Classic is the word for the Shaw Festival’s 2020 season.
“This is a season of classics across the board: classic musicals, classic comedies, classic dramas,” says artistic director Tim Carroll.
“Every single one features the brilliant writing which has always been at the centre of our mission, and for which we have assembled one of the world’s great acting ensembles.”
At the top of the list for the Festival Theatre is Gypsy, a musical the Shaw featured in 2005, in the main theatre and directed by former Shaw artistic director Jackie Maxwell. The play was first performed on Broadway in 1959, and remains a classic, with several revivals since then.
Inspired by the famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, it tells the story of an obsessive mother who pushes her daughters into show biz, but with an unexpected result and cost.
The festival is focusing on just one Bernard Shaw play in 2020, also on the main stage. The Devil’s Disciple, to be directed by Eda Holmes, promises an action-packed comedy, with the dialogue Shaw is so good at, and some sexual tension to heighten interest.
Holmes, former associate artistic director at the Shaw, is current artistic and executive director at Centaur Theatre in Montreal — the first female to have that role.
Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Watson will be back on the festival main stage, following on the heels of the successful production of The Hound of the Baskervilles last season. The Raven’s Curse has the sleuth returning to his childhood home to investigate the mysterious death of his uncle, hopefully before the curse claims another victim. Written by R. Hamilton Wright, and based on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Raven’s Curse will be directed by Craig Hall.
A special commission of Toronto’s innovative Why Not Theatre’s Mahabharata will round out the playbill at the festival theatre. Adapted by Ravi Jain and Miriam Fernandes from the original concept developed with Jenny Koons, Jain will direct it for the Shaw. Mahabharata is considered a modern take on a Sanskrit epic more than 4,000 years old, based on the story of a family feud. It explores philosophical and spiritual ideas, and takes the audience on a visually stunning journey through the past.
Narnia is back on stage at the Royal George for the third straight year, this time with Prince Caspian, written by C.S. Lewis, adapted by Damien Atkins and directed by Molly Atkinson. It follows The Magician’s Nephew, which was produced in 2018 at the Shaw, and The Horse and His Boy this season.
Prince Caspian takes place a year after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when the four children hear Narnia summoning them back to the magical land. This world premiere production will be accompanied by pre-show workshops in which audience members will be prepared to take part in the performance.
Also at the Royal George Theatre, Carroll will direct Charley’s Aunt, by Brandon Thomas. Jack and Charley scramble to make sure their plans to woo Kitty and Amy aren’t ruined, and need a chaperone to make it happen. Their friend Lord Fancourt Babberley takes on that role, disguised as a rich Brazilian widow — but Babberley’s charming ways soon become a distraction for the girls.
Flush is this year’s lunchtime one-act production, based on the novella by Virginia Woolf, and adapted and directed by Carroll. Flush is Elizabeth Barrett’s cocker spaniel, her only companion. The story is considered one of the most romantic of all time, told here from the perspective of the cocker spaniel.
Assassins, directed by Meg Roe, is referred to as a “darkly comic” musical revue, presenting nine men and women who have attempted to kill an American president. A carnival of the macabre, this ground-breaking musical puts everyone from John Wilkes Booth to Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme on display.
At the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre, Maxwell will direct J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World. This Irish comedy takes place in a small town where the only entertainment is gossip. Christy Mahon’s arrival has everyone talking. On the run after the murder of his father, he finds himself a local celebrity, not so much condemned as admired, until Dad turns up.
Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms, directed by Selma Dimitrijevic, will be presented at the Royal George, taking a Greek tragedy to an American farmstead, with a stepmother/stepson relationship of hatred turning to desire in a “poetic tale of forbidden love hurtling towards disaster.”
Philip Akin will direct Trouble in Mind, by Alice Childress. Willetta Mayer is a black actress rehearsing a white play about black people being saved by white people — replete with compromises and petty humiliations in a “painfully funny and truthful piece about race, privilege and power.”
Desire Under the Elms and Trouble in Mind will also be performed in the intimate Maxwell studio theatre named for the former artistic director.
In a partnership between the Shaw Festival and Parks Canada, 30 minutes of The History of Niagara, created and performed by Mike Petersen and Alexandra Montagnese and commissioned for the Shaw Festival, will be directed by Tim Carroll and presented at Fort George.
Leading up to the holiday season, Shaw will present Carroll’s adaption of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, directed by Molly Atkinson, at the Royal George.
Me and My Girl, a fun and much-loved musical performed at the Shaw in 2017, will also be on offer.
Tickets go on sale to Friends of The Shaw Nov. 2 and to the public Dec. 7. For more information visit shawfest.com.