Monday, 14 July 2014

Stratford Festival extends 2014 season: Performances added for five productions

[Media Release] July 11, 2014

Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and Executive Director Anita Gaffney are pleased to announce that the Stratford Festival is extending the 2014 season. King Lear and Crazy for You will run for an extra week in October, and the three productions at the Tom Patterson Theatre, King John, Mother Courage and Her Children and Antony and Cleopatra, will run for an extra week in September. 

“It is very rewarding to see such strong demand for our Shakespeare offerings, alongside the work of Brecht and the Gershwins,” says Mr. Cimolino: “proof that our audiences are actively seeking a full range of theatrical experiences.” 

“The response to the 2014 season has been extraordinary. Sales for King Lear and Crazy for You have been through the roof since they opened to such enthusiastic reviews at the end of May,” says Ms Gaffney. “The three productions at the Tom Patterson Theatre have been selling well for months – in fact this is our second extension of Antony and Cleopatra. By extending these shows, we are able to enhance the variety of offerings available to our patrons in September, which is becoming an increasingly busy month for the Festival.” 

Mr. Cimolino’s production of King Lear starring Colm Feore was hailed as a triumph, with the Toronto Star’s Richard Ouzounian saying: “If you have been longing to encounter greatness in the theatre, it is waiting for you at the Stratford Festival.” The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones was taken with Mr. Cimolino’s “rigorously humane take” on the play, describing it as both “deeply compassionate” and “heart-wrenching.” The Globe and Mail’s J. Kelly Nestruck called Mr. Feore’s Lear “unforgettable,” a sentiment shared by critics and audiences alike. 

Crazy for You, directed and choreographed by Donna Feore and starring Josh Franklin and Natalie Daradich, opened to rave reviews. The Tribune’s Mr. Jones described it as “an expansive, alive, visually splendiferous and very entertaining production notable for its lively and fresh choreography.” Said Mr. Ouzounian: “In one very important way, Crazy for You is exactly like King Lear: both shows demonstrate that whatever the Stratford Festival is doing these days, it does it as well as it possibly can.” 

Martha Henry’s production of Mother Courage was called “the season’s must-see production” by the Detroit Free Press. It stars Seana McKenna, “an ideal leading lady” in the words of Mr. Nestruck. Notes Mr. Ouzounian: “Seana McKenna is truly the Mother of all Brechtian heroines and this production she stars in is worthy of your attention.” 

King John, directed by Tim Carroll, stars Tom McCamus in what the National Post’s Robert Cushman calls “a daring performance.” Mr. Carroll’s recent productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III took Broadway by storm, winning eight Tony nominations. Like those two shows, Mr. Carroll used original practices in his direction of King John. Notes the Chicago Tribune’s Mr. Jones: “If ever a production made the argument for doing Shakespeare as first done … then the sublime King John is that show.” 

Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Gary Griffin and starring Geraint Wyn Davies and Yanna McIntosh, starts previews on August 3 and opens August 14. In February the Festival announced it was adding performances to the schedule to keep up with demand for the production. Additional performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Chamber Play were also announced at that time. 

Tickets for the following performances go on sale Saturday, July 12: 

King Lear 

  • Tuesday, October 14, at 8 p.m. 
  • Wednesday, October 15, at 2 p.m. 
  • Thursday, October 16, at 2 p.m. 
  • Friday, October 17, at 8 p.m. 
  • Saturday, October 18, at 8 p.m. 

Crazy for You 

  • Tuesday, October 14, at 2 p.m. 
  • Wednesday, October 15, at 8 p.m. 
  • Thursday, October 16, at 8 p.m. 
  • Friday, October 17, at 2 p.m. 
  • Saturday, October 18, at 2 p.m. 
  • Sunday, October 19, at 2 p.m. 

Mother Courage and Her Children 

  • Tuesday, September 23, at 2 p.m. 
  • Saturday, September 27, at 2 p.m. 

Antony and Cleopatra 

  • Tuesday, September 23, at 8 p.m. 
  • Thursday, September 25, at 2 p.m. 
  • Sunday, September 28, at 2 p.m. 

