Shakespeare with a Touch of the Beastie Boys

Montclair native Tommy Crawford acts in and leads an onstage band for a rollicking Red Bank production of 'Twelfth Night.'

Twelfth Night
Tommy Crawford, center, with cast of “Twelfth Night.” Photo by T. Charles Erickson/Courtesy Two River Theater

“If music be the food of love, play on”—the famous first line of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night—is more than a figure of speech. Music, performed onstage, accompanies and comments on the entanglements in this romantic comedy of mistaken identities.

In the production of Twelfth Night opening this Friday at Two River Theater in Red Bank, there is more music than usual, and of a type not usually associated with the Bard (though the lyrics are in the script).

“The music draws from a lot of disparate sources,” says actor, musician and composer Tommy Crawford, 32, a Montclair native who plays the role of Feste, the not-so-foolish fool. “We have some British folk styles and some that are almost Beastie Boys–esque.”

Crawford, who is also the show’s music director, describes the Beasties sound as “party-hearty music from the nineties, combining hip-hop, punk and Brooklyn.” The instrumentation for the on-stage band includes electric guitar, electric bass, piano, drums, ukulele and violin. The whole production has a contemporary look and feel. Costumes suggest Elizabethan Lite with a dash of panhandler chic.

The music was composed and will be performed by the Lobbyists, the six-member band and theater collective that Crawford formed in New York City in 2012, three years after graduating from Yale with a theater degree. Crawford, the only New Jersey native in the Twelfth Night cast, and the play’s director, Sara Holdren, met as undergraduates at Yale.

“Sara directed a ton of Shakespeare at Yale, and everybody admired her quite a bit,” Crawford says. “Even then she knew how to bring life and joy to Shakespeare. It was always cool working with her.”

Since graduating, Crawford has won positive notices for his acting, including a 2019 New York Times Critic’s Pick for “Only Yesterday,” in which he played a young Paul McCartney stuck in a Florida hotel room with a young John Lennon, played by Christopher Sears. Like McCartney, Crawford plays guitar left-handed.

The Lobbyists as a group were nominated for a 2016 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music for their Off-Off Broadway musical, “SeaWife,” a haunted love-lost tale of the whaling life.

In Twelfth Night at Two River, director Holdren “is great at making Shakespeare’s language clear for an audience,” Crawford says. “She works hard on phrasing, on which words to emphasize and what the characters want, what the situation in the scene is. When all that comes together, the result is clarity.”

The audience, during previews, he adds, “seems to love this production. It’s really funny, people are falling all over themselves laughing. I think people connect to it because it’s contemporary and accessible. And the music helps because it draws out the emotional strands of love and longing and mistaken identity that are central to the play.”

Twelfth Night runs through February 2 at Two River Theater, 21 Bridge Avenue, Red Bank, 732-345-1400;

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