In most years, a visit to the Utah Shakespeare Festival is highlighted by something new: a play, an actor, music, a set. The 2015 festival will be highlighted by something old: This is the last year guests can see the Bard performed live under the stars at the Adams Shakespearean Theatre.
The venue, which first opened in 1977, was an attempt to re-create the famous Globe Theatre in which Shakespeare's plays were first produced. It turned out to be so much like the original, when the British Broadcasting Company searched the world for the best place to focus on theater in the Elizabethan period, it found itself filming in Cedar City.
For 2016, the plays—and presumably all the ghosts of years past—will move a couple blocks away for the opening of the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre, an updated space that will carry on the tradition of outdoor performances and will be part of the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.
As for 2015, the festival kicked off July 2 and runs through Sept. 5, with the Adams Theatre hosting Henry IV Part 2, King Lear and The Taming of the Shrew, while indoor afternoon and evening performances at the Randall L. Jones Theatre will feature Charley's Aunt, South Pacific and Amadeus. The fall season runs Sept. 23-Oct. 31. Tickets and schedules can be found at Bard.org.
The Taming of the Shrew holds a particularly important historical place with the Festival. Founder Fred C. Adams directed it during USF's first season in 1962, and it also opened the Adams Theatre in 1977. It will close the Adams Theatre this September, with none other than Fred Adams himself directing. The cast features the real life husband-and-wife duo of Brian Vaughn and Melinda Pfundstein, in the roles of Petruchio and Kate.
This is just the second time in the festival's 50-plus years that it has produced Henry IV Part 2. Henry IV Part 1 was a highlight of the 2014 season, thanks to the performance of Sam Ashdown as Prince Hal, who returns this season along with Larry Bull as King Henry. Both will hopefully stick around for 2016 and the production of Henry V, as the three plays show Hal's transformation from rock-star prince to responsible king.
As you're watching King Lear, you might look at Tony Amendola playing the title character and wonder, "Where have I seen this guy before?" The answer is on TV—in Once Upon a Time, Dexter, Seinfeld, Stargate SG-1, The West Wing, Star Trek: Voyager, Continuum, The X Files, etc. In Cedar City, instead of watching him on the small screen, you get to see him go nuts totally live.
Moving across the street to the indoor theater, in Charley's Aunt, Lord Fancourt Babberly ends up dressing up to help a couple of friends romance some young ladies in this 19th century farce. Think about it: There's nothing funnier than a guy in an old-lady dress wearing a wig and smoking a cigar.
The film Amadeus won eight Academy Awards in 1984, including Best Picture, telling the story of Antonio Salieri, who recalls his rivalry with Mozart and even claims to have killed the young genius. The film was based on a 1979 stage play by Peter Shaffer, and Cedar City audiences will get a chance to see USF artistic director David Ivers play Salieri, while Tasso Feldman tackles the role of Mozart. Rock me, Amadeus!
Finally, the 2015 season brings the festival's first-ever production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. It's got all the big themes—love, war, race, prejudice—set to some of the greatest melodies in the American songbook.
The 250-mile drive from Salt Lake City to Cedar City can generally be completed in just over three hours. Accommodations near the festival range from national chains to unique bed-and-breakfast options such as the Iron Gate Inn (100 N. 200 West, 435-867-0603, TheIronGateInn.com), which even has its own winery onsite.
The Cedar City dining scene has improved dramatically—no pun intended—in recent years, highlighted by places like Centro Woodfired Pizzeria (50 W. Center St., 435-867-8123, Facebook.com/CentroPizzeria) which features pizzas and local micro-brews, and Sonny Boy's BBQ (126 N. Main, 435-867-8010, SonnyBoysBBQ.com), which urges you to "put some South in your mouth" in the form of delicious barbecue and sides. A long-time festival staple is The Pastry Pub (86 W. Center St., 435-867-1400, CedarCityPastryPub.com), which features fresh salads and sandwiches. Your best chance of running into USF actors is probably stopping by The Grind Coffeehouse (19 N. Main, 435-867-5333, Facebook.com/pages/The-Grind-Coffeehouse) which keeps them caffeinated through their late-night performances.
There's always something to look forward to with each new USF season, but for 2015, it's one last chance to look back at the Adams Theatre.