kicks off in spectacular fashion with a salute to William Shakespeare from writer, director and choreographer Suzy Miller

It has been four years since a Miller original production has dazzled the stage at the Little Theatre. This time, with co-creator Robyn Metchik, Miller takes on the iconic Shakespeare in “Play On! A Suzy Miller Dance Spectacular.”

The title originates from Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night,” in which Duke Orsino proclaims, “If music be the food of love, play on!” 

It is a joyful production filled with high energy that flows from the actors and engages the audience from the very first song in Act One.  

The clever script takes us on a musical journey about Shakespeare and how his stories have shaped our lives. 

Weaving in “West Side Story,” “The Lion King,” “Chicago,” “The Great Gatsby” and even Elvis Presley, the show reminds the audience of the significant influence Shakespeare has had on film, music and theater. 

Miller pays homage to the Bard in the program, saying, “Thank you, Mr. Shakespeare, for the passion and paradigms, the humor and poetry, and the archetypes and timeless stories that feed our souls to this day.”

There are two acts — the first with 15 numbers and the second with 16 — which is ambitious for musical theater. Although this can present challenges to any production, each act is fast paced and flows smoothly. 

Act One begins with a song-and-dance number, “Cell Block Tango,” mimicking the song of the same title in the musical “Chicago.” In this version, the women complain of Shakespeare’s many notorious male characters. 

It is delightfully creative and sets the stage for the whirlwind of song and dance that follows. 

In another scene, there are comical Royal Shakespeare Company auditions followed by a touching rendition of the hit song “Royals” by Lorde. Each vignette is so new and refreshing that you can’t anticipate what will come next. 

Act Two ends with “The Circle of Life” from “The Lion King” — commemorating the story’s similarity with Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” 

The show also engages the audience in a variety of ways. In one scene, the audience is asked to participate by guessing which song goes with what movie. The production also uses video shown on screens on either side of the stage. 

Here we are given a glimpse of the life and times of Shakespeare narrated by one of the actors.

The mostly young actors in the 14-member cast showcase their wide-ranging talents in song, dance and comedy. They appear to be enjoying the show as much as the audience; you can sense their feeling of cohesiveness. 

The choice to have a minimal set design was a good one. It provides ample space for the performances to be the attraction. 

Miller shines with her choreography, which is enhanced by colorful costumes.

I saw a Saturday evening performance with only a small number of theater patrons. This made it more intimate, but I would expect more crowds as the show hits its stride. 

A specialist in musical theater, Miller has won multiple industry honors, including five regional Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and the National Association of Television Program Executives’ Iris Award. She has choreographed and written works for award-winning theater and dance companies throughout the United States.

This show is a not only a tribute to Shakespeare but a celebration of the theater and the joy of entertainment. You will agree that the sage advice to “Play On!” rings true. 

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