King John 

  • Friday, September 26, at 2 p.m. 
  • Saturday, September 27, at 8 p.m.


The 2014 season of the Stratford Festival runs until October 19, featuring King Lear; Crazy for You; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; The Beaux’ Stratagem; Man of La Mancha; Alice Through the Looking-Glass; Hay Fever; King John; Mother Courage and Her Children; Antony and Cleopatra; Christina, The Girl King; A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Chamber Play; and more than 200 events in the Stratford Festival Forum. To order tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca. 

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Thursday, 3 July 2014

Review: Hay Fever - Just Shy of Fever-Pitch

Cast of Hay Fever. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Hay Fever
by Noel Coward
Directed by Alisa Palmer
Designed by Douglas Paraschuk and Dana Osborne

The Story: Oft-retired stage diva Judith Bliss has invited a young admirer down to her home in the English countryside for the weekend. This would be fine if her husband, daughter and son had not also invited a guest for the weekend, a confusion only enhanced by the family's utter lack of consideration for anyone else.

The story is funnier than it sounds - it is a Noel Coward play, after all, not Pinter. Coward is said to have written it in a kind of fever himself, basing it on the antics he witnessed at similar weekend gatherings at the home of American actress Laurette Taylor. However, the Stratford Festival's production does not quite reach such a fevered pitch - but not for lack of trying.

The first round of gasps and applause goes to designers Douglas Paraschuk for a truly lovely English country home that looks ripped from the pages of Britain Magazine, and a similar gasp in praise of costume designer Dana Osborne is heard when Ruby Joy (playing daughter Sorrel Bliss) stands in the second act to reveal a dress that would make Jean Patou jealous. No doubt about it, the glamour of the 1920's is present in spades.

Lucy Peacock as Judith Bliss
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Director Alisa Palmer makes her Stratford debut by issuing one command: "Release the Peacock!"  Meaning she obviously trusts her leading lady, Lucy Peacock, to use her formidable skills to create one doozy of a diva in Judith Bliss. Personally, I like watching an actress enjoying herself on stage this much, particularly that gleeful, almost demonic gleam in Ms. Peacock's eye when Judith scents drama in the air - even if the drama is of her own making. 

However she might trust Ms. Peacock, however, Ms. Palmer seems not to trust Noel Coward. She has overused some physical comedy which oddly detracts from the situational and textual comedy - such as everyone constantly being surprised as they sit on books that litter the furniture, and everyone constantly slipping on the same step of the grand staircase. Well, not everyone. All the guests sit awkwardly on books and fall up and down on the step, while the family of Blisses blissfully forgets to warn them. Every. Single. Time. 

Which is a sort of brilliant way to underline how very self-absorbed these Blisses are. It is unfortunate that the audience is pulled out of the play for each of these moments, waiting to see to whom and how each slip will occur, but one can understand why Ms. Palmer may have chosen to give bruises in this fashion to all the actors playing guests.

L-R: Gareth Potter as SandyTyrell, Lucy Peacock as Judith Bliss,
Ruby Joy as Sorrel Bliss. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Ruby Joy plays Sorrel Bliss, perhaps the one character towards whom one can feel something approaching sympathy. Sorrel is very aware her family is eccentric and narcissistic, and appears to want to change. It is Sorrel who reveals to one very confused house-guest that he cannot take anything the family says very seriously, and Ms. Joy exudes a natural gravity which grounds this part of her character. It is a treat, then, to see Ms. Joy take her character into full-tantrum mode, as Sorrel is sucked back into the family's functional dysfunction.

The rest of the cast hold up their ends, too - particularly Gareth Potter as the boyishly charming Sandy, and Sanjay Talwar as the cool (and mostly collected) diplomat Richard; and Cynthia Dale pulls double duty as the slinky minx Myra, and also manages a superbly graceful recovery from her pratfall on the dreaded step of doom.

It strikes me as I review my notes that by presenting Hay Fever along with Crazy for You and Man of La Mancha, the Stratford Festival declared an unintentional theme in their season - a love for, and the transformative power of theatre. In each case, the process of making theatre or believing in it and in its power forms the basis for each plot, and informs the characters lives. No wonder why, despite it falling short of some expectations, I found myself booking tickets to see Hay Fever again.

