Wednesday, August 12, 2009

2009 Stratford Festival Reviews

2009 Stratford Shakespeare Festival Season Reviews
By David Grapes

Productions are listed in order of preference


West Side Story (Festival)
• Exceptional Production – Perhaps the best musical in Stratford’s history
• The best direction of the 2009 summer season from Gary Griffin
• Marvelous acting and singing
• Brilliant dancing – masculine and athletic
• Steamy chemistry between Maria and Tony (Chilina Kennedy, Paul Nolan)
• In fact, Kennedy gives the best performance of the summer as Maria and if I were Des McAnuff, I would be searching to find her another star vehicle for next summer. Having observed her work at the Shaw Festival, I can tell you that she can do much more than just musicals.
• Marvelous use of the Festival Stage
• Outstanding orchestra
• Full of energy, passion and life
• Strong ensemble work from the large and talented cast
• Set was functional and provided a nice “period” feel
• The sound design and mix was stunning
• Reminded me of that fantastic Romeo & Juliet with that featured two young and hungry actors by the name of Colm Feore and Seana McKenna

The Importance of Being Earnest (Avon)
• The best Earnest that I have seen at Stratford
• Desmond Healey’s set and costume designs will take your breath away
• Director Brian Bedford dusts off this witty old chestnut and gives it new life
• Bedford is hilarious as Lady Bracknell and gives a very human and at times touching performance
• The Avon was packed the performance I attended and the audiences loved the production
• Nice use of an offstage piano
• Creative use of stage business
• Cast has a great comic energy and handled Wilde’s language with aplomb
• The players were well acted
• The only weak links in the cast were Sarah Dodd and Stephen Ouimette (Prism and Chasuble) who were neither funny nor interesting. They made no comic contribution to an otherwise delightful production.

The Trespassers (Studio)
• New Canadian play by Morris
• An interesting mix of mystery, drama and dark comedy
• Simple yet effective design concept
• Joe Ziegler was excellent as the grandfather whose story lies at the core of the play
• Wonderful ensemble cast that featured Noah Reid Kelli Fox, Lucy Peacock and Robert King
• Nice directorial work and use of the Studio stage by director allowed the acting to shine
• This was a beautiful and sensitive piece of work that is certain to have a life at regional theatres in Canada
• The play raises some interesting questions related to what makes a life worth living
• I left the theatre and could not get the play out of my mind.
• An unusual ending that raises more questions than it answers
• A bit long in stretches. Some cuts could be made for future productions.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Avon)
• A visual and aural feast
• Strong direction from McAnuff who really seems in his element with proscenium musicals
• Simple set with lots of surprises built in
• Marvelous cast led by the always-delightful Bruce Dow (Mr. Dow suffered an injury in July and was out of the production for a number of performances) While the production and the comic chemistry suffers in his absence, the show is still a fun evening out.
• Fast paced and amusing opening sequence
• Great work by Dan Chameroy as Miles Gloriosus
• Strong work from the female dancers
• Precise and effective sound design and live mix work, which supported a cast who could really sing and an orchestra who could really play
• The production had a real Broadway quality feel to it

Julius Caesar (Avon)
• Highly conceptual production set in a modern world
• A masculine production full of testosterone
• Solid performances by Ben Carlson as Brutus and Geraint Wyn Davies as Caesar
• A number of very effective visual images involving blood
• Excellent casting and strong ensemble work from the senators
• Well staged and some wonderful crowd/mob scenes staged all over the theatre
• Battle scenes in the second half were quite well done
• A very emotional sound design/score
• Effective design work that created a basic unit set with many different looks
• The only weak link in the production was Jonathon Goad’s Anthony who seemed too modern and too low energy for the role. His burial speech lacked fire, truth or passion and was upstaged by the very energetic crowd

Macbeth (Festival)
The Three Sisters (Patterson)
Ever Yours, Oscar (Patterson)

Cyrano de Bergerac (Festival)
Bartholomew Faire (Patterson)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Festival)
Phedre (Patterson)
Rice Boy (Studio)
Zastrozzi (Studio)

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