Story: Viola is washed ashore in Illyria after being shipwrecked with her twin brother Sebastian and others, whom she believes have died. Endangered in a strange land, she masquerades as a young page named Cesario and becomes employed by Orsino, Duke of Illyria.

Orsino sends Cesario to express his love for the Countess Olivia, who instead becomes smitten with ‘Cesario,’ even as Viola has secretly fallen in love with Orsino.

Sebastian and his friend, a captain named Antonio, also have survived the shipwreck and make their way to the center of Illyria. Meanwhile, Olivia’s pompous and self-righteous steward, Malvolio, is hoaxed by her tipsy uncle Toby Belcher, her handmaiden Maria and Feste the fool into thinking that Olivia is in love with Malvolio. Toby also assists his foppish cohort, Andrew Aguecheek, in the latter’s clumsy pursuit of Olivia.

‘Tis a romantic mess, indeed.

Highlights: More than 60,000 patrons are anticipated to attend the 13th annual Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park, and they are in for a most delightful treat. As a non-fan of The Bard’s exaggerated comedies of flimsy disguises, identical twins and preposterous endings, I found executive director/artistic director Rick Dildine’s take on this silly story designed to entertain the masses at the end of the Christmas season (Twelfth Night being the celebration of the Epiphany in early January) to be enchanting and consistently entertaining.

Dildine’s use of music, in the tradition of the play, is imaginatively employed throughout the evening’s two and a half hours and bolsters his lively pace. Additionally, his top-notch cast speaks clearly and cogently throughout, enhancing the production’s enjoyment thanks in no small part to voice and text coach Suzanne Mills.

Other Info: The stage literally is set for off-kilter fun with Scott Neale’s whimsical scenic design that features a Leaning Tower of Pisa-style royal court manse, resplendently painted with a palette of pronounced hues and all handsomely lit by John Wylie’s rainbow of effects, including a large moon at stage right that contrasted beautifully on opening night with the full moon above.

The players are adorned in handsome period frocks designed by Dottie Marshall Englis, including Malvolio’s ridiculous cross-gartered yellow stockings, and have great fun with a cornucopia of whimsical props provided by Meg Brinkley.

The talented musicians who composed and perform the evening’s musical interludes are members of the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra, which includes Brien Seyle, Matt Pace, Emma Tiemann, Heather Rice, Matt Frederick and Rob Laptad. Rusty Wandall adds sound design.

Joshua Thomas elevates Orsino’s nobility with his booming voice that resonates throughout Shakespeare Glen and plays most winningly opposite Kimiye Corwin as the enterprising Viola. Corwin delightfully dances the romantic tightrope between Viola’s true love, Orsino, and Olivia’s pursuit of Viola’s masquerade, the male page Cesario.

Leslie Ann Handelman is both convincingly regal and humorously frustrated as the Countess Olivia, who has sworn not to marry for seven years in honor of her dead father and brother but finds herself tingling with desire upon viewing the handsome Cesario.

Dildine, with the notable contributions of fight choreographer Paul Dennhardt, shrewdly uses the spacious stage for both action scenes and the absurd comic moments, such as when a trio of players hides behind movable plants to spy upon the ensnared Malvolio. Veteran performer Anderson Matthews masterfully displays both the steward’s arrogance and his unrequited love for his countess in precise comic form that never goes over the top.

There’s accomplished work by Eric Hoffman as the wastrel drunkard Sir Toby, Haas Regen as the hapless Sir Andrew and Candice Jeanine as the scheming Maria. Andy Paterson is an engaging Feste, Gary Glasgow is solid as Sir Toby’s pal Fabian, Vichet Chum is the swashbuckling Sebastian and Michael James Reed brings power and persuasion to the role of Sebastian’s life-saving pal, Antonio.

The ending to Twelfth Night is just as ridiculous as ever, but all’s well that ends well in Dildine’s sprightly and splashy interpretation.

Play: Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Group: Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Venue: Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park

Dates: Nightly except Tuesdays through June 16

Tickets: Free admission

Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of Shakespeare Festival