The Chautauqua Theater Company is gearing up for what may turn out to be the most ambitious season in its 30-year history.
The centerpiece of the company’s 30th summer session, slated for July 27, is a massive co-production called “The Romeo and Juliet Project,” featuring 92 onstage performers and a 74-piece orchestra in the Chautauqua Institution’s amphitheater. The show, which combines the talents of the CTC and the Chautauqua Institution’s orchestra, dance and opera companies, will attempt to fuse together several interpretations of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy into one seamless whole.
“When you’ve got Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ which has inspired so many masters to some of their best work, you suddenly have a wealth of options in terms of a new way to tell an old story,” said CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch. “There are people who love the ballet. There are people who are opera lovers only. There are people who are Shakespeare aficionados. But to actually draw all those audiences together as well as the artists is part of what this is about it.”
The production, which includes Shakespeare’s words with music by Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein and the Reflections, features three pairs of Romeos and Juliets. The show, which Benesch hammered out with the help of opera director David Paul and others, has certain moments being sung, spoken and danced individually or simultaneously.
The idea for a huge cross-collaboration grew out of the success of the company’s co-production of “Amadeus” with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra in 2010, which in turn grew out of a collaborative production of “Every Good Boy Deserves Favor” in 2008.
The season kicks off in earnest Friday with a production of Tennessee Williams’ classic play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” featuring film and television actor Harris Yulin and Broadway veteran Candy Buckley. They will appear alongside young CTC conservatory members Carly Zien and Peter Mark Kendall. Lisa Rothe directs.
On July 19, the company opens Bruce Norris’ acclaimed play “Clybourne Park” (to be produced in November by Road Less Traveled Productions), which takes a searing look at race in urban America. Davis McCallum directs the show, which features Marin Hinkle of “Two and a Half Men,” Adam Weems and Sean Dugan along with conservatory members Tangela Large, Stephen Spencer, Mary Wiseman and Landon Woodson.
The final production in the company’s main season is Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors,” which will be transplanted by director and CTC Associate Artistic Director Andrew Borba to “a turn-of-the-century carnival sideshow replete with mermaids, lion-tamers and clowns.” The show runs Aug. 9-16.
For Benesch, the 30th anniversary season reflects the forward-looking nature of the company as well as its storied past. This marks the ninth season for Benesch, who took the reins of the company with her collaborator and former CTC co-artistic director Ethan McSweeny in 2005.
“The theater turning 30 is a little bit like: We’ve still got all the energy of our 20s,” Benesch said. “But where we’re heading now is to make sure that CTC is stepping into the 21st century and cultivating a new audience while maintaining the high standards that we’ve come to.”