Harlequin will rocks the Bard with 'Twelfth Night'

Harlequin’s original musical based on ‘Twelfth Night’ returns to stage

Contributing writerJune 20, 2014 

Nineteen years after the first production of “A Rock ’N’ Roll Twelfth Night,” Scot Whitney still can’t believe he and his brother Bruce Whitney wrote the rock musical.

The musical – which Harlequin Productions produced in 1996, 1999 and 2003 – is back and in its opening weekend.

“Nothing has ever happened to me like that,” said Scot Whitney, Harlequin’s managing artistic director. “It was like finding a bottle with a genie in it. You pull out the cork and there it is.”

After Harlequin’s 1995 production of “The Rocky Horror Show,” the Whitney brothers hit upon the idea to write their own rock musical, and as a devotee of the Bard, Scot wanted to begin with one of Shakespeare’s comedies. “If you’re going to steal, steal from the best,” he said.

He began running through them and stopped when he got to “Twelfth Night.”

“I just heard Elvis saying the opening line of the show: ‘If music be the food of love, play on,’ ” he recalls.

And that was pretty much it. “In less than an hour, I had mapped out the arc of this thing and who the characters would be,” he said. “Two Elizabethan twins wash up on the shores of a place where everybody’s a rock icon.”

Among the icons: Madonna, Jake Blues, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley and Johnny Rotten.

“The only one that didn’t click right away was Feste,” Scot said. “I had initially thought of Bob Dylan. I knew that I wanted him to play some acoustic guitar pieces, but then I thought about it and he never really played the fool. He didn’t seem quite right. Then all of a sudden I thought ‘John Lennon.’ ” (Harlequin regular Christian Doyle is playing the role this time around.)

“At first I was a little dubious and a little intimidated,” said Bruce, Harlequin’s musical director, of the initial endeavor. “How were we going to turn Shakespeare into rock and roll?”

So confident was Scot that he added it to the 1996 season, committing the pair to a timetable of a year for editing the play and writing 28 songs in an array of styles suited to the icons. Harlequin artistic director Linda Whitney, Scot’s wife, and guitarist Bob Hart also contributed some lyrics.

“I was going, ‘Ha ha ha, OK, right,’ ” said Bruce, who’s playing guitar, keyboards and saxophone in the current production. “But we did it.

“It was probably the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had,” he said. “And every time we do it, I just love it even more.”

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