Thursday, October 9, 2008

More late-season offerings at the Stratford Festival

With October now upon us, it won't be long before our two major theatre festivals close up shop for another season; both Shaw and Stratford continue until early November, although Shaw has extended the run of at least one of its plays until mid-November. I still have a few shows to look at down the road at the Stratford Festival, so this week and next, let's see what is worth the trip to Stratford this month.

The Taming of the Shrew (Festival Theatre to October 25) ***
Shakespeare's oft-misunderstood comedy receives a very interesting interpretation here by director Peter Hinton. Hinton, who also wrote and directed Shakespeare's Universe at the outdoor theatre this season, has a passion for period Shakespeare, and this production bears that out. At a theatre that has given us countless modern versions of this classic, from Richard Monette's celebrated 50s Italian-American take on it about 20 years ago to the wild, wild west version of a few seasons back, this is about as traditional a production as you'll find anywhere. That being said, there is still plenty to recommend this production, beginning with the prologue which essentially places the story as a play within a play; the actual Taming of the Shrew is all a dream...or is it? The sets are spare but effective; the period costumes make this a 'truer Shrew' than we've grown accustomed to seeing. The casting throws us some surprises, too: while you expect to see Lucy Peacock in the lead role of Katherina, perhaps, here she takes the smaller role of tavern wench Grumio, which she plays to wonderful comic effect. I don't know if this is Hinton's decision or hers to simply take smaller roles this season, but the change takes some getting used to. In that central role is Irene Poole who plays the role with a great deal of strength and stage presence. One interesting aspect to her characterization is she plays the role with a limp; such is Hinton's attention to detail, one line in the play referring to Katherina's limp transforms her into a strong yet at the same time more vulnerable appearing Katherina. Again, it takes some getting used to. Other strong performances in the cast include Evan Buliung as a charismatic Tranio; Juan Chioran as Gremio and Stephen Ouimette as a crowd-pleasing Baptista Minola. Overall, this is a very satisfying Shrew, and one more in keeping with Shakespeare's original vision of the play, I suspect.

The Music Man (Avon Theatre to November 1) ****
Who doesn't enjoy seeing Meredith Willson's wonderful musical The Music Man? Even if you have witnessed more than one questionable school productions in the past, treat yourself to this absolute gem of a production. It really is a spectacular show, although not in the showy sense of last year's My One and Only or Anything Goes of a few seasons back. It's very colourful, even though the sets are largely neutral in tone, and everything works in perfect harmony. In the lead role of Harold Hill, director Susan H. Schulman has cast Jonathan Goad. At first I thought it was an odd choice, given his straight acting roles in the past; but here, Goad rises to the challenge and shows remarkable stage presence and musical abilities we have not often seen before. He is joined by equally strong cast members such as Fiona Reid as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn; Michelle Fisk as Mrs. Paroo, and an enchanting Leah Oster as Hill's eventual love interest, Marian Paroo, of Marion the Librarian fame. Berthold Carriere conducts a spirited orchestra from the pit, and keeps things moving at a very good pace. All in all, this is one musical you will not regret seeing; it will certainly leave you humming a few familiar tunes on the way out of the theatre.

October 9th, 2008.

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