Thursday, 5 May 2011

2011 Summer Theatre Preview

By Tim Chapman, Professional Theatre Coordinator

The 2011 summer theatre season is soon approaching so I thought I would give you a look at what theatre is around the corner.  For 2011, there are 26 members of the Association of Summer Theatres ‘Round Ontario (ASTRO,  Norm Foster remains the much loved king of summer theatre in Ontario.  Eight ASTRO members have a Norm Foster comedy in their 2011 seasons, including the new musical comedy Ned Durango.  Showboat Festival is also touring Thom Currie’s successful musical Mama’s Country Record Collection to three ASTRO theatres this summer.  Here is a quick summary of what all of them are doing.

Starting in eastern Ontario, Artistic Director Donnie Bowes at Upper Canada Playhouse in Morrisburg has lined up another season (June 9 to October 2) of terrific comedies: Michael Parker’s The Sensuous Senator, Jeanne and Sam Bobrick’s Weekend Comedy, Ray Cooney’s Not Now Darling, and Caroline Smith’s The Kitchen Witches.  In Perth Classic Theatre Festival’s second season starts July 8 with John van Druten’s romantic comedy Bell, Book and Candle—you will remember the movie version with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak—followed by the 1951 Tony Award-winner The Fourposter in August.  Both shows are directed by Artistic Director Laurel Smith.  St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival, with their beautiful outdoor amphitheatre on the banks of the river, is doing Twelfth Night (with Artistic Director Ian Farthing playing Malvolio) and All’s Well That Ends Well in July and August respectively.

Over in Gananoque at their lovely setting also on the St. Lawrence River, Thousand Islands Playhouse offers a full slate of seven shows from May 13 to October 29.  They have five shows in the larger Springer Theatre: The Marvelous Wonderettes, a musical set in 1958 starring Tracy Michailidis, Wingfield: Lost and Found played by the wonderful Rod Beattie, Lend Me a Tenor with Jan Smith, Heroes starring Artistic Director Greg Wanless, and the new Norm Foster/Leslie Arden musical comedy Ned Durango.  In the Firehall Theatre you will find the unconventional Edwardian murder mystery The Drowning Girls and the Canadian classic Billy Bishop Goes to War.

The Festival Players of Prince Edward County under the leadership of Artistic Director Sarah Phillips are offering a revival of their 2010 hit premiere, the new John Gray musical, Amelia: The Girl Who Wants to Fly starring Eliza-Jane Scott in the title role, The Book of Esther by Leanna Brodie, The Ballad of Weedie Peetstraw a new play they describe as “a little bit silly, a little bit bluegrass and a whole lot of fun.”  Just north, the Stirling Festival Theatre’s 2011 summer includes Elvis starring Stephen Kabakos in June, Mama’s Country Record Collection by Thom Currie and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing in July, and Sexy Laundry in August.  Close to Campbellford from June 4 to August 7, we have Westben Arts Festival Theatre in their lovely country setting offering many series of music concerts from opera to Liszt to Broadway to jazz to the Beatles.  Highlights include internationally renowned soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and The Swingle Singers.

From June 9 to September 3, Port Hope Festival Theatre is producing the Broadway hit The 39 Steps, the musical Groovin’ thru the 60’s, a comedy set in the 70’s The Caramel House, and the celebrated musical Hairspray4th Line Theatre in Millbrook has developed a large and ever-growing loyal audience for their regionally-based new plays.  This summer, the theatre’s 20th anniversary season opens June 28 with The Berlin Blues by Drew Hayden Taylor, about a First Nations community’s reaction when German developers want to build a Native theme park.  August sees the return of the legendary The Cavan Blazers, the first show ever produced at 4th Line in 1992.

Up near Bobcaygeon, Globus Theatre, founded by Sarah Quick and James Barrett in 2006, have a five-show season from June 29 to September 3: Ken Cameron’s popular Harvest, Norm Foster’s very successful comedy The Love List, the off-Broadway hit musical The Big Voice: God or Merman, Till It Hurts—described as a comedy for anyone plagued by telemarketers, and Sarah Quick’s The Men Commandments.  Further north in Haliburton, the Highlands Summer Festival is offering Anne of Green Gables, the Norm Foster comedy Looking, and Educating Rita from July 3 to August 12.  For the rest of August, Haliburton is home to the Highlands Opera Studio.  In Orillia, LaughOutLoud at the Opera House’s summer theatre season begins May 31 with Sexy Laundry (moving to Stirling Theatre in August) followed by two Broadway hits, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and Thumbs.  Closing the season from September 13 to October 8 is Cathy Elliott’s Moving Day.

Moving west, Theatre Collingwood are producing Separate Beds and also Rhinestone Cowgirl, a tribute to Dolly Parton starring Leisa Way in July, and in August Fair Play—the world premiere of a multi-character comedy by Dan Needles, author of the ‘Wingfield’ plays.  In Hillsburgh, Century Church Theatre’s summer season from July 13 to September 18 has three shows: Confusions, Coming Apart and Shirley ValentineThe Rose Theatre in Brampton have six shows this summer from July 8 to August 27: The 39 Steps, Michael Healey’s The Drawer Boy, A Chorus Line, Cabaret and two Shakespeare plays outdoor in the Square: Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet.

