Utah festival to feature classics

Something old, something new — and something old that’s new to most.

That’s the ticket(s) for the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespearean Festival, which launches its 45th summer season June 21 in Cedar City. (The festival’s 18th fall season runs Sept. 14-Oct. 27.)

The lineup includes four stage classics (two by William Shakespeare, one by George Bernard Shaw and one by Thornton Wilder), plus a world-premiere musical — and a Shakespeare play so rarely produced it might as well be new.

That’s "Coriolanus," a drama set in ancient Rome that festival director L. Scott Phillips thinks might be "the sleeper of the season."

While "the play is difficult to wade through if you’re reading it," Phillips acknowledges, this year’s staging provides "a very clear telling of this story," emphasizing a "Machiavellian approach" that contrasts its elegant surroundings with "the brutality of war."

The Utah festival has produced "Coriolanus" only once before, in 1977.

Joining "Coriolanus" on the outdoor Adams Shakespearean Theatre stage (modeled after Shakespeare’s own Globe) are two of the Bard’s best: the towering tragedy "King Lear," which explores "the greatest of all dysfunctional families," Phillips notes, and the comedy "Twelfth Night," a classic of mistaken identity, unrequited love and other all-too-human foibles.

The accent’s also on comedy at the festival’s indoor Randall L. Jones Theatre, where George Bernard Shaw’s "Candida" and Thornton Wilder’s "The Matchmaker" focus on two memorable women.

"Candida" inspires a battle for her affections between her clergyman husband and a young poet. And "The Matchmaker" follows the matchmaking machinations of Dolly Levi — who later became the title character in the Broadway musical inspired by Wilder’s classic, "Hello, Dolly!"

The festival’s world premiere adapts another successful comedy, Ken Ludwig’s "Lend Me a Tenor," about the farcical frenzy that results when the opera must go on — despite the fact that the world-renowned tenor is nowhere to be found.

Although the festival considered presenting Ludwig’s original play two years ago, its backstage-at-the-opera setting lent itself to a full-fledged musical treatment, Phillips explained.

The playwright’s reaction? " ‘What a brilliant idea,’ " Phillips says. (Ludwig plans to attend the musical’s June 30 Cedar City debut.)

Other festival activities include the nightly outdoor Greenshow, a free frolic featuring Elizabethan-style songs and dances, plus behind-the-scenes seminars and August’s weeklong New American Playwrights Project.

Ticket sales for the summer season are "OK — not stupendous," Phillips says, adding that, "in sort of a bizarre way," festival officials hope high gasoline prices might influence out-of-state audiences to visit Cedar City rather than farther-flung destinations.

That includes those in Southern Nevada, who traditionally make up about a third of the festival’s patrons.

After all, he points out, "we’re less than one gas tank away from your readership."

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