Wednesday, April 23, 2008

McAnuff at Stratford

Martin Morrow writes a long piece, more on Artistic Director Des McAnuff than the season, for Here's a snapshot:

"What brought him to the festival was the desire to direct Shakespeare and other classic plays on a scale comparable to the musicals that have made his name. 'The classics have definitely always been part of my menu as an artist,' he says, 'but it’s become more difficult to do large-canvas works at many theatres. That was one of my struggles at La Jolla. When we did do a classic, it would tend to be a smaller one, just due to resources. The chief reason that I’m here is to work with a company of actors on the classical repertory.'

"His multi-racial Romeo and Juliet (2008) pairs Canadian classical actor Gareth Potter as Romeo with a Juliet played by one of his musical-theatre protégées — U.S. singer-actress Nikki M. James. McAnuff directed James in a revival of The Wiz a couple of years ago, but he says he’s known her since she was a stage-struck kid.

"'She was actually a Stage Door Janie for a show I did on Broadway,' he recalls fondly, referring to his 1995 production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, starring Matthew Broderick and Megan Mullally. 'Nikki used to show up at the theatre as a fan. Megan took a real shine to her, and Nikki and her friend used to perform show tunes for the cast backstage.'

"McAnuff’s second production this season, opening in August, will be one of Stratford’s rare forays into Shaw country: a staging of George Bernard Shaw’s historical comedy Caesar and Cleopatra (2008), starring Christopher Plummer. McAnuff says the play was Plummer’s idea. 'We wanted to do a project together and [Julius Caesar] was a role he really wanted to play. Chris is really an exceptional actor who has a great sense of himself and what he should be doing. He was brilliant in Inherit the Wind on Broadway last year, as was Brian Dennehy.'

"Dennehy is also part of this year’s unusually starry season. Other notables making their Stratford debuts include Hamlet director Adrian Noble, the former head of Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company, and British actor-author Simon Callow, who will be premiering a new solo show based on Shakespeare’s sonnets. McAnuff hopes to bring more star power to Stratford in the future.'From the Alec Guinness days, there’s been a history of that here,' he points out. 'I definitely embrace that tradition. And when you talk of stars,' he adds, 'I’m hoping the projects themselves are going to be stars as well. That’s going to be extremely important.'

"Does McAnuff see Stratford as a potential springboard for commercial productions — perhaps the way the Royal Shakespeare Company under Trevor Nunn spawned West End-Broadway hits like Les Misérables and Nicholas Nickleby?

"'I’d love to do something like that at Stratford,' McAnuff replies. 'There are skills and talents here that could be brought to bear on projects like that, which have a classical association. And I would love to see that happen to the festival in terms of [providing] income streams, too. Royalty income is an awfully nice thing to have.'

"McAnuff doesn’t rule out Stratford as a home for more offbeat efforts, too. Like, say, that Flaming Lips musical. 'It certainly would be unusual,' he admits. But it would fit in with his belief that the festival should be doing more new work. 'I feel it’s critically important, when you’re doing the great plays in the history of theatre, that you put living writers and their works side by side with them,' he says. 'The new work informs the old plays, and keeps them from turning into relics.'"

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