Gender bending, bawdy humor, humanity and song are the key ingredients to William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," the romantic comedy kicking off the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training's season this week.
Greg Leaming, director of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory and this production, considers "Twelfth Night" Shakespeare's greatest comedy.
"Because it has a heart," he said. "A lot of Shakespeare's comedies -- 'Two Gentleman of Verona,' 'Comedy of Errors,' even 'Midsummer Night's Dream' -- are very funny but I think 'Twelfth Night' has a much more complex soul, with real people involved in very human situations."
Starring the entire second-year Conservatory class, the play focuses on a young woman, Viola. She's lost in a foreign country and dressed as a boy to keep herself safe. Of course, the young woman finds herself falling in love with a boy, one who happens to be her new employer.
Viola is being played by Maxey Whitehead. She's a graduate of Texas State University with numerous Dallas stage credits and some national fame: She can currently be heard as the voice of Alphonse Elric in "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" on Cartoon Network.
"She has a very interesting
look," Leaming said when asked about casting Whitehead as Viola. "She reminds me of a young Julie Harris," the actress who has won five Tony Awards and Emmys for her role on "Knots Landing."
Leaming chose to emphasize the play's timelessness by giving it a contemporary setting with music, performed live by the students, to match.
"It all takes place today," he said. "We've updated versions of standard Elizabethan songs from the text plus added contemporary material."
For the 7:30 p.m. preview show Tuesday, audience members are invited to attend and pay whatever they feel comfortable paying for their ticket. These special tickets are available on day of performance only.
"It's a great opportunity for the community," Leaming said, "that brings out a really exciting crowd."
Details: Oct. 30-Nov. 18; 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; Cook Theatre in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets : $29 (evenings); $28 (matinees). Students receive 50 percent off with advance ticket purchase. Information: 941-351-8000 or www.asolorep.org.
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.