The Stratford Festival kicks off its 67th season today (May 27) with the gala opening of Shakespeare’s Othello, followed by five more openings as the week unfolds: Billy Elliot the Musical, Henry VIII, Private Lives, Little Shop of Horrors and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino planned the 2019 season around the theme Breaking Boundaries.
“The plays in our season deal with people who dare to go beyond accepted norms or who must face challenges to the boundaries they have built around themselves. This breaking of boundaries makes for both gripping drama and delicious comedy,” says Cimolino. “As we explore these thoughts on stage, we delve more deeply into these and other topics at our Forum, where every week people are given opportunities to contemplate ideas, create art and be entertained by some of the world’s great artists and thinkers.”
Michael Blake takes the title role in Othello, directed by Nigel Shawn Williams at the Festival Theatre. The production features Laura Condlln as Emilia, Gordon S. Miller as Iago, Amelia Sargisson as Desdemona and Johnathan Sousa as Cassio.
Two more Shakespeare productions open next week. Henry VIII, directed by Martha Henry, features Jonathan Goad in the title role, with Rod Beattie as Cardinal Wolsey, Alexandra Lainfiesta as Anne Boleyn and Irene Poole as Queen Katherine.
The Merry Wives of Windsor, directed by Cimolino, features Geraint Wyn Davies as Falstaff, Sophia Walker as Mrs. Ford and Brigit Wilson as Mrs. Page, with Graham Abbey as Mr. Ford, Michael Blake as Mr. Page and Lucy Peacock as Miss Quickly.
“Breaking the boundaries of identity figures prominently in many of our 2019 plays, including our Shakespeare offerings,” says Cimolino. “Desdemona fatefully defies her father’s will by marrying the Moorish general Othello. The ‘Merry Wives’ of Windsor defy convention by taking matters into their own hands to cure a husband of his jealousy and teach the outrageous John Falstaff a life lesson. In Henry VIII, the boundaries of faith, family and the nation itself are pushed to the breaking point.”
Donna Feore has directed and choreographed two major musicals for the season, both opening next week: Lee Hall and Elton John’s Billy Elliot the Musical and Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s Little Shop of Horrors.
“Billy Elliot is a perfect example of the season’s theme,” says Cimolino. “A boy from a gritty mining town leaps beyond locally acceptable views of masculinity to become a dancer.”
The beautiful, heart-rending production features 11-year-old Nolen Dubuc in the title role, with Dan Chameroy as Dad, Blythe Wilson as Mrs. Wilkinson, Marion Adler as Grandma and Steve Ross as George.
Little Shop of Horrors features Gabi Epstein as Audrey, a young woman looking to break free from an abusive relationship, and André Morin as Seymour, a young man hoping to free himself from his impoverished life. They are joined in this wacky and touching musical by Dan Chameroy as Orin, the Dentist, and Steve Ross as Mr. Mushnik.
Noël Coward’s Private Lives, directed by Carey Perloff, features Lucy Peacock as Amanda Prynne and Geraint Wyn Davies as Elyot Chase, a divorced couple who collide while on honeymoon with their new spouses, Victor Prynne, played by Mike Shara, and Sibyl Chase, played by Sophia Walker.
“In this classic comedy, the boundaries of both divorce and marriage get twisted and broken,” says Cimolino.
The 2019 Forum kicks off on May 31 with Cultural Spaces and Communities, the first in a series of panels focused on cultural spaces. It features cultural planner Gord Hume and Stratford Mayor Dan Mathieson. The series, inspired by the building of the new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre, also includes Designing Cultural Spaces (July 18) with Architect Siamak Hariri, who designed the new Tom Patterson Theatre, and University of Waterloo architecture professor Rick Haldenby; and The Changing Face of Arts Engagement (August 16) with Diane Ragsdale, an assistant professor with the New School in New York.
Support for the Forum is generously provided by Kelly & Michael Meighen and The T.R. Meighen Family Foundation.
On June 14 and 15, three more productions will open: Mother’s Daughter, The Neverending Story and Nathan the Wise. The final season offerings open August 14 to 16: Birds of a Kind, The Front Page and The Crucible.
For tickets and more information, visit www.stratfordfestival.ca or call the box office at 1.800.567.1600.