Hay Fever continues in repertory until October 11 at the Avon Theatre.

The Bliss Family L-R: Ruby Joy as Sorrel, Tyrone Savage as Simon,
Lucy Peacock as Judith and Kevin Bundy as David.
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann



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Monday, 30 June 2014

The Stratford Festival and Stratford Perth Museum present A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Shakespeare’s First Folio in Stratford On loan from the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library

MEDIA RELEASE June 25, 2014… The Stratford Festival is delighted to partner with the Stratford Perth Museum this season to present an unprecedented viewing of the 1623 edition of Shakespeare’s works, made available by the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, in celebration of the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare.

Only 232 copies of this cultural treasure, known as Shakespeare’s First Folio, remain in the world today. The volume held by the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is the only Canadian-held copy.

“The First Folio has been described as the most important work in the English language,” says Anita Gaffney, the Festival’s Executive Director. “We feel very fortunate to be able to offer our patrons, who are committed lovers of Shakespeare, an opportunity to view this treasured artifact during this year of celebration.”

“The publication of the collected plays in 1623 marked the first time eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays, including this season’s Antony and Cleopatra, appeared in print. Its importance can hardly be over-estimated and therefore we are very pleased to take advantage of the opportunity during this anniversary year to make the First Folio available to a broad audience beyond our four walls,” says Anne Dondertman, Director of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

“The Stratford Perth Museum couldn’t be happier or prouder to have been included in this remarkable opportunity by the Stratford Festival and the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library,” says John Kastner, the Museum’s General Manager. “To be able to display one of the most important historic works in English literature, even for a few days, is humbling and incredibly exciting at the same time.”

The First Folio will be on display at the Museum on Saturday, August 16, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday, August 17, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission for this very special exhibition is $15.

Second exhibition opens next week
featuring the birds and beasts of the Festival stage

The Stratford Perth Museum will also present a special exhibition called Festival Treasures: Creating the Wild Kingdom, showcasing unique pieces from the Festival Archives, from June 30 to October 12.

This fun-filled safari explores inventive ways of bringing birds and beasts to the stage. It will feature costumes, props, design sketches, audio-visual material, documents and photographs to illustrate the process of creating pieces for Festival productions of The Birds, Peter Pan, Alice Through the Looking-Glass, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and many others.

“It is such an honour to be able to partner with the Stratford Festival,” says Mr. Kastner. “We think the Museum is the perfect venue to showcase the Festival’s history. The theatre plays such an important part in who we are in Perth County and we are so excited to be able to help tell that story.”

“From hockey to agriculture to industry and now theatre, John and the Board at the Stratford Perth Museum are doing an outstanding job of connecting the Museum to our very special community,” says Ms Gaffney. “We are delighted to collaborate with the Museum on an exhibition of our archival materials and hope the collaboration serves to broaden the audience for both the Festival and the Museum.”

Exhibition hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and students, $3 for children, free for museum members. Tickets are available through the Stratford Festival at 1.800.567.1600 or www.stratfordfestival.ca, or at the Stratford Perth Museum, 4275 Huron Road, Stratford.

The 2014 season of the Stratford Festival runs until October 12, featuring King Lear; Crazy for You; A Midsummer Night’s Dream; The Beaux’ Stratagem; Man of La Mancha; Alice Through the Looking-Glass; Hay Fever; King John; Mother Courage and Her Children; Antony and Cleopatra; Christina, The Girl King; A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Chamber Play; and more than 200 events in the Stratford Festival Forum.


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Friday, 20 June 2014

Crazy for You becomes first Stratford Festival cast recording

MEDIA RELEASE     

Members of the company, Crazy for You.
Photo: Cylla von Tidemann
June 17, 2014… The magic of the Stratford Festival’s hit musical Crazy for You has been immortalized in the first full-length cast recording in the Festival’s history. The album is filled with beloved Gershwin tunes and a sensational cast bursting with talent: who could ask for anything more?

