It might sound English, with an Avon River and with productions of Shakespearean plays, but going to Stratford this summer for some theatre would be a very Canadian way to salute the 150th. Yes, the Union Jack is flown at the corner of Ontario and Downie Streets but this quaint town is full of top-notch Canadian talent on stage and in the restaurant kitchens.
Those who like a high-energy celebration should consider taking in Guys and Dolls at the Festival Theatre. Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore this show features her trademark acrobatic-infused dancing with a precise, thrilling orchestration of actors and singers. Feore takes a 1950s script, layers upon it a 1992 Broadway adaptation by Michael Starobin and then modernizes it so that the contemporary audience doesn’t feel uncomfortable with the gender biases of previous generations. Women are strong. Men are strong. What’s old is new again.
A tip of the hat to goes to the Original Kids Theatre Company of London, which has two alumni in Guys and Dolls. Alexis Gordon garners a significant role as Sarah Brown, the evangelist with an aim to “save sinners”. After working with OKTC in London Gordon trained at the University of Windsor. Joining her on stage is Trevor Pat as Calvin. Pat is a hard-working ensemble actor who shows comedic talent. Both are a joy to watch.
For a modern take on a less well-known Shakespearean tale check out Timon of Athens at the Tom Patterson Theatre. This is a theatre-in-the-round experience. (The small venue may be transformed in the coming years. Stratford has recently received a $20 million commitment from the provincial government to renovate the theatre, contingent on other layers of government supporting the plan. There are challenges with steep inclines and less-than-comfortable seats.) It is a special experience to be so close to the actors and immersed in this tragic tale of revenge. This powerful production is set in modern times with actors taking selfies and drinking martinis. Stratford last staged this play in 2004 but the tale is timeless. The modern adaptation may not be for everyone but it certainly is interesting.
Summer theatre has rich offerings in Southwestern Ontario as regional theatre companies up their games. Just off the shores of Lake Huron near Grand Bend are the Huron County Playhouses (two theatres). Legendary Ontario playwright Norm Foster will not only have a play on performance at Huron County but he will also be making a rare acting appearance there. Foster will star in Jonas and Barry in the Home which runs until July 15. This runs alongside the popular Million Dollar Quartet, which tells a story about a time in the fifties when musical legends Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins jammed together.
The Blyth Festival opens in late June with a show about London’s own Guy Lombardo, Mr. New Year’s Eve. Lombardo and his brothers and sisters gained fame by singing the sweetest music this side of heaven … or so they say. In London we have a bridge named after him and we used to have a museum. Those who recall their parents or grandparents going to the Stork Club to see the Lombardos and the Royal Canadians will want to venture over to Blyth for this truly patriotic experience. If only there was a way to dance under the stars while leaving that show. We wouldn’t need any fireworks.