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The Utah Shakespeare Festival has new leadership. Here’s what that means for this year’s lineup

A year after celebrating the opening of its new home at the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts, the Utah Shakespeare Festival has experienced several changes in its leadership.

After 10 years as executive director, R. Scott Phillips retired in March, 40 years to the day of when he was first hired. And David Ivers, who had been with the company as an actor and director since 1992 and worked as co-artistic director with Brian Vaughn since 2011, announced his departure in May from the festival to head the Arizona Theatre Company.

In the wake of these announcements, Vaughn was named USF’s sole artistic director, and theater veteran Frank Mack was selected at the festival’s new executive director.

Despite the staffing changes, some things at the festival remain the same, particularly in the organization’s goal to provide professional and engaging productions.

“We are a classical-based theater with the plays of William Shakespeare as our centerpiece,” Vaughn said in a news release from the festival. “These offerings are balanced with other contemporary plays, musicals and new work that provide a wide assortment of offerings for our audience. The artistic philosophy is producing and creating engaging, enlightening work that challenges, inspires and entertains.”

Here’s a look at the nine productions, plus the Greenshow, that are set to hit the USF stages starting June 29.

‘Shakespeare in Love’

Vaughn is directing the regional premiere of “Shakespeare in Love,” based on the 1998 film that won the Academy Award for best picture and best original screenplay — as well as Oscars for its two lead actresses, Gwyneth Paltrow and Judi Dench.

This is a speculative story about a young “Will” Shakespeare and a romance that inspired “Romeo and Juliet.” Will is struggling to finish a play until he meets his muse in the beautiful Viola De Lesseps. The two fall in love but find trouble along the way: Will is still married to his estranged wife and Viola is recently engaged via an arranged marriage. Add in Viola's law breaking cross-dressing so she can perform in Will’s production and you have more than enough drama to inspire the Bard’s most famous love story.

Dates: June 30-Sept. 8

Venue: Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre

Content advisory: USF indicates that the play details a “passionate love affair” between Shakespeare and Viola, includes scenes containing implied sexuality and adult language that may not be appropriate for pre-teens or younger teenagers.

‘Romeo and Juliet’

Playing alongside the fictional tale of its inception is Shakespeare’s classic tale of two “star-cross’d lovers.”

“The two (‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Shakespeare in Love’), playing in repertory, will share cast and scenery, and this added synergy will provide a new dimension to what may be the most famous love story in the world,” according to the festival’s website.

Directed by former USF assistant artistic director J.R. Sullivan, the story is familiar to many as young Romeo and Juliet find love amid their families’ deep-seated rivalry.

Dates: July 1-Sept. 9

Venue: Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre

Content advisory: As the play explores the themes of intolerance and young love, some moderate adult language and sexual innuendo are used, according to USF.

‘As You Like It’

This Shakespeare comedy is a “rollicking frolic of confused courtship, beautiful poetry and unsurpassed wit,” according to bard.org, as Rosalind disguises herself as a man in order to find her father, which ends up making things complicated with her love interest Orlando when he seeks her advice as a man.

Director Robynn Rodriguez wrote in an email to the Deseret News that the play is “chock-full of brilliant scenes” and also includes a few life lessons.

“If we're willing to work for it, forgiveness, compassion and enduring love are possible in a challenging world,” she said.

Dates: June 29-Sept. 7

Venue: Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre

Content advisory: USF’s website states that the play contains some mild sexual innuendo, but “with a little pre-play preparation, is suitable for all audiences.”

‘Guys and Dolls’

Two different relationships are at the center of this 1950s Broadway classic. Nathan Detroit, a gambler with a particular propensity for craps, and Miss Adelaide, a nightclub performer, have been engaged for 14 years but still haven’t sealed the deal. On the other hand, Sky Masterson, a high-rolling gambler, and Sarah Brown, a straight-laced missionary, barely know each other when Nathan bets Sky $1,000 he can’t get Sarah to go to Havana with him.

According to director Peter Rothstein, the fact that Sky and Sarah find romance despite their completely different backgrounds can teach a greater lesson to audiences.

“An ocean of difference must be crossed in order for them to marry, but we root for them nonetheless,” Rothstein said in an email. “Perhaps this chestnut musical comedy has something profound to say about today's volatile, divisive political climate and what appears to be insurmountable differences between people.”

