The venerable theater festival kicked off in 1953 from the unlikely friendship between Stratford journalist Tom Patterson and legendary British director Tyrone Guthrie. Since Sir Alec Guinness’ starring role in the festival’s inaugural production of Richard III, the Stratford Festival has cemented its legacy as one of Canada’s leading arts festivals.As Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino has crafted a season that pays tribute to the Bard (Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Timon of Athens) while also probes questions of identities “as individuals, as compatriots and as members of the human race” with a mix originals (The Virgin Trial, The Breathing Hole), classics (Guys and Dolls, HMS Pinafore) and theatrical hidden gems (The Komagata Maru Incident, The Madwoman of Chaillot).
A half-hour train trip away from Kitchener on VIA Rail, the Stratford Festival is a prime day trip from Waterloo Region with numerous special deals such as two-for-one tickets for evening performances on Sundays, Tuesdays or Thursdays. Here’s the full low down of the 2017 Stratford Festival.
Apr 15-Oct 29: Guys and Dolls
This year’s festival opened with a grand production of the musical comedy classic. Stratford veteran Donna Feore (A Chorus Line, The Sound of Music) directs and choreographs the Broadway favorite, which follows gambler Nathan Detroit’s bet with high roller Sky Masterson that he won’t be able to convinced straight-laced Seargent Sarah Brown to go on a date to Havana, Cuba. Show songs like ‘Luck Be a Lady’ and ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’ are part of musical theater lore. Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.
Apr 22-Oct 22: Treasure Island
Governor-General’s Award for Drama winning writer Nicolas Billon’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s children’s classic has its world premiere at the Stratford Festival. Dora and Gemini Award winner Juan Choran stars as Long John Silver along with rising actor Thomas Mitchell Barnet. Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.
May 3-Oct 21: Romeo and Juliet
Tony and Olivier-nominated actor Scott Wentworth has become a Stratford favorite thanks to powerhouse performances in John Gabriel Borkman, King Lear and The Merchant of Venice. The Broadway and West End favorite directs award-winning actors Sara Farb and Antoine Yared in the Bard’s enduring romantic tragedy. Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.
May 4-Oct 21: HMS Pinafore
Dora nominated Lezlie Wade directs this production of Filbert and Sullivan’s enduring operetta of “a nautical tale of love across class divides.” Mark Uhre (Mamma Mia!, the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables) makes his Stratford debut as Ralph Rackstraw – a lowly seaman who pines for the captains’ daughter Josephine (festival vet Jennifer Rider Shaw). Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.
May 8-Sep 22: Timon of Athens
Historically one of Shakespeare’s least performed plays, this look at a wealthy nobleman who discovers his friend’s true characters once he’s bankrupt will serve as a meaty showcase for Soulpepper co-founder Joseph Ziegler. Gemini and Dora Award winner Stephen Ouimette directs. Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.
May 13-Oct 21: Twelfth Night
Recipient of the Governor General’s Lifetime Achievement Award and Stratford’s Legacy Award, festival favorite Martha Henry directs the uproarious Shakespearean comedy about shipwrecked twins that find themselves in ridiculous romantic situations. Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.
May 13-Oct 21: The School for Scandal
Stratford Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino tackles Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th century play that noted critic William Hazlitt described as “if not the most original, perhaps the most finished and faultless comedy which we have.” Acclaimed stage actor (and Forever Knight star) Geraint Wyn Davies stars along with Dora nominee Shannon Taylor. Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.
May 25-Sep 23: The Changeling
A recipient of the Queen’s Jubilee Medal and the former Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival, director Jackie Maxwell makes her Stratford Debut with what has been widely regarded as among the best tragedies of the English Renaissance. Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s play of a woman who recruits her father’s servant for murder but who becomes trapped when the hitman expects a different sort of payment.Dora Award winners Ben Carlson and Tim Campbell star along with rising actress Mikaela Davis. Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.
May 27-Sep 23: Bakkhai
Euripedes’ work about the rampage caused by the god of wine, ecstasy and fertility gets a new version courtesy of award winning and widely acclaimed translator Anne Carson. Saving Hope’s Mac Fyfe and The Border’s Graham Abbey star while Siminovitch Award winner Jillian Kelly directs. Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.
June 7-Sep 23: The Virgin Trial
Award-winning theater artist Kate Hennig follows up her 2015 Stratford hit The Last Wife with the world premiere of her second in a series of plays about the Tudor Queens. The Virgin Trial follows young Princess Elizabeth (Bahia Watson) as she has to navigate court intrigue and a plot to keep her away from the throne. Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.
July 30-Sep 22: The Breathing Hole
Specially commissioned for the festival to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, Governor Generals’ Literary Award winner Colleen Murphy has penned a saga that takes place over 500 years following “the mythic adventures of a polar bear” that intersects with “Canada’s history from the moment of First Contact to a future ravaged by climate change.” Reneltta Arluk founder of Northwest Territories indigenous theatre company Akpik Theatre makes her Stratford Festival debut as director. Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.
Aug 1-Oct 13: Tartuffe
Siminovitch Award winning director Chris Abraham returns to Stratford after taking last year off to tackle Molière’s “hilarious exploration of power and hypocrisy.” Dora Award winner and Gemini nominee Tom Rooney (This is Wonderland) stars as Tartuffe – a religious con artist who has conned the wealthy Orgon (The Border’s Graham Abbey). Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.
Aug 3-Sep 24: The Madwoman of Chaillot
Noted translator David Edney provides a new version of Jean Giraudoux’s uproarious story of a syndicate of unscrupulous entrepreneurs who plan to tap into the unknown oil beneath the streets of Paris, who face an unlikely opponent. Dora and Gemini Award winning actress Seana McKenna takes on the titular role while Stratford vet Donna Feore directs. Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.
Aug 5-Sep 24: The Komagata Maru Incident
Honored as an Officer of the Order of Canada for three decades of probing work, two-time Governor General’s Literary Awards winning playwright revisits her groundbreaking 1976 show about the racist immigration policies that denied entry to hundreds of emigrants that arrived at Vancouver’s ports in 1914. Recently Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an apology of the incident with award-winning director and founding Artistic Director of K’Now Theatre Keira Loughran adding her own imprint to the story. Tickets available at Stratford Festival’s website.