The opening week of Ontario's Stratford Festival begins May 29 on a brooding note, with Paul Gross playing that melancholy Dane in Hamlet, but ends June 3 in comic Earnest, with Oscar Wilde.
Performances at the renowned festival in southwest Ontario began in previews May 3 and openings and closing are staggered throughout the summer and fall, offering 13 productions on three stages. The opening week ushers in a 2000 season of musicals, classics and new work, with Shakespeare as the foundation.
Paul Gross is the Canadian actor known for the hit international TV series, "Due South," in which he played a Canadian Mountie in the U.S. His Hamlet, directed by Joseph Ziegler, will be seen on the flagship Festival Theatre stage to Nov. 5. Graham Abbey is Laertes, Domini Blythe is Gertrude, Benedict Campbell is Claudius, Juan Chioran is Ghost/Player King/Gravedigger, Marion Day is Ophelia, Jerry Franken is Polonius, David Keeley is Horatio.
Designers are Christina Poddubiuk (set and costumes) and Louise Guinand (lighting).
Also opening in the coming days: • As You Like It (opening May 30), the Shakespeare comedy starring Lucy Peacock and Juan Chioran, directed by Jeannette Lambermont, at the proscenium Avon Theatre.
• The Three Musketeers (opening May 31), Peter Raby's adaptation of the Dumas swashbuckler, directed by Stratford artistic director Richard Monette and co-directed by Paul Leishman, at the Festival Theatre.
• The Diary of Anne Frank (opening June 1), the new Wendy Kesselman version of the Goodrich-Hackett dramatization of Anne Frank's account of life during the Holocaust, directed by Al Waxman at the Avon.
• Fiddler on the Roof (opening June 2), the classic American musical based on European-Jewish stories starring Canadian actor Brent Carver, directed by Broadway's Susan H. Schulman at the Festival Theatre.
• The Importance of Being Earnest (opening June 3), billed as the first major North American production of the Wilde comedy "as he intended it" (a four-act version!), directed by Monette at the Avon.
The 2000 spring-to-fall season of the Stratford Festival, about two hours from Toronto, will include the world premiere of Elizabeth Rex, a play by Timothy Findlay and Paul Thompson about the unsuccessful revolt against Queen Elizabeth I in 1601. Tony Award winner Brent Carver is featured.
Elizabeth Rex (slated for the intimate Tom Patterson Theatre, June 21-Sept. 30) joins a growing list of Stratford commissions, including past entries In the Ring, Alice Through the Looking Glass and the new translation of Filumena. Martha Henry directs.
The season also features Moliere's Tartuffe with Brian Bedford at the Festival Theatre Aug. 1-Nov. 3; Shakespeare's bloody Titus Andronicus at the three-quarter thrust Tom Patterson June 8-Sept. 30; a concert staging of Gilbert & Sullivan's Patience at the Avon July 11-Oct. 13; Euripides' Medea ("freely adapted by Robinson Jeffers") at the Tom Patterson June 6-Oct. 1; Donald Margulies' Collected Stories with Uta Hagen at the Patterson July 21-Sept. 2; and Maxim Mazumdar's Oscar Remembered, about Wilde as seen through eyes of Lord Alfred Douglas, at the Patterson (under William Hutt's direction) Sept. 8-29.
Fiddler on the Roof, the 1964 Sholom Aleichem based musical by Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, will have its first production by the prestigious festival. Not surprisingly, musicals have become major cash cows for the Shakespeare-rooted nonprofit fest. (West Side Story was a major draw in the 1999 season.)
Paul Gross joins the ranks of famous festival Hamlets before him: Richard Monette, Colm Feore, Christopher Plummer, Brent Carver and Nicholas Pennell, among others.
The Stratford Festival was founded in 1953 by Tyrone Guthrie. For information call (800) 567-1600 or try the web site at www.stratford-festival.on.ca.
-- By Kenneth Jones