Tuesday, June 7, 2011

2012 Stratford Festival features poet Robert Service and "The Simpsons" amid Shakespeare

by Janet I. Martineau
Sometimes it gets a little, well, boring at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, eh?
How many times can you see The Bard’s “Macbeth” before you start reciting the lines.
And those musicals they have taken to doing ... “Camelot,” “Evita,” “My Fair Lady ... been there, done that, and a lot.
So the recently announced 2012 season has reason to celebrate with the premiere of a musical about a poet, a real-life Canadian poet. How is that for taking a chance?
Robert Service, who immortalized the Yukon in such beloved (and accessible) poems as “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam MeGee,” is the subject of “Wanderlust,” commissioned by Stratford.
Written and directed by Morris Panych with music by Marek Norman, “Wanderlust” celebrates the allure of the frontier and the power of imagination with the wit of Service’s poetry. It will play at the Tom Patterson Theatre.
Robert Service
Born in England in 1874, Service moved to Canada at age 21. His career as a bank clerk, of all things, took him to Victoria, Whitehorse and Dawson City in the Canadian west during the gold rush -- where his penchant for writing poetry took flight with real-life events he either witnessed or was told.
Service also wrote thriller novels, starred in a Hollywood movie, served in the American Red Cross during World War I,  and eventually moved to France, where he died in 1958.
“Wanderlust” is one of the season’s four Canadian works,  including three premieres developed at Stratford.
Also on the schedule, and get this, is “MacHomer.” It is billed as a multi-media production in which Shakespeare’s Macbeth meets the animated TV show “The Simpsons.” Created by Canadian Rick Miller, he also stars in it and adopts more than 50 Simpsons characters voices while retaining most of the play’s tragic text about a man’s blind ambition.
Who says Stratford doesn’t have a sense of humor! “MacHomer”  plays the Studio Theatre, Stratford’s smallest of its four theater venues.
Oh to be sure there is the more typical Shakespeare and familiar musicals on the 2012 bill:
-- “Henry V,” a penetrating study of an English king who unites his fractured people with a campaign against the French, plays the Festival Theatre and is directed by artistic director Des McAnuff.
-- “Much Ado About Nothing” is at the Festival Theatre, directed by Christopher Newton, a former artistic director of the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake and a member of the Stratford acting company in the 1960s. Beatrice and Benedick feud and fuss fiercely against each other, but fall in love despite their protestations.
-- “Cymbeline,” the trials of a woman separated from her husband through the villainy of a would-be seducer, is at the Tom Patterson Theatre. Anthony Cimolino, general manager at Stratford,  directs.
-- “42nd Street,” about a chorus girl who becomes a Broadway star, is at the Festival Theater. It is directed by Gary Griffin,” whose “West Side Story,” “Evita” and “Camelot” were hits at Stratford.
-- Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta “The Pirates of Penzance,” at the Avon Theatre, is a zany story about young love and orphan pirates. Ethan McSweeny directs.
-- “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” inspired by the comic strip Peanuts and starring  all of Charles M. Schultz’s beloved characters, plays the Avon Theatre. Donna Feore, with strong choreographic skills, directs.
Rounding out the 60th season at Stratford are:
-- Christopher Plummer in the one-man show “A Word or Two,” which focuses on the actor’s love of literature and how it shaped his life. Included are words penned by Stephen Leacock, Bernard Shaw and, of course, William Shakespeare. 
Plummer, a Canadian who is an international star of stage and screen, is a long-time Stratford regular in some of its most critically acclaimed productions. McAnuff directs, at the Avon.
-- Thorton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker,” the basis of the musical “Hello Dolly” and its meddling marriage broker, plays the Festival Theatre. Chris Abraham directs.
-- Sophocles’ classic Greek tragedy “Ekektra” features a translation by  Canadian poet Anne Carson and is stagedy Athenian director Thomas Moschopoulos. The timeless tale about vengeful matricide ad the price paid for it plays at the Tom Patterson.
The other two Canadian premieres are “The Hirsch Project,” a portrait f former festival directed John Hirsch who escaped from the Holocaust and rose to international acclaim as a director, and “The Best Brothers,” about two brothers who re-examine their lives and their relationships after the death of their mother.
Both play at the Studio Theatre. 
Written by Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson, the Hirsch play will star Nashman as Hirsch with Thompson directing.

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