The Stratford Festival announced major casting for its 2015 season on Monday morning – and the choices of actors for Hamlet and Maria in The Sound of Music are sure to set off debate.
Jonathan Goad, a 12-season veteran of the festival who played Kent in this year's King Lear, will be the next to embody the melancholy Dane on Stratford's Festival Theatre stage.
With Hamlet, the problem was apparently too much choice for artistic director Antoni Cimolino. A long list of actors inside and outside the company competed for the plum role, with audience members trying to get in on the auditioning act, rooting for their favourites on Twitter. (Graham Abbey and Maev Beaty were two popular choices.)
Equally sought-after was the role of Maria in The Sound of Music. But after a couple of rounds of auditions in Canada, director Donna Feore went outside the company and outside the country to solve the problem of Maria.
Stephanie Rothenberg, an American who was in the recent Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, will star opposite a Captain von Trapp played by Ben Carlson (who was Stratford's last Hamlet in 2008).
This choice is sure to cause grumbling among Canada's underemployed musical theatre actors – new batches of which graduate from theatre schools into an underdeveloped industry every year – especially given that Feore also imported an American to star in her production of Crazy for You this season.
Smuggling a Maria across the border has an added irony, however, since dozens of contenders auditioned for the part in front of Canadian television audiences on the 2008 CBC Television show, How Do You Solve A Problem With Maria? – and, for a while, it seemed as if we had a country full of them.
But grumble not, grumblers. It would be exceedingly churlish to complain that Stratford is subsidizing a Yankee Maria with your tax dollars when so many Canadian classical actors are exported to American stages and take their filthy lucre without complaint every year.
Not to mention that, on Broadway, there are more and more Canadians kicking up a fuss. Paul Nolan is currently playing the male lead in Once, for instance, while Chilina Kennedy is set to step into the lead role of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical next year.
On the other hand, both Nolan and Kennedy's high-flying Broadway careers were nurtured over a number of years at Stratford – and one of the chief achievements of former artistic director Des McAnuff's tenure was spending as much time building up the musical-theatre company as the classical-theatre one.
Hmm.… Well, having run out of hands, here is the rest of the casting news in point form.
– Gord Rand will star in Daniel Brooks's production of Oedipus Rex, while Yanna McIntosh will play his (spoiler alert) mother Jocasta.
– Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay, real-life partners, will star as Petruchio and Katherina in director Chris Abraham's production of The Taming of the Shrew.
– Sara Farb will star in The Diary of Anne Frank, while Lucy Peacock and Soulpepper's Joseph Ziegler will play her parents.
– Peacock and Ziegler will also pair up to play Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle in Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer.
– Carousel, the other Rodgers and Hammerstein musical on the bill in 2015, will see Jonathan Winsby (Lancelot in 2011's Camelot) return to Stratford to play Billy Bigelow. And Alexis Gordon, meanwhile, will make her Stratford debut opposite him as Julie Jordan.
– Seana McKenna, Geraint Wyn Davies and Graham Abbey will all return for Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Physicists, a 1961 play that we'll all have to Google over the winter. Additionally, McKenna will be Gertrude in Hamlet; Wyn Davies will be Claudius and (spoiler alert) the Ghost; and Abbey will be slowly training the local swans to attack and incapacitate Goad.
Stratford artistic director Antoni Cimolino has themed the 2015 season around "Discovery" and eureka moments such as scientific discoveries, creative accomplishments, and realizations that you are love with your mother and want to kill your father. For full casting information, see stratfordfestival.ca.