Thursday, October 1, 2009

Final look at shows at the Stratford Festival this season

Remember on the last entry, I mentioned the off again on again situation with my medical problems that put me in the hospital in August? I mentioned I couldn't write as often as usual until I am over this thing. Well, I ended up in the hospital for a week again at the end of September, just after my last entry, so again my apologies for not getting my blog updated regularly. I hope to be a little more consistent now that October is finally here.

Just after my last entry, I left for a final weekend visit to Stratford to make up a couple of dates I had to cancel after my surgery in August. So I managed to catch the musical West Side Story and the Racine play Phedre before they closed, so a few brief comments here to present my final reviews for the season.

WEST SIDE STORY, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Festival Theatre until October 31st. Four out of four stars.
I had heard nothing but good things all season long about the Stratford production of West Side Story, and I was not surprised nor disappointed when I finally made it to the show in September. The Stratford musicals are almost always big budget and well worth the effort, with this one being no exception. The spectacular but gritty production of the classic retelling of the Romeo & Juliet story is directed by Gary Griffin, and he makes full use of the thrust stage at the Festival Theatre. It was last produced at the Avon Theatre back in 1999, but I think it is far better suited to the Festival stage with all the action taking place. Lots of good performances here from a spirited cast, including Brandon Espinoza as Riff, the leader of The Jets; Paul Nolan as Tony, who falls for Maria from The Sharks, played by Chilina Kennedy; and Julius Sermonia as her first boyfriend, Chino. he's the guy who does in Tony, of course, but let's not give too much away here. Kennedy is an engaging Maria, with a wonderful stage presence and bright, clear voice. Paul Nolan as Tony, her love interest, is up to the job of winning her hand and heart.

There is not much to dislike about this production, and that is evidenced by the full house at the performance I attended, even in late September. If you have some time, catch this one before it closes. It rates a solid four out of four stars.

PHEDRE, by Jean Racine, translated and adapted by Timberlake Wertenbaker. Tom Patterson Theatre until October 3rd. Three out of four stars.
Not much time left to catch this production, as it closes this coming weekend. Unfortunately, my delay getting to the show means I can't give you much lead time on this one, which is a shame because it is certainly worth a look. Director Carey Perloff has given us a simple yet effective presentation here, with designs by Christina Poddubiuk. Solid acting all round here, including Tom McCamus as Theseus, son of Aegeus, King of Athens; Seana McKenna in the title role, wife of Theseus; and Jonathan Goad as Hippolytus, son of Theseus. Brian Bedford directed the last production of the work at Stratford back in 1990 also at the Tom Patterson Theatre, so this was due for a revival for sure. If you have the time, by all means catch one of the last performances before it closes; just don't make it your only production at Stratford this year. It rates a solid three out of four stars.

October 1st, 2009.

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