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Anne Hathaway’s brief, sparkling, up-from-the-audience bit with Hugh Jackman at the Oscars earlier this year provided a glimpse of the star’s hidden talents as a lithe song-and-dance girl. Now her glowing performance as Viola in the Public Theater’s new Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night displays those charms front, center, and in the great outdoors at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. There, with a canopy of glorious, real park trees visible behind John Lee Beatty’s magical-garden set of fairy-tale stage trees, Hathaway is the starring attraction in a music-kissed comedy. The production has such charm that an enchanted audience is bound to float out of Central Park on a summer’s evening echoing the play’s famous open declaration, ”If music be the food of love, play on.”
Hathaway is lovely in the twisty, Shakespearean specialty role of a girl (named Viola) disguised as a guy (who calls himself Cesario) in the dreamy duchy of Illyria. But though she is obviously the biggest celebrity on the Playbill, she blends into a superb ensemble with evident, working-girl pleasure. (And why not? She’s a New York girl, born, schooled, and home again.) Hathaway’s powerhouse peers include Tony Award-winning Raul Esparza as Orsino, the Duke of Illyria (for whom Viola pines); Audra McDonald as the Countess Olivia (for whom Orsino pines); Michael Cumpsty as Olivia’s persnickety steward Malvolio; the irrepressible Tony winner Julie White as Olivia’s gentlewoman, Maria; and Jay O. Sanders, Hamish Linklater, and David Pittu as the scene-stealing trio of Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Feste the fool.
Because it would be a pity to waste the musical talents of Hathaway, Esparza, and Pittu, director Daniel Sullivan doesn’t: The symphonic folk-rock band Hem provides original songs for the three to sing, sweetly melancholic ballads that waft up into the Central Park night air, encouraging love. Twelfth Night or What You Will (to give the romantic comedy its full Shakespearean title) is scheduled to run through July 12. A
(Tickets: Free on the day of performance on first-come basis; 212-539-8750 or publictheater.org)