The Stratford Festival has officially opened its 61st season and I am offering a review of all productions from the opening week with the exception of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure which will be reviewed later this month, The season started with a strong production of Romeo and Juliet. When the school audiences see it this fall they will see an exquisite Juliet and a Romeo who is at the mercy of hormones. Sara Topham is giving the audience the best Juliet ever created at Stratford. Her troubled journey into womanhood is totally convincing and her mastery of the Bard’s language is complete. I found myself gazing at a beautiful teen who was self-assured and a little spunky.
Daniel Briere’s Romeo has all the right moves and he gets better in the second half of the production, which Director Tim Carroll keeps simple and clean. The show is greatly aided by a quartet of musicians playing period instruments for the dance numbers, and an excellent a capella chorus that opens the second part of the production.
The casting in this show runs deep and strong, with Jonathan Goad’s brilliant Mercutio, Scott Wentworth as a rigid father, Tom McCamus as a knowing and generous friar, Mike Nadajewski as a hapless servant and Kate Hennig as the Nurse in a performance of sensitivity and humour. I admit that there are times that some of the newer players speak their iambic pentameter in a rote fashion, but by and large, the show is memorable and a great start to what may be a promising season.
Most professional actors will never find that they are holding the audience in the palm of their hand. It is rarely done, but I saw Scott Wentworth do just that in the opening production of “Fiddler on the Roof”. During some of his serious moments, the silence in the audience was remarkable. Not a cough or sniffle, as if everyone was holding his breath. As Tevye the milkman and father of five daughters, he is the anchor performer of one of the best musicals ever written. His rich, empathetic and comic performance received a well-deserved standing ovation.
Director Donna Feore reinforces her credentials as choreographer by giving us several models of dance numbers executed with energy and precision by the large company on the Festival Stage. She also manages to recreate a very funny dream sequence with the return of Grandma Tzeitel, handled with fearless effort by Barbara Fulton. Design for set and costumes is uniformly good and not enough can be said about the depth of talent among the singers and dancers who bring the village of Anatevka to life. All the choral numbers are rich in melody thanks to the late and gifted Jerry Bock but it is the addition of Sheldon Harnick’s memorable lyrics that coaxes touching performances from all, particularly Wentworth and the engaging Kate Hennig as Golde, his wife. The three eldest daughters, played by Jennifer Stewart, Jaquelyn French and Keely Hutton, add a range of feelings that make Tevye’s family universal and appealing. If you add strong supporting performances by Steve Ross. Andre Morin, Mike Nadajewski, Paul Noland, Gabrielle Jones and Lee Siegel, you end up with three hours of rich entertainment.
Stratford’s former Artistic Director, Des McAnuff has opened his hit musical in a new, more complex version at the Avon Theatre. The Who’s rock opera opened in the late sixties and was revised and remounted in the early nineties by McAnuff for further honours. Now it is in a new incarnation, with the addition of new, highly developed audio visual elements by Sean Nieuwenhuis. His montage of World War Two is a huge visual exposition of what leads to the return of Tommy’s father and eventual act of murder.
Choreographer Wayne Cilento has returned to the show with a new series of dances, packed with energy but a surprising lacking of feeling. The singers are skilled, particularly Lee Siegel in his several roles, and Paul Nolan as Tommy’s delinquent cousin. Among the standouts are Robert Markus as Tommy, Jeremy Kushnier as his father and Kira Gulioen in a strong debut as his mother. If you throw in his Uncle Ernie, a creepy pederast, you have the core of a talented company faced with a losing battle with the sound system The volume of this show is loud enough to rattle your rib-cage and several people left at intermission. I’ll continue looking at Stratford’s theatrical offerings in the next issue of the Bay Observer.
A member of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, Ric Wellwood is completing his forty-sixth season on the aisle at all four of the theatres in Stratford.
Article by: Ric Wellwood