I live 45 minutes away from one of the best Shakespeare theatre companies in the world. The Stratford Festival has been around since 1953 with its opening performance staring Sir Alec Guinness as Richard II (That is Obi-Wan Kenobi –and so much more – for you trivia buffs). As it enters its 64th season, the Stratford Festival has grown from a 6 weeks to 6 months, from two plays to fourteen this year. The season runs from April 15 to October 29th. Not all plays runs the full length of the season but most have a 5 month run with only two plays running for a short 6 week stint. I have long been a fan of the theater and my family has followed suit. We have seen many plays in London at the Grand Theatre but our favourite productions have always been at Stratford. We’ve gone to at least one play since moving to London 18 years ago but there have been years when we’ve missed (average of 13 productions a season). Many have been musicals (Fiddler on the Roof, Crazy for you, 42nd Street, A Chorus Line) but there have also been Shakespeare classics (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliette).
I received this years playbill in the spring and I have been drawn the the line up ever since. I have decided this year is the Summer of Stratford. I wanted to take the family and more importantly, my son to a record number of plays from now until the end of the season. The reason why is when I was about 14 years old my mother decided that we would have a Summer of Ballet. So for an entire summer, I went to the ballet with my mother. We saw about 5 different productions from around the world, including the all-male troupe of the Les Ballets Trocadero. That summer had a lasting impression on me and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with my mom commuting to downtown Montreal, attending the ballet and then meeting up with my dad at the restaurant where he was the executive chef. Instead of Ballet, I have decided that I will take in the Stratford Festival instead. As both the girls are working full time, I will be going with my 16 year old son. Many would think that a 16 year would not enjoy Shakespeare or musical theatre but in fact, he is a big fan (maybe all those years invested in taking the children to live theatrical performance have finally paid off).
The Summer of Stratford
We started our foray into the season with Guys and Dolls.
This is a musical romance is set in New York City where the play revolves around two relationships: Nathan Detroit and his showgirl fiancée of 14 years, Miss Adelaide and Sky Masterson and the virtuous Sarah Brown. Nathan Detroit is trying to find money to pay for the venue to have a dice game. He makes a bet with another gambler, Sky Masterson, (a suave, debonair lothario) that he cannot convince the young, beautiful, bible thumping Sarah Brown, to run away with him for one night to Havana, Cuba. Sky Masterson loves a bet, any bet, but the quirkier the better, so he takes Nathan Detroit’s bet and endeavours to win over the good girl.
The other parallel story is the relationship between Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit. Engaged for 14 years, Miss Adelaide wants to get married – now! She has been secretly writing her mother with tales of marriage, children and another baby on the way. The time has come to make this all legit so she can start her white picket fence life with her man. The problem is that Nathan has a serious aversion to marriage and manages to postpone it as many times as possible. Will they wed in the end? You’ll have to take in the show to see!
Overall, I found this production of Guys and Dolls (directed and choreographed brilliantly by Donna Feore) one of the best musical productions that I have seen on the Stratford stage. The storyline moved well, the dancing was wonderful and the singing by Blythe Wilson and Evan Buliung was exceptional. As per the usual, Blyth Wilson did not disappoint as Miss Adelaide both in her comedic timing and the pitch of her voice. I love her rendition of Take Back your Mink – she just hams up that whole showgirl persona. I have to say, I preferred her voice to that of Alexis Gordon. I did not think Ms. Gordon’s voice was as strong and varied. Evan Buliung, however, stole the show for the men’s chorus. His voice was strong and did not miss a beat. He was charming and funny and he played Sky Masterson so well. His rendition of Luck be a Lady was just wonderful! Throughout the show the audience responded to every great song and dance sequence with applause – not something that happens after every dance number.
The highlight of the show is the men’s dance numbers especially the gambling number in the sewer as they sing Luck be a Lady. Very fluid and always daring, the men were the true show stoppers in this production. The cast was huge! With a 34 members, 165 costumes and 105 scheduled performances this is an epic staging of a play that debuted on Broadway in 1950. We loved the choreography and the the exceptional singing led by Sean Arbuckle as Nathan Detroit, Evan Buliung as Sky Masterson, Alexis Gordon as Sarah Brown and Blythe Wilson as Miss Adelaide.
Guys and Dolls
Story and Characters of Damon Runyon
Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Directed and Choreographed by Donna Feore
April 15 to October 29
Opens May 23
Approximate running time:
2 hrs. 47 min, including intermission
GUYS AND DOLLS
About the Musical
Desperate for funds to secure a venue for his illicit gambling enterprise, Nathan Detroit offers high roller Sky Masterson what he thinks is a safe bet. Can Sky take any doll Nathan cares to name on a date to Havana, Cuba?
Surely not if the “doll” Nathan chooses is strait-laced Sergeant Sarah Brown of the Save-a-Soul Mission. But it turns out that hearts are at stake in this game as well as souls – and where love’s concerned there’s no telling how the dice will land.
You can buy tickets for as little as $29 for Lucky29 tickets. Also be sure and like their page on the Stratford Festival Facebook as there are often flash sales for tickets that are in prime seating areas. I’ve bought tickets for $29, $39 and $45. There are 2-for1 adult tickets and you can also buy children’s tickets at a discount. You can also catch a bus from Toronto for $25 return. Make a day of it and stay for a matinee and evening show!
This year’s playbill includes: Romeo and Juliette, Twelfth Night, Timon of Athens, Guys and Dolls, HMS Pinafore, Treasurer Island, The School for Scandal, The Changeling, Bakkhai, Tartuffe, The Madame de Chaillot, The Komagata Maru Incident, The Virgin Trial, The Breathing Hole.
Up next with in the Summer of Stratford: HMS Pinafore, The School of Scandal and Twelfth Night.