Different boats for different folks.
Technically, ships play a role in only three of the six plays opening next week at the 52nd annual Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City: Shakespeare’s magical “The Tempest,” the snappy Cole Porter musical “Anything Goes” and the regional premiere of the Tony-winning “Peter Pan” prequel “Peter and the Starcatcher.”
But even without a seagoing vessel involved, the three other plays on the festival’s summer schedule — Shakespeare’s “King John” and “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” plus the jury-deliberation drama “Twelve Angry Men” — promise voyages of imagination, inspiration and conflict, dramatic and comedic.
“King John” launches the festival’s “History Cycle,” which presents Shakespeare’s historical dramas in chronological order. (“Richard II,” due in September, is next.)
“The commitment to the history plays that the Utah Shakespeare Festival is making — it doesn’t happen often enough,” according to “King John” director Robynn Rodriguez. “And to see them in a kind of chronological order is thrilling.”
The rarely presented “King John” — along with the beloved “Tempest” and the hardly-in-heavy-rotation “Love’s Labour’s” — also figure in USF’s “Complete the Canon” initiative, which began last season and will see productions of all 37 Shakespeare plays by the end of the 2023 season.
But this season’s undisputed star is “Peter and the Starcatcher,” which will continue straight on until Oct. 18, spanning USF’s summer and fall seasons.
Fresh from a Tony-winning Broadway run (and currently running off-Broadway), “Peter” represents “a major coup for us,” according to USF executive director R. Scott Phillips. “We’re getting calls and emails from other theaters asking, how did we get the rights.”
The answer to that inquiry: “a lot of hard work,” according to David Ivers, the festival’s co-artistic director.
After Ivers, fellow artistic director Brian Vaughn, Phillips and festival founder Fred C. Adams saw a workshop production in New York, “we fell in love with it,” Phillips recalls. “We said, ‘This would be perfect for Utah and perfect for our audiences.’ ”
Pursuing the rights to “Peter and the Starcatcher” meant negotiating with, among others, Disney Theatrical Productions; officials there who wanted “to see how it plays at a regional theater” before the show’s national tour, Phillips says.
“We’re very, very thrilled,” says Vaughn, who’s directing “Peter,” especially “to know we were chosen, amongst many other people vying for” a play that “celebrates everything about the theater and make-believe.”
In Vaughn’s view, “one of the main things that attracted” the producers to USF “was the fact that we’re tied to a Shakespeare company,” he says, “and it’s based on a literary classic. They were very intrigued with the pairing.”
Staging a regional premiere of such a high-profile production “puts pressure on us,” Ivers admits, “but it’s a good pressure,” because of “the kind of attention it brings” to the festival.
That “a thriving theater company can exist in such a small community” proves audiences “are willing to make the pilgrimage to these places to see classic theater — and that’s rare in this country,” says Rodriguez, who’s making her USF debut after 22 seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
Gordon calls USF “destination theater,” because it requires a little bit of planning and effort” for audiences to attend. (Almost 87 percent of the festival’s 2012 audiences drove more than 80 miles to attend; for Las Vegans, it’s about 170 miles to Cedar City.)
At the end of the journey, however, there’s “a whole sort of total experience,” Gordon says.
The festival experience extends beyond the plays themselves to include free outdoor Greenshows with Elizabethan-style music and dance and August’s New American Playwrights Project (featuring presentations of three new works), plus production and literary seminars, backstage tours and other activities.
At the heart of that experience, however, one thing remains, according to Vaughn: “Our celebration of the written word and classic text.”
Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.