Utah Shakespeare Festival
Marco Antonio Vega (left) as Marco and Riley Shanahan as Riley in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2017 production of “William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged).” Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2017, used with permission.

By Kami Terry Paul

From swashbuckling pirates to feuding fairy royalty, from young lovers and warring families to singing and dancing gamblers, from a mysterious vagabond in a tavern in the middle of the Utah desert to magical forests, the 2017 season of the Utah Shakespeare Festival promises a season of adventure for all.

The season, which will run from June 29 to Oct. 21, includes nine plays that run the gamut with music, drama, excitement, and escapades of every kind.

The Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre

Two complementary plays, William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and the theatrical adaptation of the Academy Award-winning movie “Shakespeare in Love,” will anchor the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre. “Shakespeare in Love” is about young William Shakespeare who, out of ideas and short of cash, meets his ideal woman and is inspired to write one of his most famous plays, “Romeo and Juliet.” These interdependent story lines provided the impetus behind the festival producing these two plays in repertory with many shared elements and cast members.

The festival has been selected as one of three theaters to present the first United States productions in the United States. It is based on the original screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard with stage adaptation by Lee Hall. It is presented by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions and Sonia Friedman Productions.

Rounding out the Engelstad Theatre will be the Shakespeare comedy “As You Like It.” This rollicking frolic of confused courtship between Rosalind and Orlando features beautiful poetry and unsurpassed wit with love and danger waiting in the Forest of Arden.

The Randall L. Jones Theatre

Four plays will fill the stage in the Randall L. Jones Theatre in 2017, offering a variety of genres stories and exploits.

First will be the classic musical “Guys and Dolls” with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling. Considered by many to be the perfect musical comedy, “Guys and Dolls” ran for over 1,200 performances when it opened on Broadway in 1950. Winner of many Tony Awards and numerous other theater prizes, it has been frequently revived and has proven to be perennially popular. Featuring such memorable songs as “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Luck Be a Lady,” this oddball romantic comedy will find a comfortable home at the festival.

Next will be the mountain west premiere of Mary Zimmerman’s glorious adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel “Treasure Island.” This epic tale based on classic literature will thrill the entire family with tales of buried treasure, cutthroat pirates, the larger-than-life Long John Silver, and courageous young cabin boy Jim Hawkins. A play with music, “Treasure Island” is dramatic storytelling at its theatrical best.

Possibly Shakespeare’s most beloved comedy, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will also appear in the Randall Theatre. This story of fairies, dreams, and moonlight gets a new and exciting look when set in the art deco world of the Jazz Age. It is still true that “the course of love never did run smooth,” and when the feuding king and queen of the fairies interfere in the couplings of mortals, the result is pure pandemonium and magical mayhem.

Playing later in the season in the Randall L. Jones Theatre will be a world-premiere adaptation of the satirical comedy “The Tavern” by George M. Cohan. Joseph Hanreddy (who adapted “Sense and Sensibility” for the festival in 2014) is adapting this hilarious play and shifting the action and plot to locations and characters in Utah that just might feel familiar. As such, it is a dark and stormy night when a mysterious vagabond, a damsel in distress, and a politician all end up at a remote Utah tavern in the adventuresome melodrama.

The Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre

First up in the 200-seat studio theater will be “William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged),” brought to you by the same guys responsible for “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).” The play tells the not-quite factual (well, not at all factual) story of an ancient manuscript purported to be the first play written by William Shakespeare. Using questionable scholarship and street-performer smarts, a trio of comic actors will throw themselves into a fast, funny, and frenzied festival of physical finesse, witty wordplay, and plentiful punning.

And last but certainly not least is the nationally-acclaimed world premiere of playwright Neil LaBute’s “How To Fight Loneliness.” LaBute recently had two successful shows close off-Broadway and has another, “All the Ways To Say I Love You,” opening this fall at MCC Theater. He and his work have been recognized with Tony Award nominations and Arts and Letters Awards in Literature, among others. “How To Fight Loneliness” explores a modern-day husband and wife who are at a life-changing crossroads and struggling to make monumental decisions about life and love.

“This is a season with something for everybody, and one that propels us into the next stage of our development as a theater company,” said Joshua Stavros, media and public relations director. “It definitely will be an adventure you don’t want to miss.”

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