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Originally published Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 7:02 PM

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Preview: Classics 'Cymbeline,' 'Don Giovanni' undergo a little remodeling on Seattle stages

Local audiences can see reworkings of stage classics: Shakespeare's "Cymbeline," at Seattle Shakespeare Company, and Mozart's "Don Giovanni," adapted by a local composer/playwright, at Seattle Musical Theatre.

Seattle Times theater critic

THEATER PREVIEW

'Cymbeline' and 'Don Giovanni'

• "Cymbeline" plays Friday-Jan. 30 at Center House Theatre, Seattle Center; $20-$38 (733-8222 or www.seattleshakespeare.org).

• "Don Giovanni" plays Friday-Jan. 23 at Seattle Musical Theatre, 7400 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle; $20-$30 (206-363-2809 or www.seattlemusicaltheatre.org).

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Ushering in a new year in Seattle theater are two bold reworkings of stage classics: one by Shakespeare, the other by Mozart.

'Cymbeline' at Seattle Shakespeare Company

One of the Bard of Avon's final works, "Cymbeline" is a fairy-tale yarn about a highly dysfunctional family.

But a perfectly functional set of relations (all toiling together at Seattle Shakes for the first time) will be featured in this streamlined adaptation of the play by director (and former Oregon Shakespeare Festival artistic chief) Henry Woronicz.

Appearing as the mercurial King Cymbeline and his malevolent second wife (identified only as "Queen") are real-life married couple and longtime Seattle-based thespians Jeanne and Larry Paulsen (who are, by the by, also OSF alums).

And another Paulsen is working behind the scenes for the production: Larry's brother Rick, the noted lighting designer.

Woronicz's chamber treatment of the Bard's free-ranging tale of parental banishment, forbidden romance, sexual entrapment and royal scheming, rejiggered for a reduced cast of eight, was first performed at OSF in the 1990s, with a different cast.

The Seattle Shakes roster also includes the classically savvy Jennifer Lee Taylor (as Cymbeline's intrepid daughter Imogen), Bradford Farwell (as the arch-lech Iachimo) and Connor Toms (doubling as two of Imogen's suitors).

'Don Giovanni' at Seattle Musical Theatre

It takes boldness, some would say chutzpah, to mess around with an opera as canonized and beloved as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Don Giovanni." Some youthful passion wouldn't hurt either.

The 22-year-old Seattle composer and musician Jesse Smith seems to have plenty of what it takes. His original musical-theater treatment of the masterwork opera, which has spoken dialogue and an entirely new score and updated setting, premieres Friday under the aegis of Sand Point's Seattle Musical Theatre.

A former Cornish College of the Arts student, and a Roosevelt High School grad, the soft-spoken and genial Smith considers the effort an act of homage to a musical classic he grew up with.

"Since the time I was an infant, my mom was playing the soundtrack to the film 'Amadeus,' and part of it is the finale of 'Don Giovanni,' " he recalls. "When I was 4, I was prancing around and singing along with it. Some say it's the greatest opera ever, and it's been part of my life for as long as I can remember."

While studying at Cornish, Smith created a song cycle ("Innocence") and then went for the gusto with his own "Don Giovanni" musical, which premiered in a student staging at the college. And when the chance arose to present the piece as part of Seattle Musical Theatre's new original musicals series, he went for it.

The musical (two acts, and roughly 90 minutes) follows the plot of Lorenzo Da Ponte's "Don Giovanni" libretto, centering on a notorious Spanish seducer and his eventual plunge into hell — though it now transpires in 1920s Spain. As for the score, Smith reveals it contains "a variety of musical styles, ranging from standard contemporary Broadway, to Latin-inspired sounds and even some Big Band jazz stuff."

In addition to writing and scoring his "Don Giovanni," Smith also is coproducing it. With help from his "loving and supportive family," he raised the bare-bones budget of $1,500, and recruited former and current Cornish grads for the cast and pit combo. (He'll be on keyboards.)

However the show is received, he's thrilled to have pulled it together. "I can't express how much of a dream this is," Smith marvels.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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