Chronicling a Love Affair with Canadian Theatre

shaw and shakespeare

The 2024 Season – Part One

As Christmas approaches what better way to escape the crass commercialism of the holiday season than to toss another log on the fire, settle back with your single malt, and savor the crass commercialism of the 2024 theatrical season in southwestern Ontario!

By now all the major (and minor) festivals have announced their seasons and the Big Two have announced their casting decisions, so there’s plenty to mull over. What follows is a personal and, hence, unashamedly biased look ahead.

In this post I will cover the two major festivals. In Part Two I will discuss what’s on offer at the Blyth Festival, Stratford’s own Here For Now Theatre, the Foster Festival, and Drayton Entertainment.

The Stratford Festival

Perhaps the best news out of Stratford is that many beloved performers who have been missing from the roster in recent years are returning. They include Dan Chameroy, Juan Chioran, Sara Topham, Deborah Hay, Tom McCamus, Jessica B. Hill, Vanessa Sears, and Mark Uhre. I was also pleased to see that Stratford has recruited (poached?) Julie Lumsden from Shaw.

I was equally gratified that a number of directors and performers will not be returning, but my instinct for self-preservation prevents me from naming them.

I was distressed to see that for the second season in a row artistic director Antoni Cimolino will be directing no Shakespeare. He is, in my opinion, the premier interpreter of the Bard working in North America today. And once again he will be directing just one production; just a few years back he would routinely helm two shows. The old fuddy-duddy in me imagines that a chorus of up and comers have been muttering “Okay, boomer, get out of the way!” and he has taken heed.

Fortunately, the one play he is directing is Dion Boucicault’s 1841 London Assurance. It boasts a stellar cast, with Geraint Wyn-Davies in the lead and Deborah Hay as the deliciously named Lady Gay Spanker. If you’ve never seen it, put it on your list.

Of course, Stratford hasn’t forgotten Shakespeare. There will be three plays by the Bard mounted in 2024, all of them directed by women. Twelfth Night will be directed by acting great Seanna McKenna with a particularly strong cast.

Romeo and Juliet will be directed by Sam White, who did such a smashing job with last season’s Wedding Band. It bodes well that White, the artistic director of Shakespeare in Detroit, is on record as preferring more traditional mountings of Shakespeare’s work.

Cymbeline, last seen in a luminous production directed by Cimolino in 2012, will be directed by Esther Jun in what I believe is her first stab at Shakespeare. (If I have it wrong, please correctr me in the comments.) Lucy Peacock will play Cymbeline [not a typo].

There is exciting news on the musical front starting with Something Rotten! directed and choreographed by Donna Feore. I saw the original on Broadway and it featured not one but two genuine shop-stopping numbers, one in each act. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Feore top that, especially with protean performers like Dan Chameroy and Mark Uhre in the cast. This is a good bet to be the runaway hit of the season. Book early and often.

The other musical, La Cage Aux Folles, also looks promising. It will be directed by Thom Allison and star Sean Arbuckle and, as Albin, Steve Ross. ’Nuff said.

And what would a season of the classics be without women taking on men’s roles? In addition to Lucy Peacock as Cymbeline, Laura Condlln with be Malvolio in Twelfth Night (in which Deborah Hay takes on Feste) and Captain Hook in a new telling of the Peter Pan story that “centers” (hideous word) Wendy. Guys can take some solace in the fact that Jake Runeckles will play a lady in waiting in Jun’s Cymbeline.

The Stratford Festival press release announcing 2024 casting seems to have disappeared from the Interwebs, but its essence has been preserved by Broadway World.

The Shaw Festival

The Shaw Festival usually mounts one musical during the main summer season and then another one during it’s shorter winter season. Next year they are making a bet that My Fair Lady will prove a strong enough draw to run right through the 2024 season from April to December.

It may be a safe bet considering that the protean Tom Rooney will be assaying ’Enry ’Iggins with Kristi Frank, who was so delightful in On The Razzle last season, as Eliza. Or it could be a calculated risk. I am not reassured that artistic director Tim Carroll and associate artistic director Kimberly Rampersad are sharing directorial duties; let’s hope they don’t have any major disagreements. (Rampersad gets sole credit as choreographer.)

I am also looking forward to G.B. Shaw’s Candida. Sochi Fried, who bowled me over in her Shaw debut as the king’s mistress in last season’s The Apple Cart, steps into the title role, with Johnathan Sousa as Marchbanks.

Also likely to be a hot ticket is One Man, Two Guv’nors, Richard Bean‘s adaptation of Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters. It made a star of James Corden when it hit Broadway in 2012. Peter Fernandes, who showed off his comedic chops in The Master Plan at Crow’s Theatre last season, steps into the role at Shaw. He has big shoes to fill as does Matt Alfano as Alfie, the superannuated waiter (Tom Edden was nominated for a Tony in New York and in my estimation should have won). I’m rooting for both of them.

Shaw has carved out a niche for itself with some imaginative productions based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon. The 2024 entry is Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Human Heart. Damian Atkins and Rick Reid return as Holmes and Watkins.

Of course there’s more, ten shows altogether including the now traditional Christmas Carol during the winter season. You can see what appeals by browsing the Shaw Festival’s 2024 casting announcement.

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