The Stratford Festival has opened its season with six good productions, beginning with Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. Under the direction of Antoni Cimolino, the often troubled “Scottish Play” graced the Festival stage with some of the best design given to this show. The set designed by Julie Fox was darkly lit by Michel Walton with strong dramatic support by the sound design of Thomas Ryder Payne. In the title role, Ian Lake is strong and filled with purpose as Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is played with passion and ambition by Krystin Pellerin. At all times, one’s eyes are drawn to this diminutive actress who command attention whenever she enters the scene. The two are supported by some of the Festival’s veteran actors such as Scott Wentworth, Peter Hutt, Robert King and Joseph Ziegler. This production run to the end of the season and is worth seeing.
A hot ticket at the Stratford Festival; may very well be for “A Chorus Line”, the musical production directed by Donna Feore, Stratford’s much-lauded choreographer. The musical production under the baton of Laura Burton, it ranks as one of the best ensemble pieces I’ve seen in years. Everyone on stage has huge talents and the potential to be a star in any other musical production. The story features a talented but demanding director played with relentless energy by Juan Chioran. He guides the company through two hours of soul searching and dance numbers. The show’s book delves into the personalities and desires of the “boys and girls” who are seeking a job in the chorus line of a show that will soon open on Broadway. The key to the production’s success was the line-up of triple-threat performers, all of whom had voices of such strength and quality that any could work as a soloist in any musical production. There is not enough space in this review to cover all nineteen performers, but people such as Dayna Tietzen, Matt Alfano, Alexandra Herzog and Juan Chioran were compelling.
At the Avon Theatre a show for children of all ages is “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardbrobe. It is beautifully designed and illustrates all the creatures in the original C. S. Lewis story as four children escaping the wartime bombing of London, go to the country where they discover that an old wardrobe is actually a portal to the magical land of Narnia. The force of evil is led by the White Queen, played broadly and well by Yanna McIntosh. Good is the duty of the Lion, done to a tee by Tom McCamus in a magnificent two-man costume that commands the stage. The show will reach adults more effectively than small children.
The Stratford Festival has rebuilt the stage at the Tom Patterson Theatre and it is now operating “in the round”. All sides of the theatre are filled with patrons now and the effect is making the stage more intimate with a more focused production. This is amply demonstrated by the dynamic production of Arthur Miller’s modern classic “All My Sons”. This is a gripping story of an Ohio businessman who refuses to admit that errors in his products led to the deaths of more than 20 combat pilots during the war, now over for more than three years. Joseph Ziegler is Joe Keller, who has allowed his former business partner to go to prison and in a state of denial that allows his partner to continue his term of punishment. His wife played with tight passion by Lucy Peacock, is also in denial, partly is support of her husband, but also in the belief that one of her two sons, missing in action, is still alive. Her younger son, played by Tim Campbell, is the most sensible person in the family, with nothing to hide and anxious to preserve whatever harmony is left in the Keller household. Director Martha Henry has a clear understanding of the works of Arthur Miller and her teaching position at the Birmingham Conservatory has allowed her to assemble a truly fine ensemble of actors. Here is a show with a great script and excellent performances by all, particularly Lucy Peacock and Joseph Ziegler. The production is unforgettable.
One of the most popular Shakespearean comedies, “As You Like It”, is frequently staged at Stratford and his immortal heroine Rosalind. The role is now being claimed by Petrina Bromley, whose disguise as a man seems to work well. As a disgraced young woman unjustly banished from the court, Rosalind flees to the Forest Arden to join other outcasts. With her she brings her best friend, the daughter of the duke that has dispossessed her family. Trish Lindstrom portrays Celia with a bubbling sexiness that gives energy and humour to the production. The play is about love, and among the nobles, exiled Orlando is smitten by Rosalind who fell for him immediately. It was Shakespeare who coined the phrase “Love at First Sight”. Among the key players, the melancholy Jacques is transformed into a woman, and the seven ages of man speech is beautifully delivered by Seana McKenna. Punctuated by down east music and design it is Robin Hutton, a musical Hymen who maintains a strong energy through the scene changes with what becomes good fun.
If the opening week was a six-course feast, then “Shakespeare in Love” has to be the dessert. Adapted from the Tom Stoppard screenplay by Lee Hall and directed with energy by Declan Donnellan, the production is well-designed to hint at Shakespeare’s life in the late seventeenth century. Of all the shows that week, this I found most enjoyable, particularly the performance of Shannon Taylor as Viola. She must have run a mile from spot to spot and still kept her breath and her performing voice. As Shakespeare, Luke Humphrey gives a good performance and the chemistry between himself and Ms. Taylor is palpable. A good supporting cast is enriched by the role of Marlowe, created with compelling presence by Saamer Usmani. The show caps a week of world-class theatre and entertainment.
Written by: Ric Wellwood