“I am thrilled to announce Stratford’s very first cast recording – something we have wanted to do for many years,” says Executive Director Anita Gaffney. “We are so lucky to have some of the greatest artists in the world with us each season. It is extremely important to us to preserve and share their extraordinary talents. This recording, together with our plans for Stratford@Play, which will see us film up to three productions a year, are exciting advances, which will take the Festival’s work to an even larger audience.”

Described as “a rollicking, rhythmic delight” by the Toronto Star’s Richard Ouzounian and “a shot of adrenaline” by The Globe and Mail’s J. Kelly Nestruck, Crazy for You is already one of the hottest tickets of the 2014 season. Specially conceived for the Festival stage by director and choreographer Donna Feore, the production features Natalie Daradich as Polly Baker, Josh Franklin as Bobby Child and Tom Rooney as Bela Zangler.

Featuring all 31 cast members as well as 21 musicians led by Conductor and Musical Director Shelley Hanson, the album is packed with classic Gershwin songs, including “I Got Rhythm,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

Musical Numbers

Act I
Overture/Kr-a-zy For You – Bobby
I Can’t Be Bothered Now – Bobby, Follies Girls
Bidin’ My Time – Mingo, Sam, Moose
Could You Use Me?/Shall We Dance? – Bobby, Polly Girls Enter Nevada – Company
Someone to Watch Over Me – Polly
Slap That Bass – Bobby and Company
Embraceable You – Polly, Bobby
I Got Rhythm – Polly and Company

Act II
The Real American Folk Song (Is a Rag) – Mingo, Sam, Moose and Company
What Causes That? – Bela, Bobby
Naughty Baby – Irene, Lank
Stiff Upper Lip – Patricia, Eugene and Company
They Can’t Take That Away From Me/But Not For Me – Bobby/Polly
Nice Work If You Can Get It – Bobby, Follies Girls

The album is available for purchase at the Stratford Festival Shop. To purchase online, visit iTunes or CD Baby at http://cdbaby.com/cd/crazyforyou.

The album was produced by Peter McBoyle and Franklin Brasz.

Crazy for You is a high-energy romantic comedy telling the story of Bobby Child, son of a banking magnate, who is sent to Deadrock, Nevada, to foreclose on a derelict theatre but unexpectedly falls for its owner’s daughter, Polly Baker.

Crazy for You plays at the Stratford Festival until October 12. For tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca.

With music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, and book by Ken Ludwig, Crazy for You was co-conceived by Ken Ludwig and Mike Ockrent. The musical was inspired by material by Guy Bolton and John McGowan, and originally produced on Broadway by Roger Horchow and Elizabeth Williams.

Crazy for You is co-sponsored by Union Gas Limited and RBC. Production support is generously provided by Riki Turofsky and Charles Petersen. Support for the 2014 season of the Festival Theatre is generously provided by Claire and Daniel Bernstein.

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Thursday, 12 June 2014

Martha Henry to receive 2014 Legacy Award

MEDIA RELEASE

 June 12, 2014The Stratford Festival is delighted to present its 2014 Legacy Award to Martha Henry. Her extraordinary contributions to the Festival and to the performing arts in Canada will be celebrated at a gala at Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel on Monday, September 29.
Martha Henry
Photo courtesy of the Stratford Festival
“Martha is not only the heart but also the soul of the Festival and it is an enormous pleasure to celebrate her legacy,” says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino.

“Martha came here at a very young age and her remarkable talents immediately placed her at the forefront of the company, playing principal and leading roles with some of the greatest actors in the world. She was an inspiration for directors as diverse in their practices as Michael Langham and Robin Phillips. Over the years, she has become an extraordinarily skilled director and a leader within the Canadian theatre community. She believes in us and always manages to draw from us our very best work.”

Ms Henry’s relationship with the Festival, now in its sixth decade, has been crucial to the theatre’s success and has enriched the cultural landscape of this country immeasurably. A Companion of the Order of Canada, a Member of the Order of Ontario and a recipient of the Governor General’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Ms Henry has performed in almost 70 productions in her 40 seasons at Stratford and has directed ten more.

