Opening Week

It was a triumphant opening week for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and everyone here is delighted with the success of the season so far – and eagerly looking forward to all the openings still ahead.

For the gala season opening night on Monday, June 7, we held a live video feed from the red carpet at the Festival Theatre entrance. The webcast was hosted by Stratford favourite Bruce Dow (who is back this season in The Tempest and The Two Gentlemen of Verona). It was a great opportunity to meet Festival actors and other artists, and also some of the many people who work behind the scenes. We’ve put together a little montage of people Bruce spoke to:

After everyone was ushered to their seats and we sang the national anthem, the productions of opening week got underway.

Monday night the audience was treated to a wonderful production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Set in the 1920s, it has a fabulous cast and an irresistibly tuneful score to accompany the many songs that Shakespeare incorporated into the play. Tuesday, the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate, inspired by Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, dazzled us in a bold and colourful interpretation by Tony Award-winning director John Doyle.

The middle of the week brought us a rarely produced Shakespeare drama, The Winter’s Tale. Beautifully staged in the intimate Tom Patterson Theatre, it had a warm reception from both patrons and critics. Thursday, the Festival rocked out with Evita at the Avon theatre – the first rock opera Stratford has ever staged.

Friday’s opening show, the revue Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, was a real treat for music lovers – and then, to round off the week, patrons were whisked off with Wendy, Michael and John to the Never Land in J. M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan. The obvious excitement of the younger theatregoers (and the not-so young ones too) was a clear sign that the week had come to a suitably thrilling conclusion.

But opening week is just the beginning of the excitement here at Stratford: there’s lots more to come. Next to open, for instance, is a production that many newspapers – and even National Geographic – are calling the must-see event of the summer. That’s The Tempest, with the internationally renowned Christopher Plummer in the role of Prospero.

We look forward to seeing you before the season’s up at the end of October.

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Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris ~ Preview Performance

Jacques Brel thumbnail Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris Brent Carver as Brent Photo by: Andrew Eccles

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
Production conception, English lyrics and additional material by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman
Based on Jacques Brel’s lyrics and commentary
Music by Jacques Brel

May 14 to September 25 ~ Opening June 11

I recently attended the second preview of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Having enjoyed the music of Jacques Brel for many years, I was thrilled to find this show on our playbill for the 2010 season and was really excited at the prospect of seeing it.

Jacques Brel is different from the other musicals you’ll see at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival this season. It’s best described as a musical revue, which means that it’s purely a compilation of songs, without an overall story linking them all together. This is a bit of a milestone for the Festival: although we’ve presented musical revues before, we haven’t done so since the 1970s, and even then they were usually programmed as ancillary events, with only a few performances. Jacques Brel, though, is a full-blown part of the playbill – and the intimate Tom Patterson Theatre is the perfect setting for a cabaret-style show like this.

For those of you unfamiliar with him, Jacques Brel was a Belgian singer-songwriter whose songs tell stories not just of love but of the whole human experience. He first won renown – and a prestigious award – while he was living in Paris, and he went on to become an international star. The way his music speaks to the soul has influenced many other artists, including Leonard Cohen and David Bowie.

When you enter the Tom Patterson Theatre, you’re transported to a cabaret space that feels like it’s been abandoned for years and filled with the spirits of a bygone era. Those spirits, as if by magic, are made flesh in the performers – Jewelle Blackman, Brent Carver, Mike Nadajewski and Nathalie Nadon (the singers), along with Laura Burton, Anna Atkinson, George Meanwell and Luc Michaud (the orchestra) – from the moment they ritualistically enter the performing space.

By turns haunting and humorous but always beautiful, each of the songs tells an individual story, sometimes played out on stage and sometimes left for the audience to imagine. For this production, the Festival’s Director of Music, Rick Fox, has re-orchestrated the songs to give them more of the cabaret flavour they had when Brel originally performed them. Here are just some of the wonderful numbers you’ll hear: “Timid Frieda,” “Le Moribond” (which some of you may know from its English-language version, “Seasons in the Sun”), “Amsterdam” (once covered by David Bowie), “The Bulls” and “Carousel.”

When I saw this show, it was a cool gray day in Stratford – but when I came out, I felt like I was in Paris in the spring. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon or evening, so be sure to catch it. Jacques Brel runs till September 25 at the Tom Patterson Theatre.