Drayton Entertainment, at their six venues in St. Jacob’s, Drayton, Penetanguishene and Grand Bend (where Huron Country Playhouse is celebrating its 40th Anniversary season), have, as usual, a huge slate of great shows this summer: Hairspray, Blood Brothers, The Wizard of Oz, Blue Suede Shoes, Who’s Under Where, Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, How the Other Half Loves, Italian Funerals & Other Festive Occasions, Dance Legends, Murder at the Best Western and Norm Foster’s classic The Melville Boys

At the Blyth Festival this summer, where Canadian plays are always championed, you will find four shows.  Opening in June, Hometown is a collection of six short plays by six different writers: Jean Marc DalpĂ©, Mieko Ouchi, Mansel Robinson, Martha Ross, Peter Smith and Des Walsh.  It is followed by Vimy by Vern Thiessen directed by Artistic Director Eric Coates, Rope’s End by Douglas Bowie, and Early August by Kate Lynch directed by Leah Cherniak.

Moving south to the shores of Lake Erie we come to three summer theatres.  The first is Showboat Festival Theatre in Port Colborne.  Their summer season starts June 16 with 2 Across, an American comedy of crosswords and romance, and continues with I’ll Be Back Before Midnight, a classic Canadian thriller, and Back in ’59 by Artistic Director Thom Currie.  Norm Foster’s Mending Fences ends the season running until September 3.  A little west in Port Dover, Lighthouse Festival Theatre with new Artistic Director Derek Ritschel has expanded its summer season to six shows from May 31 to September 24.  Norm Foster fills up two slots with Ned Durango, the new musical comedy co-written with Leslie Arden, and The Melville Boys.  Filling out the rest of the season is Peter Colley’s When the Reaper Calls, Jessie’s Landing, Dating by the Book by Port Hope Festival Theatre Artistic Director Uwe Meyer, and closing the season is the Showboat Festival tour of Mama’s Country Record Collection. Farther west Port Stanley Festival Theatre begins May 25th with the touring Mama’s Country Record Collection.  From June 15 until September 10 they are doing four more shows: Boeing Boeing, 7-10 Split—a world premiere about a wannabe pro bowler, Dump Guys by Artistic Director Simon Joynes, and Norm Foster’s Bedtime Stories.

At the far southwest of the province are two vibrant summer theatres, Victoria Playhouse Petrolia and the Starbright Summer Festival in Sarnia.  In Petrolia, the venerable Victoria Playhouse has a season of comedies and musicals from May 24 to September 17.  There are two Canadian comedies: Norm Foster’s Skin Flick and Michel Marc Bouchard’s Heat Wave, two American comedies: Leading Ladies and Glorious, and two musicals: What About Luv? plus Leisa Way is bringing her aforementioned Rhinestone Cowgirl tour.  In nearby Sarnia, Starbright is now in its third season from July 20 to August 21.  This summer has Gemini Award-winning Linda Kash starring in The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead and three musical revues: Let the Sunshine In, The Power and Passion of Broadway, and Simply Grand.

Of course I have not yet mentioned the two giants of Ontario summer theatre, if you will, Stratford Shakespeare Festival and The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  I won’t list everything they are doing this summer but here are a few personal highlights.  Shaw’s season goes from April until the end of October.  I am really looking forward to a number of shows: to Deborah Hay as Eliza Doolittle and Ben Campbell as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, to my favourite Shaw play, Heartbreak House, to Michael Healey’s adaptation of Shaw’s On the Rocks, and to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Moya O’Connell as Maggie and Jim Mezon as Big Daddy.  Plus I never saw their hit lunchtime show, The President, so I am happy to have another chance to see its revival.  Stratford in 2011 offers many anticipated pleasures: Seanna McKenna playing Richard in Richard III with Martha Henry and Roberta Maxwell, Brian Dennehy and Stephen Ouimette in Pinter’s The Homecoming directed by Jennifer Tarver, Brent Carver in Camelot and Jesus Christ Superstar, Brian Bedford and Ben Carlson in The Misanthrope, and an opportunity to seen the seldom performed Titus Andronicus.

That leaves the two touring Shakespeare theatre companies who belong to ASTRO, Driftwood Theatre and Humber River Shakespeare Company.  Driftwood is touring Southern Ontario from July 7 to August 14 with Macbeth, directed by Artistic Director Jeremy Smith.  They tour from Quinte county in the east to Windham Centre in the southwest. Humber River is touring The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s farce about two sets of identical twins, to Etobicoke, Toronto, Aurora, King, Vaughan, Caledon, and Mississauga. 

So you can easily see there is lots of summer theatre to choose from wherever you live in southern Ontario.  And summer is the time to get out of the house, forget about the DVDs and see it live with friends and neighbours.  Happy theatre-going!

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