I had the pleasure of seeing two wonderful shows at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival yesterday: the musical Crazy for You and the comedy classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They were equally extraordinary, but in totally different ways.
I’ve never seen two shows with such different intentions – it’s almost hard to believe that they were staged in the same theatre, only hours apart.
Crazy for You is an extravaganza of song and dance: quick, clever, always moving, always dazzling. The score, which is selected from the greatest numbers of George Gershwin, is upbeat and peppy, as are the dancers, who twirl and tap through hours of exhilarating song. It’s a real old-school musical comedy, the kind that isn’t finished until the lovers are married and the ensemble are exhausted. The sheer energy behind the show is phenomenal, as is the level of skill of every member of the cast. These are entertainers at the top of the game, performing to music by one of the greatest composers of the past century.
And then there’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this unconventional staging the Shakespeare play is being performed as if in someone’s backyard in honour of a gay wedding. Before the show starts, cast members mingle on stage like guests at a party, and carry that casual vibe throughout the night. Whereas the dancers of Crazy for You marvelled with their precision and technique, the actors of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in playing amateur performers in an amateur setting, showed off a masterful lack of mastery. Every line is comfortable and contemporary, an enormous accomplishment from a show that’s almost 500 years old. Every joke is fresh, every plot development is exciting, every observation is new. The frantic, hazy energy of the show comes forth as it was meant to be enjoyed, but with cupcakes, water fights, cross-dressing, bisexuality, adlibbing, and Bruno Mars covers. If the goal of putting on a play is to capture the spirit of the script, then the Festival’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has succeeded triumphantly in capturing a masterpiece with ample spirit.
Crazy for You and A Midsummer Night’s Dream have dramatically different goals, and both are successful. More remarkable, though, is that in watching one, it’s easy to forget that the other could ever exist. During Crazy, the notion that there can be a more entertaining or effective performance seems absurd. What would that even look like? More tap dancing?! And during Dream, when understated winks and nudges bring you right onto the stage, it’s impossible to imagine wanting to be anywhere else.
But the thing that’s really, truly remarkable is how amazing it is to see both shows. They complement each other beautifully, and between the two of them capture everything that people like about comedy.