BWW Preview: 2015 SHAW FESTIVAL

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A scene from SWEET CHARITY

The 2015 Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario is shaping up to be a great mix of Shavian classics, an American musical, Canadian premieres and cutting edge modern day drama. Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell will be leaving after the 2016 Season and is working hard to program an uniquely balanced season, while also hoping to fulfill all of her artistic desires before her tenure ends. The company mandate is: " The Shaw Festival is a theatre company inspired by the work of Bernard Shaw. We produce plays from and about his era and contemporary plays that share Shaw's provocative exploration of society and celebration of humanity."

George Bernard Shaw
Festival Theatre Interior

The Festival has 4 theatres of varying size and stage configurations , with it's largest being the Festival Theatre with 856 seats. This venue will house an updated version of Shaw's "PYGMALION." Directed by Peter Hinton, who worked wonders with last season's "CABARET," the well known tale of a cockney flower girl's transformation by Henry Higgins into a society lady will be moved to a contemporary London setting. Ms. Maxwell is excited to introduce young actress Harveen Sandhu in the leading role and Shaw veteran Patrick McManus as Higgins. "PYGMALION" plays from May 31- October 24th.

Moss Hart's classic American comedy "LIGHT UP THE SKY" is next up at the Festival Theatre. It continues a series of successful comedies produced by The Shaw in the past, including "THE ROYAL FAMILY", "BORN YESTERDAY" and "THE PHILADELPHIA STORY." Hart is tied to Shaw tangentially, having been the original Broadway stage director of "MY FAIR LADY," the musical version of "PYGMALION." When asked why the festival seems to do these classics so well, Maxwell states that "there is a rich institutional knowledge about the basic periods that carries through and makes the company adept at handling these plays." These chestnuts of the American stage are always a highlight each season and this year's offering will be directed by Blair Williams and designed by WILLIAM SCHMUCK. It runs from June 25- Oct 11th.

Julie Martell as Charity

Lastly the Festival Theatre hosts "SWEET CHARITY," the Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields musical with book by Neil Simon that made standards of such songs as "Hey Big Spender" and "If My Friends Could See Me Now." Maxwell sees this 1960's classic as "pushing the boundary on the era" of the Shaw's mandate. Charity Hope Valentine (Julie Martell), originally played by Gwen Verdon, is the dance hall hostess who dreams of a brighter future but she can't help but give her heart to all the wrong guys. Then she meets the meek but sweet Oscar Lindquist when they get trapped in an elevator. Could he be the man to change Charity's luck and take her off the market as a heart-for-hire? Martell has been a favorite of the Shaw and may best be remembered as Dot in "SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE." Directed by Morris Panych with Musical direction by Paul Sportelli and Choreography by Parker Esse, the musical runs from April 17 - October 31st.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER

The next smaller venue is The Royal George Theatre, which seats 313. This intimate jewel box theatre allows for much closer proximity to the stage. Maxwell is the the stage director for Rick Elice's play "PETER AND THE STARCATCHER." This piece allows a large number of the Entire company to shine in telling the prequel of sorts to the Peter Pan story. Maxwell encourages families of all ages to come and enjoy this magical tale where you are taken "on a journey using the power of music and story-telling to chronicle the adventures of an orphan soon to be called Peter Pan, and Molly, a girl charged to protect a parcel of stardust from falling into the wrong hands." The Broadway production opened in 2012 and went on to win five Tony Awards delighting audiences young and old. Performances are on stage from April 8 - Nov 1st.

Next at the Royal George is Shaw's own "YOU NEVER CAN TELL." Somewhat of a Shaw specialist, Jim Mezon will be directing , and LESLIE FRANKISH is the designer. This is one of his earlier plays and in it, "Shaw weaves together a light comedy of errors including an unplanned family reunion, a hopelessly romantic and poor dentist, a young woman intent on upholding the new logic of the modern era, and an uncommonly wise hotel waiter." It plays April 26- October 25th.

