Billed as "a monumental and historic project," the productions will "represent the first time all ten short plays have been performed in repertory by a professional company since they were first produced by London's Phoenix Theatre in 1935-36," the festival announced Sept. 23.
The one-act plays will be performed in sets of three, one on each of the Festival's Niagara-on-the-Lake stages (the Festival, the Court House and the Royal George), with the tenth — the rarely produced Star Chamber — being the lunchtime production in the Royal George.
On two separate occasions, all ten will be staged in one day — an event the festival is calling "Mad Dogs and Englishmen."
Artistic director Jackie Maxwell stated, "As the idea of doing all of Coward's Tonight at 8:30 came to me, and as I reread the plays, I was struck that each one is a brilliant jewel — like the best short stories — some well known, some not. As is typical of Coward — who was always pushing the envelope in both form and content — the ten plays vary hugely. There are out-and-out comedies, heart-wrenching dramas, fantasy musicals and historical tales. Coward is a brilliant miniaturist, a master storyteller, and any group of these plays, seen together, is a truly satisfying evening at the theatre. The experience of seeing them in one fell swoop, for those who are game, will be thrilling."
The 2009 Shaw Festival season begins April 1, 2009, with the first preview of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical Sunday in the Park With George at the Royal George Theatre. Maxwell also announced other programming in the festival whose anchor playwright is George Bernard Shaw. His contemporaries and his times are reflected in the plays and musicals staged by the festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. English actor, playwright and composer Noël Coward (1899-1973) is renowned for his full-length plays The Vortex, Hay Fever, Easy Virtue, Bitter Sweet, Cavalcade, Private Lives and Design for Living, most of which have been produced by The Shaw. His Tonight at 8:30 cycle, which he wrote and starred in with his frequent stage partner Gertrude Lawrence, was originally written to be performed in combinations of three plays for a different program each night.
Artistic director Maxwell will direct the first set of Coward plays in the Festival Theatre. Titled Brief Encounters, this includes Still Life, We Were Dancing and Hands Across the Sea.
The Royal George set, directed by artistic director emeritus Christopher Newton, titled Play, Orchestra, Play, will include Red Peppers, Fumed Oak and Shadow Play.
The Court House group, director to be announced, titled Ways of the Heart, will include Ways and Means, Family Album and The Astonished Heart. Kate Lynch will direct the lunchtime Star Chamber.
Music "plays a huge role throughout Tonight at 8:30," according to the announcement, and The Shaw's music director Paul Sportelli will be music director for the entire project.
The season will also include John Osborne's 1957 play The Entertainer, directed by Maxwell in the Festival Theatre Rehearsal Studio; Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, directed by Polish director Tadeusz Bradecki in the Festival Theatre; Shaw's satire of philosophy, playwriting and acting, In Good King Charles's Golden Days, directed by Eda Holmes, a the Royal George; Garson Kanin's classic comedy Born Yesterday, directed by Neil Munro, on the Festival Theatre stage; Eugene O'Neill's drama A Moon for the Misbegotten, directed by Joseph Ziegler, in the Court House Theatre; Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay's Albertine in Five Times, in a new translation by Linda Gaboriau and directed by Micheline Chevrier, at the Court House; Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Sunday in the Park with George, directed by Alisa Palmer, in the Royal George Theatre; a reading series of "contemporary Shavian writers" including full-length plays that represent contemporary writing at its best — including the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Topdog/Underdog.
As part of the 2009 reading series, The Shaw will also present a new musical based on the brief life of Maria Severa Onofriana, a famous Portuguese fado singer who achieved near-mythical status after her death. Maria Severa is written by Shaw Festival music director Paul Sportelli and ensemble member Jay Turvey, whose musical Tristan received its world premiere at The Shaw in 2007.
The Shaw's play development program "is actively engaged with writers, providing dramaturgical support, playwright-in-residence opportunities and workshops with actors, often working towards producing new work for The Shaw's stages." In addition to Maria Severa, other projects in development include an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost by Robin Patterson, artistic director of St. Catharines' Theatre Beyond Words; Kaj Munk by Dave Carley, The Shaw's 2008 playwright-in-residence; an adaptation, by associate director Neil Munro, of Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder; and an exciting new project with Cahoots Theatre Projects exploring and developing work from Asia and China of the mandate period.
Tickets for the 2009 season go on sale to Shaw Festival Members starting Nov. 8. Tickets go on sale to groups and schools on Jan. 5, 2009. Tickets go on sale to The Shaw's "high-loyalty customers" on Jan. 3, 2009, and to the general public by mail, fax or online on Jan. 5, 2009 and by phone or in person on Jan. 10, 2009.
For more information visit shawfest.com.