The Stratford Festival (Stratford, Ontario. Canada) has grown from a small theater-in-a-tent company to one that is the largest, longest, and most varied theater festival in North America. Every year, the company now produces 15 shows in repertory, 4 shows each day from May through October. Unless you are the heartiest of theater goers, one gets a sampling of shows during a typical 2 or three days visit. On my latest visit, I saw the following:
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE — is everything you would imagine. Very faithfully following the movie script, the production is the American premier of the West End play — in fact, it IS the West End play, complete with the same sets, costumes, and blocking. I’m going to guess that Stratford, in exchange for presenting the show at their festival, will be given the option to produce it on Broadway, where it should move. Its a fun near-three hour romp through Shakespearean London and a disguised love story. I had a great time, as did the audience from the comments after the show. I’m giving this one 4.5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it. At the Avon Theatre.
ALL MY SONS — the searing drama by Arthur Miller is performed in the round at the Tom Patterson theatre. The production is, in a word, devastating. If you know the show, you’ll find some wonderful nuances here in a superb color-blind-casting production. If you don’t know the show, don’t read about it in advance. You’ll love the drama and by the end of the evening you will feel like you have been eaves-dropping on your neighbors. This is one of the strongest ensemble casts I have ever seen in a Stratford production. 5 Stars out of 5. Highest Recommendation.
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC — is gorgeous. Leave it to Canada to produce the most beautiful productions of American musicals. (the Festivals A CHORUS LINE is also getting raves at the Festival Theater). Starting in a semi-steampunk type city sequence in Act One with its browns and blacks — the show opens up once they head to the Armfeldt manse in the country where colors switch to whites and creams. The cast is super, the music is wonderful, and I loved this production. At the Avon Theatre. 5 stars out of 5. Highest recommendation.
AS YOU LIKE IT — or, “You Won’t Like It” aka “As You Don’t Like It” at the Festival Theatre is terrible. It is presented as an “audience participation” show, complete with audience sometimes holding “tree branches” to create the Forest of Arden, for example — or stars in the balcony to create, well, stars. You get a nice canvas bag of “stuff” you are supposed to use but get to keep when you are done. Friends have already nicknamed it a “barf bag”. I did get to hold a sheep-sound-maker that I got to turn over every time they said “love” in one sequence with the shepherd, and it was at least funny. Then I left at intermission. If you are 13 years old, you might enjoy the antics which (for better or worse) do clearly help you understand what is going on — not usually a problem with As You Like It. If you are not 13, you will think the show is condescending and tries to make you have “fun” but you are not having “fun” and the participation becomes annoying. This production is the first time I have witnessed people walking out DURING the show. Many more left at intermission, including myself. 1 out of 5 stars. Not Recommended at all.
I’ll update this if I get out to the Festival to see some additional shows this summer.
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