She has served as the Director of the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre since 2007, training dozens of the country’s most promising classical actors, and mentoring and inspiring countless others throughout her career. Her contributions to theatre, film and television have been celebrated with five Genie Awards, two Betty Mitchell Awards, a Toronto Drama Desk Award, a New York Theatre World Award, three Gemini Awards and seven honorary doctorates. She has also been made a Lifetime Member of Actors’ Equity.

Ms Henry made her Stratford debut in 1962, playing Miranda to William Hutt’s Prospero in The Tempest. She and Mr. Hutt went on to share the stage numerous times, notably as Mary and James Tyrone in 1994’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, an unforgettable production that was reprised in 1995 and then filmed, winning Ms Henry a Genie for Best Actress in 1996.

Among the actors to have starred opposite Ms Henry at Stratford are Peter Donat (Troilus to her Cressida); John Colicos (Berowne to her Rosaline, and Lear to her Cordelia); Christopher Newton (Orsino to her Viola, and Oberon to her Titania); Nicholas Pennell (Grandier to her Jeanne, and Bertram to her Helena); Alan Scarfe (Benedick to her Beatrice, and Navarre to her Princess of France); and Peter Donaldson (Trigorin to her Arkadina, and George to her Martha).

Ms Henry famously reprised the role of Beatrice with another of her beloved leading men, Brian Bedford, in 1998’s Much Ado About Nothing, a production that toured to New York and was fondly remembered in the New York Times recently among the great Shakespeare performances of our day. The two also shared the stage as Richard III and Lady Anne, and Angelo and Isabella in Measure for Measure.

She has played so many of Shakespeare’s women that her list of credits reads like a trivia challenge for aficionados: Miranda, Lady Macduff, Cressida, Luciana, Phrynia, Rosaline, Cordelia, Lady Percy, Joan la Pucelle, Viola, Titania, Desdemona, Thaisa, Constance, Isabella, both Helenas, Lady Anne, Beatrice, Paulina, the Princess of France, Doll Tearsheet, Goneril, Volumnia, Lady Macbeth, Cymbeline’s Queen, Queen Eleanor, the Countess of Rossillion and Queen Margaret.

Her more contemporary roles include Olga in Three Sisters, Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Mrs. Alving in Ghosts, Agnes in A Delicate Balance, Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman, Regina in The Little Foxes, and, most recently, Prof in John Murrell’s TakingShakespeare, directed by Diana Leblanc in the 2013 season. 

As a director at the Festival, her productions include Brief Lives (featuring Douglas Rain), Richard II (Geordie Johnson), Richard III (Tom McCamus), Antony and Cleopatra (Peter Donaldson and Diane D’Aquila), Of Mice and Men (featuring Graham Greene), An Enemy of the People (featuring David Fox), Three Sisters (featuring Lucy Peacock and Tom McCamus), Timothy Findley’s Elizabeth Rex (featuring Diane D’Aquila, Brent Carver and Peter Hutt), Measure for Measure (featuring Geraint Wyn Davies and Tom Rooney), and this season’s Mother Courage and Her Children (Seana McKenna). 

The 2014 Legacy Award Gala will include tributes, music and entertainment presented by members of the Stratford Festival company and other extraordinary guests in celebration of Ms Henry’s career.  It will be a rare opportunity to join with some of Canada’s finest actors and musicians in acknowledgement of a lifetime of dedication to Canadian theatre.

The 2014 Legacy Award Gala is co-chaired by Barry Avrich, Sylvia D. Chrominska and Nada Ristich.

Table and ticket reservations are available by emailing rsmithspencer@stratfordfestival.ca or calling 519.271.4040, ext. 2402.


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Welcome!

I'm a freelance reviewer of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, in Stratford, Ontario (and the odd show elsewhere). I'll also provide links to other national reviews along the side, for those who don't agree with me and who want to know what other people have said. (My apologies if the links stop working - their rules, not mine.)

Here's to a great season of theatre!

P.S. I delete anonymous comments. If it's worth saying, it's worth knowing who said it.

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