Cast of YOU NEVER CAN TELL

Lastly is "THE DIVINE: A PLAY FOR SARAH BERHARDT." This Canadian premiere was commissioned by the Shaw Festival . In it, acclaimed Québécois playwright Michel Marc Bouchard tells of the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt and her controversial performances in Quebec City at the turn of the 20th century. Directed by Maxwell in a translation by LINDA GABORIAU, this play runs from July 5 - Oct 11th

The Court House Theatre seats 327 and is arranged in a thrust configuration. 3 additional plays will be staged there.

First up is Henrik Ibsen's "THE LADY FROM THE SEA," in a new translation by Erin Shields and directed by MEG ROE and designed by CAMELLIA KOO. Moya O'Connell is the protagonist, Ellida, who is haunted by a past love, while dealing with present marriage. O'Connell is well remembered for her recent performance in "THE PHILADELPHIA STORY" last season. Performances run from April 30 - Sept 15th.

Moya O'Connell as Ellida

Caryl Churchill's "TOP GIRLS" is next up at the Court House. Directed by VIKKI ANDERSON and designed by SUE LEPAGE, "TOP GIRLS" deals with a woman's struggle to rise from poverty to upper class. Marlene is played by Fiona Byrne, now in her 13th season at the Festival. According to Maxwell, "After presenting Caryl Churchill's Serious Money in the Studio Theatre in 2010 - a play which exposed greed in the world of high finance - I felt we needed to keep exploring some more of the very diverse plays by this extraordinary 'Contemporary Shavian'. This play, written and set in the era of Margaret Thatcher, explores the changing roles of women with the same surgical precision and lacerating wit ... with a dash of astounding theatricality to boot." "TOP GIRLS" runs from May 23- Sept 12th.

Lastly, the Court House Theatre houses J. M. Barrie's "THE TWELVE- POUND LOOK." Directed by Lezlie Wade and designed by WILLIAM SCHMUCK, this play ties into the season as being written by the same author who penned "PETER PAN," which was presented by the Festival in 2001 and is the subject of "PETER AND THE STARCATCHER." Maxwell states "this play has been called a feminist battle cry by a 20th century nobleman whom we usually associate with boyhood fantasies." This one act play deals with a man who is about to be knighted, but is awkwardly confronted with his first wife, who abandoned him. It runs from May 23- Sept 12th.

The smallest and most experimental of the Shaw's venues is the Studio Theatre with a maximum of 200 seats and has a flexible configuration. Tony Kushner's "THE INTELLIGENT HOMOSEXUAL'S GUIDE TO CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM WITH A KEY TO THE SCRIPTURES" follows the 2013 successful run of Tom Stoppard's "ARCADIA" that traveled to Toronto. It will be directed by EDA HOLMES and designed by Peter HartWEL. "The title - from Shaw's The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism and Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures - reflects the work of two powerful 19th century thinkers, as Gus, a powerful 20th century thinker on the verge of defeat, struggles to understand the 21st century. The New Yorker called Tony Kushner's sweeping family drama one of the Best Plays of 2011. " Jim Mezon, in his 31st season with the Shaw Festival, plays Gus. Performances run at the Festival from July 11- Oct 10th.

New this season is an intimate evening of Kurt Weill's songs called THE NEXT WHISKY BAR- A Kurt Weill CABARET created by Paul Sportelli and Jay Turvey. For 6 performances only you will hear music of Weill set in 1923 Germany, including such classics as 'Mack the Knife,'Surabaya Johnny' and 'September Song,' as well as some lesser known classics . Performances take place in the STUDIO UNDERGROUND.

Additional information and tickets are available online at SHAWFEST.COM or by calling 1.800.511.7429 or 905.468.2172. US Visitors require a valid passport or Enhanced Driver's License to gain entry into Canada. The Shaw Festival is short 50 minute car ride from downtown Buffalo. As of May 19, 2015 the exchange rate is $1 US Dollar = $1.21 Canadian Dollars. Niagara-on-the-Lake boasts fine dining, wineries, luxurious hotel accommodations, as well as numerous Bed and Breakfasts.

All productions photos were taken by David Cooper for the Shaw Festival.

A scene from SWEET CHARITY


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From This Author Michael Rabice