Dates: July 3-Sept. 1

Venue: Randall L. Jones Theatre

Content advisory: Although it is a “generally tame” production, “Guys and Dolls does contain gambling, some drinking and the “relationships between the ‘Guys’ and ‘Dolls.’”

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

When the king and queen of the fairies interfere with the romance of mortals who wander through the forest, everyone ends up confused in Shakespeare’s “luxurious tale of fairies, dreams and moonlight,” according to the festival.

Director Kirsten Brandt makes her USF directing debut with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and is giving the comedy a new spin by setting it in the world of art deco and the Jazz Age.

Dates: July 4-Oct. 21

Venue: Randall Jones Theatre

Content advisory: USF says the production is a “family show” suitable for all ages.

‘The Tavern’

Director/adapter Joseph Hanreddy, who co-adapted both “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility” for the USF stage, is back again with a locally themed adaptation of George M. Cohan’s melodramatic murder mystery.

When it is discovered that a thief is on the loose, a night at the tavern turns into a night of crime solving for a group in post-Civil War era Utah.

“Romances are kindled and challenged and a crime is committed and solved, hopefully to the enjoyment of all as our sole goal is to create a joyous comic romp that audiences will find inventive, visually exciting and uproariously funny,” Hanreddy wrote in an email.

Dates: Sept. 19-Oct. 21

Venue: Randall L. Jones Theatre

Content advisory: “The Tavern” is suitable for all audiences

‘William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)’

This comedy tells the story of the purported manuscript of Shakespeare’s first play.

“Using questionable scholarship and street-performer smarts, a trio of comic actors will throw themselves into a fast, funny, and frenzied festival of pure hilarity,” according to USF’s website.

The three-man cast of Riley Shanahan, Marco Antonio Vega and Luke Striffler will take on more than 40 different roles in this play, which was written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, who starred in the PBS film version of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).”

Dates: July 28-Oct. 21

Venue: Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre

Content advisory: This play contains sexual and scatological humor and therefore may not be suitable for preteens, according to the festival.

‘Treasure Island’

Robert Louis Stevenson’s beloved novel comes to life in this new adaptation by Mary Zimmerman.

“The festival is the first theatre after a joint premiere at Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago and Berkeley Rep in Berkeley, California, to produce this critically acclaimed adaptation, filled with adventure and song,” according to bard.org.

Young Jim Hawkins and his mother find a map rumored to lead to buried treasure and with the help of a wealthy man, Jim embarks on a journey to the island where the treasure is said to be.

But when the ship’s cook, Long John Silver, and many other crewmen rebel, Jim and his friends must stand their ground to save their lives and maintain the hope of finding the treasure.

Dates: July 5-Sept. 2

Venue: Randall Jones Theatre

Content advisory: Because the play is based on a novel read by many adolescents, the festival says it is suitable for all audiences.

‘How to Fight Loneliness’

A husband and wife are at a point where they must make difficult decisions about the future of their relationship when a visitor comes.

“What follows is a candid and raw conversation about what it means to make hard choices and the resulting consequences to those we love,” according to bard.org.

This world premiere production by playwright Neil LaBute was first workshopped at the festival in 2016.

Ivers is slated to return to the festival to direct this production, according to a news release.

Dates: Aug. 15-Oct. 14

Venue: Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre

Content advisory: USF’s website warns that the play contains adult language and mature themes that are “not appropriate for most teenagers or for others who find such content unpleasant.”

The Greenshow

USF’s Greenshow, a free pre-show performance available to festivalgoers and community members, has been around since the beginning of the festival.

According to the Deseret News, festival founder Fred C. Adams and his wife, Barbara, wanted a way to transition people from the stress of travel and allow them to focus on the plays and the Greenshow was born.

Traditionally, there are three Greenshows each year that play in repertory, and most years the shows are centered around a country or musical culture. But Greenshow director Christopher Utley decided this year to base the shows on themes — love, laughter and adventure — and have them tell a complete story rather than have more of a concert feel.

“By doing so, our guests will have an opportunity to not only be entertained, but also to be inspired to love, laugh and pursue their dreams with confidence and joy,” he wrote in an email.

Dates: June 29-Sept. 9

Venue: Ashton Family Greenshow Commons

Content advisory: The Greenshow is appropriate for all ages.