Twelfth Night

Original Public Works Cast, 2018 (Craft Recordings) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) The first (and better) of Shaina Taub’s pair of Shakespeare-inspired scores for the Public Theater’s Public Works program, Twelfth Night marvelously marries Taub’s distinctive blues-inflected funk pop vocabulary with Mike Brun’s New Orleans brass arrangements. Taub turns Shakespeare into an ideal collaborator; spoken excerpts of the play’s text weave seamlessly in and out of the songs, and Taub finds the germ of each song in Shakespeare’s language. A well-constructed opening number, “Play On,” musically stresses the story’s love triangle. Nikki M. James (Viola), Nanya-Akuki Goodrich (Olivia), and Ato Blankson-Wood (Orsino) all sing terrifically, and Taub frequently throws her characters into sinewy, climactic counterpoints that capture the play’s tangled romantic webs. The comic material for Sir Toby Belch (Shuler Hensley) and Malvolio (Andrew Kober) is slighter stuff, but Taub adds in a few fun ensemble numbers (example: “Word on the Street”) for Illyria’s gossipy citizenry. Best of all is “Is This Not Love,” a ballad sung yearningly first by Taub herself as the clown, Feste, and then reprised powerfully by ensemble member Vivian Jett. — Dan Rubins