Des McAnuff, the Tony Award-winning director of The Who's Tommy and Jersey Boys, and artistic director of Stratford, will stage Stephen Sondheim, Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove's Forum, inspired by ancient Roman funnyman Plautus (whose works also inspired Shakespeare). Wayne Cilento (Wicked, The Who's Tommy, How to Succeed…) will choreograph.
Gary Griffin, the always-busy Chicago director whose Broadway credits include The Apple Tree and The Color Purple, will stage West Side Story, with choreography by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys). West Side Story also has roots in a classic: The musical drama by Leonard Bernstein, Sondheim and Arthur Laurents was inspired by Romeo and Juliet. (Laurents is directing a new Broadway production for 2008-09.)
McAnuff stated, "There is no question that these two musicals play legitimate roles in the classical theatre repertoire and I am very proud that we are producing them side by side."
McAnuff, a two-time Tony winner, also directed the hit Broadway musical Big River, which won seven Tonys, including Best Director. McAnuff's production of Jersey Boys won four Tonys, including Best Musical of 2006.
Never before presented by the Festival, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (to play the Avon Theatre) "is a wonderfully irreverent musical that combines aspects of the 2,000-year-old comedies of the Roman playwright Plautus with classic vaudeville humor," according to Stratford. "Forum, which features the hit song 'Comedy Tonight,' is the story of Pseudolus, a slave in ancient Rome who will do anything to win his freedom. With book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, it is the first Broadway musical for which Stephen Sondheim wrote both music and lyrics." Director Griffin will make his Stratford debut with West Side Story. He made his Broadway debut directing Oprah Winfrey's production of The Color Purple. His London production of Pacific Overtures received the Olivier Award for outstanding musical production. Griffin has received eight Joseph Jefferson Awards for his work in Chicago, where he is associate artistic director of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Produced once before at the Festival, in 1999, West Side Story "is set in New York, where two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, wage a war fuelled by racial intolerance."
Choreographer Trujillo also choreographed the 1999 production at the Festival's Avon Theatre. This time, however, Trujillo "will have the opportunity to produce on the thrust stage as West Side Story will be mounted at the Festival Theatre."
Trujillo will be collaborating with McAnuff on a new production of Guys and Dolls set to open on Broadway in spring 2009. His other credits include the European debut of Disney's Tarzan and the London production of Peggy Sue Got Married.
Rick Fox, the Festival's director of music, will serve as musical director of West Side Story.
Production dates and casting have not been announced.
For more information, visit www.stratfordshakespearefestival.com.