Saturday, September 12, 2015

Shaw Festival looks to the future

I promised a couple of weeks ago I would update news on the Shaw Festival, as there is plenty to report, so this weekend let's look at what the future holds for our venerable theatrical institution.

First off, let's recap the 2015 season, as there is still plenty of great theatre still to go in Niagara-on-the-Lake before the season ends November 1st.  Most of the action for the rest of the season takes place at the Festival, Royal George and Studio theatres, as the 2015 season at the Court House Theatre ends this weekend.

Ibsen's The Lady From the Sea wraps up tomorrow afternoon at the Court House, and Top Girls and The Twelve-Pound Look both wrapped up today.  Of the three, I saw Top Girls and although it was very much an acquired taste, it was well worth seeing this season at the Court House Theatre.

At the Royal George, the big show is Rick Elice's Peter and the Starcatcher, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, which closes out the Shaw season this year on November 1st.  Shaw's You Never Can Tell wraps up October 25th and The Divine, a contemporary Canadian play looking at the life of Sarah Bernhardt, continues until October 11th.  The Divine is by Michel Marc Bouchard, translated by Linda Gaboriau.  Of the three, I caught Shaw's You Never Can Tell, which is probably the most light-hearted version of the play we've seen in many years.  Director Jim Mezon scored a major triumph, though, and it is well worth seeing.

On the Festival stage, the big musical this year is Sweet Charity, with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields and book by Neil Simon.  Not their best musical, I've heard, but certainly garnering lots of attention all the same.  Sweet Charity runs until October 31st.  Shaw's Pygmalion is the big show at the Festival Theatre this year, a very contemporary take on the classic story directed by Peter Hinton.  It runs through to October 24th.  And Moss Hart's comedy Light Up the Sky, a broadway play about the opening of a Broadway play, continues until October 11th.  I saw Light Up the Sky and it is funny and very well acted for the most part, but it really is dated, and not one I'd recommend with such a wealth of other great choices still available.

Last month, the Shaw announced their replacement for outgoing Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell, who steps down at the end of next season.  Artistic Director Designate Tim Carroll will work alongside Jackie Maxwell during the 2016 season, taking over the reigns completely December 1st of next year to begin the 2017 season.

Carroll has 25 years of experience in theatre, beginning his career with the English Shakespeare Company in 1990 before becoming the Associate Director of the Northcott Theatre in Exeter.  Over the years, he has also been Associate Director with Kent Opera, producing acclaimed productions of Britten's The Prodigal Son and Handel's Acis and Galatea.  While Associate Director of Shakespeare's Globe in London, his productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III were very popular, making it all the way to Broadway.

Tim Carroll is no stranger to Canadian stages, either, as he has directed several productions at the Stratford Festival, including most recently King John.  This fall, he will direct Ben Hur at the Tricycle Theatre back in London.

This will be an exciting new chapter for the Shaw Festival, which has flourished and grown over the past 14 years with Jackie Maxwell at the helm, taking the Festival in different directions after replacing long time Artistic Director Christopher Newton, and Carroll will no doubt do the same in the coming years.

In the more immediate future we have Maxwell's final season starting next spring, and it promises to be another interesting summer in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  The Shaw's 55th season includes 10 diverse productions including works from the Shaw mandate period, as well as contemporary takes on Shaw classics and the world premieres of two commissioned works.

At the Festival Theatre, director Peter Hinton returns to direct a world premiere of a musical version of Alice in Wonderland, commissioned by the Shaw Festival.  Hinton also did the stage adaptation of the musical by Allen Cole.  Oscar Wilde's 1893 comedy A Woman of No Importance will be directed by Eda Holmes; this is the first time the play has appeared at Shaw since 2000.  Jackie Maxwell directs the big musical on the big stage next season, and it promises to be one of the more interesting offerings:  the musical thriller Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street features music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler.

Over a the Court House Theatre, Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, which last appeared at the Festival in 1999, will be directed by Jackie Maxwell.  The play was originally produced in 1898, but this will be a new version of the play, although further details are still pending on that aspect.  One of my favourite Shaw plays, Mrs. Warren's Profession, last seen at the Festival in 2008 will return to the Court House next year as well.  The play dates from 1893, although the first production was not until 1902.  Finally at the Court House Theatre, the Festival premiere of "Master Harold"...and the Boys by Athol Fugard, first produced in 1982, will be directed by Philip Akin.

The Royal George Theatre hosts the second Festival premiere next season, Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama from 1938, Our Town.  This classic slice of Americana will be directed by Molly Smith, who last directed at Shaw in 2011 when she handled My Fair Lady.  Also at the Royal George, another Festival premiere will see Morris Panych direct Engaged:  An Entirely Original Farcical Comedy in Three Acts by W. S. Gilbert.  Yes, that Gilbert, before Sullivan, circa 1877.  Finally, the world premiere of The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God, adapted for the stage by Lisa Codrington from a short story by Bernard Shaw, will be the Lunchtime show next season.  Directed by Ravi Jain, it is another Shaw Festival commission.

The Studio Theatre will see the Festival premiere of August Strindberg's The Dance of Death in a new version by Richard Greenberg.  Originally produced in 2001, this Festival production will be directed by the one and only Martha Henry.

Tickets for the 2016 season will go on sale this winter, but you can still catch plenty of great theatre for the remainder of this season by calling the Shaw box office at 905-468-2172 or by going to

Enjoy the weekend!

September 12th, 2015.

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