Two of the busiest and most innovative directors in America will get even busier this summer, when the New York Shakespeare Festival's annual "Shakespeare In The Park" season gets underway.
This year will open with a closing; that is, the final play in the NYSF's Shakespeare Marathon: Henry VIII. Keith David, of Jelly's Last Jam and Seven Guitars fame, was supposed to play the lead but bowed out, due to a film commitment. Instead, Shakespeare's final work (or penultimate, if you allow Two Noble Kinsmen, co-authored by Fletcher), will be helmed by Seven Guitars Tony-winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Co-starring will be Josef Sommer (Racing Demon) as the Cardinal and Jayne Atkinson (NYSF's The Skriker) as Catherine. The show, beginning previews June 13 and running to July 9, is currently casting its other roles. Ricardo Hernandez will design the set.
Staging Henry is Chicago director Mary Zimmerman, whose The Notebooks Of Leonardo da Vinci and Arabian Nights have both played Off-Broadway. Her latest work, Mirror of the Invisible World, opens at the Goodman Studio this month. That theatre will also revive Zimmerman's Notebooks at the end of the year.
To celebrate the finish of the Shakespeare Marathon, Shakespeare In The Park will offer a musical as its second show: a revival of On The Town, the 1944 Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green musical about three sailors -- lonely midwesterner Gabey and his pals -- on shore leave for a day of fun and romance in Manhattan. NYSF artistic director George C. Wolfe will direct the show, which begins previews July 31 and runs to Aug. 31. The score includes "Carried Away," "Some Other Time," "Lonely Town," and the classic "New York, New York (A Helluva Town)."
Graciela Daniele (Chronicle Of A Death Foretold) will choreograph the musical, which has costumes by Paul Tazewell, sets by Adrienne Lobel and lighting by Paul Gallo. According to Public Theatre spokesperson Bill Coyle, Wolfe's schedule could not be more hectic. In May he's off to London to stage a workshop of Tony Kushner's latest, Henry Box Brown, in a co-production with the Royal National Theatre. When Wolfe returns, he'll direct On The Town. After that, he'll concentrate on the national tour of Bring In `Da Noise/Bring In `Da Funk. He'll then fly to Chicago in November to direct a new opera at Chicago's Lyric Theatre, and instead of following that with a well-earned rest, he'll then be directing Alec Baldwin in Macbeth -- the first post-Marathon Shakespeare production -- keeping the director booked solid through Feb. 1998.
All tickets to Shakespeare In The Park are free and distributed the day of performance at both Central Park's Delacorte Theatre and the Public Theatre building at 425 Lafayette St. Distribution begins at 1 PM, with crowds normally lining up between 10-11 AM (when Patrick Stewart was in The Tempest, many camped overnight for tickets). The Delacorte holds 1,800.
It's been a busy spring for the NYSF at the Public Theatre. One Flea Spare closed March 30; Antony And Cleopatra, directed by and starring Vanessa Redgrave, closes April 6; A Huey P. Newton Story was recently extended to April 27; and Irene Worth's solo, The Gypsy And The Yellow Canary, begins performances April 15.
For more information on NYSF/Shakespeare In The Park, call (212) 260 2400.
--By David Lefkowitz