BWW Exclusive: An Interview with Director/Choreographer Donna Feore about the Stratford Festival's Upcoming Forum Event MAKING CLASSIC MUSICALS CONTEMPORARY

BWW Exclusive: An Interview with Director/Choreographer Donna Feore about the Stratford Festival's Upcoming Forum Event MAKING CLASSIC MUSICALS CONTEMPORARY

Opening week has come and gone at the Stratford Festival and with that, the 2018 season is in full swing. This includes the events and discussions taking place as part of The Forum. One such event is MAKING CLASSIC MUSICALS CONTEMPORARY--A discussion between Director/Choreographer Donna Feore and CBC Radio Host and Globe and Mail music critic Robert Harris, moderated by director and journalist Richard Ouzounian. This in-depth analysis of what makes classic musicals last, how they stay relevant, and the ways in which they can be made to feel more contemporary for audiences today, will take place this Saturday morning at the Studio Theatre.

Donna Feore has taken on the impressive task of directing and choreographing both of this season's musicals-THE MUSIC MAN, and THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW at the Stratford Festival this season. BWW had the opportunity to chat with her to get a sneak peek of what might be discussed at this upcoming event.

"Here's the thing about classic musicals..." begins Feore, "We see them done in schools, in universities, in amateur theatre, we see them done again and again and again, and then of course in professional theatre at the higher level...People keep coming back to them." She adds, "I don't want to do a revival unless there is something in that material that I can find some relevancy in... Any show we're watching, whether it's on television, or film, or on the stage-we're looking at it with a modern sensibility. It's our 2018 sensibility. We have no other choice...We're going to put that material into the world we live in and find that relevancy."

When speaking about Saturday's discussion, Ms. Feore comments that she is excited to bounce ideas off of Robert Harris, whom she calls "an amazing musicologist." She explains: "He knows everything about every classic musical and the music in it and he's just this wealth of information."

Commenting further on what aspects of the contemporary world interest her most when putting on a classic musical, she states, "I'm a woman. I'm going to approach things from that perspective. One hundred percent." She references some of the other productions she has directed/choreographed for the Stratford Festival over the last several years, including: OKLAHOMA, OLIVER!, CRAZY FOR YOU, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, and GUY'S AND DOLLS that have strong female leads and how she loves to explore how the female characters are written in the libretto. She notes that, for example. the character of Elsa in THE SOUND OF MUSIC was a CEO in the 1930's and that in GUYS AND DOLLS, the only three characters that actually have jobs are the three women-Sergeant Sara Brown, General Cartwright, and Adelaide. "The rest of them throw dice on the ground and hope for the best!"

"So these musicals offer something that I sometimes think we miss."

Ms. Feore notes that her choreography is also inspired by the contemporary audience. She sites the example of her use of percussion in THE MUSIC MAN, "As a Director/Choreographer, I sometimes find real opportunity in the movement. In THE MUSIC MAN, I put a lot of percussion in, because I was inspired by Willson, who wrote for marching bands" She notes that still today, marching bands are a huge part of American society. "My inspiration [for the percussive dance] was that I felt that Harold brings the heart back into the community...and the heartbeat."

Feore acknowledges that there is sometimes some controversy that comes with mounting classic musicals that are set in time periods where value systems were perhaps different than there are now. "There's no question that we're going to discuss the controversy, I'm sure." Says Feore. "I really enjoy talking about that--How do we keep doing these musicals, because there's some really difficult content. And I'll be honest with you, I think there are some that we just really can't do...I sometimes think to myself 'Oh I just don't need to sing and dance about that...the world was different then.' " What is her moral barometer, you ask? "I always say this-My daughter is 21 years old and I won't do something that won't make her proud..because what message am I sending? We're not going to celebrate something unless we can come and learn something."

One musical that often faces this discussion is CAROUSEL. "Everyone's really running away from CAROUSEL" comments Feore, "I understand why on the surface, but I have to believe that the writers had something in mind here. Most of these writers were ahead of their time." She uses the example of Meredith Willson, the writer/composer of THE MUSIC MAN. "Look at that character of Marian. She says to her mother 'Do you think I'm just going to settle for any man, just because?' and her mother's response is 'Well, you don't have a husband, honey'." Feore states that she believes the scene where three generations of women are in a room talking about standards and expectations for relationships, was not an accident on Willson's part. "And I think it's kind of amazing. If we really try to dig a little bit deeper...[a lot of these things are right there in the book]."

Feore concludes: "The reason why classics still work is because most of them are going to strike a chord on a human level and I think that ultimately in this world that we live in--and it is a difficult world right now--we just want stories about humanity...warts and all. We don't need to walk away tied up with a bow, but what we have to do is say: 'maybe I see me in there'...And we have this communal experience together as an audience."

Ms. Feore's thoughtful discussion of this topic for just a few minutes with me, is clear evidence that the event on Saturday morning is going to be fascinating. Be sure to get your tickets at www.stratfordfestical.ca/whatson/theforum

MAKING CLASSIC MUSICALS CONTEMPORARY will be held on Saturday June 16th from 10:30am until 12pm at the Studio Theatre. Tickets are $25 and are available at https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/WhatsOn/TheForum

Photo Credit: The Stratford Festival

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