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Stratford returns to theatricality

Picturesque Stratford has undoubtedly enjoyed an influx of visitors brought in by the early arrival of spring, but the tourist season shifted into high gear this week as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival officially launched its 59th season.

The kickoff was Monday night’s gala opening of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by the festival’s artistic director, Des McAnuff.

Tony Award-winning actor Brent Carver is Jacques in As You Like It, the production directed by Des McAnuff that was the first in a series of openings this week at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
Tony Award-winning actor Brent Carver is Jacques in As You Like It, the production directed by Des McAnuff that was the first in a series of openings this week at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

With that, the festival’s 2010 season runs until Oct. 31, featuring As You Like It; Kiss Me, Kate; The Tempest; Dangerous Liaisons; Evita; Peter Pan; The Winter’s Tale; Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris; For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again; Do Not Go Gentle; The Two Gentlemen of Verona; and King of Thieves.

This week’s openings saw productions get underway at three of the festival’s four stages.

“This is one of the most exciting offerings we’ve had in a long time – there’s something for everyone,” said Ann Swerdfager, the festival’s publicity director.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with what we’ve produced for 2010,” said McAnuff in a statement. “We have an unbelievably gifted company of actors who never cease to inspire and amaze me. All of these talents combine with the work of our outstanding artisans to create a theatre-going experience that I hope will be one of Stratford’s most memorable.”

The opening play, As You Like It, features Ben Carlson as Touchstone, Brent Carver as Jaques, Paul Nolan as Orlando and Andrea Runge as Rosalind.

Shakespeare included a fair amount of music in this play. While the original score is long gone, Stratford commissioned Justin Ellington, cousin of the legendary Duke Ellington, to write a 1920s-style jazz score for its production, Swerdfager noted.

Following that opening, it was a busy week of firsts. The musical Kiss Me, Kate opened Tuesday at the Festival Theatre. Directed by John Doyle, the Tony Award-winning director of Sweeny Todd, the production features Juan Chioran and Monique Lund.

“It’s a highly entertaining show. It’s just a lovely, sweet tale that leaves everybody smiling,” she said, adding it’s one of her personal favourites, having already seen it four times.

On Wednesday, theatergoers moved to the Tom Patterson Theatre for the late Shakespearean romance The Winter’s Tale. Directed by Marti Maraden, the production features a cast led by Ben Carlson as Leontes, Yanna McIntosh as Hermione and Seana McKenna as Paulina.

The following day marked the opening of the festival’s first rock musical, Evita, at the Avon Theatre.

Featuring Chilina Kennedy in the title role, the production is directed by Gary Griffin – together again after the success of West Side Story in 2009. Kennedy is joined by Juan Chioran, who plays Juan Perón, and Josh Young, who plays Che.

The Tony Award-winning Brent Carver was busy again on Friday in Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. He is joined in the ensemble by Jewelle Blackman, Mike Nadajewski and Nathalie Nadon. The production is led by internationally acclaimed Canadian director Stafford Arima.

Today, the week of openings culminates in the performance of Peter Pan at the Avon Theatre, directed by highly respected British director Tim Carroll. The play features Michael Therriault in the title role.

Comedian Seán Cullen appears as Smee and Tom McCamus is Captain Hook.

“If you’ve got kids, it’s a great way to introduce them to live theatre – it’s a beautiful show,” said Swerdfager.

The Studio Theatre season will begin on July 13 with the opening of Do Not Go Gentle, featuring Geraint Wyn Davies.

One of this year’s premier attractions, however, will be The Tempest, with Christopher Plummer in the role of Prospero. It opens June 25.

“He’s unbelievable – he really is something else to watch on stage live.”

The mix of offerings should help boost ticket sales, which topped 500,000 last year. The festival brings some $150 million in economic activity to the area, a major component in the tourism industry.

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