2012 Shakespeare Overview

By Aaron Kropf

As we all know by now, 2012 marks the Diamond 60th Season of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. In this milestone year of celebration, the Festival brings you three plays that reveal very different facets of Shakespeare’s genius – a comedy, a history and a romance – together with a hilarious comic take on one of his most popular tragedies. Let’s have a quick look at each of the Shakespeare shows on our 2012 playbill, starting with the one that opens first.

MacHomer is Shakespeare with a difference, pairing one of his best-known plays with one of the 20th century’s most recognizable families. Actor and comedian Rick Miller has entertained audiences around the globe with this mashup of Macbeth and – wait for it – The Simpsons. Now, I know many of you are asking: why would the Stratford Shakespeare Festival present a send-up of Shakespeare? Well, for two reasons: first, MacHomer is brilliantly entertaining in its own right, and second, it’s a great way of introducing Shakespeare to new audiences. Younger folks whose only experience of these plays has come from reading them in school will discover the amazing world of Shakespeare in performance – via a popular-culture phenomenon they’re already comfortable with. MacHomer runs at the Studio Theatre early in the season, from May 2 to May 26, with its official opening May 5.

The show featured in this season’s gala opening is Much Ado About Nothing. Directed by Christopher Newton (former Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival), this high comedy contains some of Shakespeare’s best-loved characters and some of his most glorious wit. If you haven’t already read the article on Much Ado’s “merry war” of words in our November issue of SceneNotes, be sure to take a look at it here. With a fantastic cast led by real-life husband and wife Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay as Benedick and Beatrice, this is one production you won’t want to miss. Much Ado About Nothing runs at the Festival Theatre from April 26 to October 27, opening May 28.

Next to open is the romance Cymbeline, directed by Stratford Shakespeare Festival General Director Antoni Cimolino. Being produced for only the fourth time in the Festival’s history, this beautifully moving play has a cast that includes Cara Ricketts as Imogen and Geraint Wyn Davies in the title role. Don’t miss your chance to see this rarely performed masterpiece – who knows when the opportunity will come again? Cymbeline plays at the Tom Patterson Theatre from May 10 to September 30, opening May 31.

Finally, to round out our 60th season celebration, we’re presenting the epic drama Henry V – which will open at the Festival Theatre on the anniversary of our very first performance in 1953. This is a play with special significance for Stratford: when we first presented it in 1956 (our last season in the original tent), Christopher Plummer played the title role and the production became a legend in Canadian theatrical history. Aaron Krohn, who won such critical acclaim in 2011 for his performance as Lenny in The Homecoming, will play Henry this time round, in a production directed by our Artistic Director, Des McAnuff. Henry V runs June 24 to September 29, opening July 13. Here’s a video that will tell you a little more about the show:

We hope you’ll join us in 2012: it promises to be a stellar 60th season!

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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.