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OSF heads outdoors for the summer

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival offers a Falstaffian romp through merry old Windsor; a heroic, Homeric journey home to Ithaka; and a revelatory musical journey of self-discovery when its outdoor theater opens next weekend.

The Allen Elizabethan Theatre will feature "The Merry Wives of Windsor," directed by Dawn Monique Williams; "The Odyssey," adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman; and Disney’s "Beauty and the Beast," directed by Eric Tucker.

"Wives" previews Friday, June 9, and Tuesday, June 13, and opens Friday, June 16; "Odyssey" previews Saturday, June 10, and Wednesday, June 14, and opens Saturday, June 17; and "Beast" previews Thursday, June 8, Sunday, June 11, and Thursday, June 15, and opens Sunday, June 18.

Curtain is at 8 p.m. for all three shows running through mid-October. Tickets are available at osfashland.org or by calling 800-219-8161.

The annual Feast of Will, a festive dinner hosted in Lithia Park by the Ashland Lions Club, celebrates the beginning of summer and the opening of the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. It begins at 6 p.m. Friday, June 16. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the OSF box office.

'The Merry Wives of Windsor'

Legend has it that Queen Elizabeth was so enamored of Falstaff that she commanded William Shakespeare to write a play in which Falstaff was in love, the result being "The Merry Wives of Windsor." Director Williams will underscore the comedic escapades of Falstaff and Mistresses Ford and Page with a pulsing 1980s soundtrack sure to strike a chord with a younger generation of playgoers.

“A pair of young lovers find one another, break all rules of custom, and inspire the anachronistic soundtrack of life in Windsor, reminding us there is urgency in feeling ‘forever is going to start tonight’ when you are experiencing a ‘total eclipse of the heart,’” Williams says in a press release.

Costumes will take on Elizabethan-era silhouettes mixed with colorful floral patterns and “big hair” of the '80s, according to costume designer Ulises Alcala.

K. T. Vogt stars as Falstaff; Vilma Silva as Mistress Page; Paul Juhn as Master Page; Jamie Ann Romero as Anne Page; Amy Newman as Mistress Ford; Rex Young as Master Ford; Catherine Castellanos as Mistress Quickly; Sara Bruner as Sir Hugh Evans; and Jeremy Peter Johnson as Doctor Caius.

"The Merry Wives of Windsor" creative team also includes scenic designer Regina Garcia; lighting designer Jennifer Schriever; composer and sound designer Paul James Prendergast; music director and vocal arranger Darcy Danielson; dramaturg Lavina Jadhwani; voice and text director David Carey; choreographer Valerie Rachelle; and fight director U. Jonathan Toppo.

"The Odyssey'

Mary Zimmerman, whose work shined in OSF's productions of "The White Snake" and "Guys and Dolls," brings her adaptation of "The Odyssey" — from a translation by Robert Fitzgerald — to the Allen Elizabethan. Zimmerman adapted "The Odyssey" while in college, where she staged a production that included Christopher Donahue, who plays Odysseus in the OSF production. Zimmerman then staged the show at Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago. It then moved to the Goodman Theatre and others around the U.S. OSF's production is the first in 17 years.

“I thought the play would sit really well outdoors,” Zimmerman says in the OSF press release. “With the ancient form of storytelling being in nature, it feels very compatible with the Elizabethan stage.”

"'The Odyssey' is about longing for home, with home having a kind of profound symbolic resonance," Zimmerman says. "It’s been observed by Joseph Campbell that we think of the hero as wanting to go out and have adventures, but very often the hero’s journey is the reluctant hero who is trying to get home. E.T. wants to get home. Dorothy wants to get home. And Odysseus just wants to get home. That’s the goal of life, is to get back home."

Along with Donohue, the cast features Kate Hurster as Penelope; Christiana Clark as Athena; Armando Duran as Aeolus and Laertes; Briawna Jackson as Helen; Amy Newman as Muse and Calypso; Daniel T. Parker as Zeus and Cyclops; Armando McClain as Alcinous; Miriam A. Laube as Circe; Vinecia Coleman as Arete; Moses Villarama as Hermes; Benjamin Bonenfant as Telemachus; Richard Howard as Eumaeus; Danforth Comins as Poseidon and Antinous; and Howie Seago as Menelaus and Tierisias.

'Disney’s Beauty and the Beast'

Director Tucker is artistic director of Bedlam Theatre in New York, a company known for its small-cast re-imaginings of classic works by Jane Austen, George Bernard Shaw, Shakespeare and others. Similar to his productions at Bedlam, Tucker invites audiences for "Disney’s Beauty and the Beast" to partner with its performers in using their imaginations to complete the picture.

“There is great magic in simple storytelling,” Tucker says. “I feel that for adults, kids and people of all ages, there is a power in the kind of play which requires that we activate our imaginations, so that the story unfolds in a magical yet simple way.”

Scenic designer Christopher Acebo echoes that sentiment.

"The idea is that we are not only in a provincial town, not only in a castle, but we are in an abandoned theater," Acebo says. "And we know that anything can happen in an abandoned theater. All the props and furniture exist in this space, and through the action of the ensemble we will create Belle’s room, the castle, the bar scene in the tavern. All these objects will come to life.”

Jennie Greenberry stars as Belle; Jordan Barbour as the Beast; Sara Bruner as LeFou; James Ryen as Gaston; Michael J. Hume as Maurice; Daniel T. Parker as Cogsworth; David Kelly as Lumiére; Kate Mulligan as Mrs. Potts; Robin Goodrin Nordli as Babette; and Britney Simpson as Mme. De la Grande Bouche. The cast also plays townspeople, tavern patrons, enchanted objects and wolves.

Music direction and arrangements are by J. Oconer Navarro, with choreography by Erika Chong Shuch. Costumes are by Ana Kuzmanic; lighting by Schriever; sound design by Joanna Lynne Staub; dramaturgy by Julie Felise Dubiner; voice and text direction by David Carey and Rebecca Clark Carey; and fight direction by Toppo.

Musicians on the production are pianist and conductor Matt Goodrich; Kent Wilson Jr. on synthesizer; percussionist Reed Bentley; violinist Kimberly Fitch; cellist Nancy Martin; trumpet player Daniel Kocurek; trombone player Mark Eliot Jacobs; and Rhett Bender on woodwinds.

The three Allen Elizabethan Theatre plays join six productions already running in the Angus Bowmer and Thomas theaters: "Julius Caesar," "Shakespeare in Love," "Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles," "UniSon," "Henry IV, Part One" and "Hannah and the Dread Gazebo."

Still to come in OSF's 2017 season are one more play by Shakespeare, and a world premiere adaptation that uses a Shakespeare play as its source material.

"Henry IV, Part Two," directed by Carl Cofield and featuring much of the same cast as the concurrently running "Henry IV, Part One," begins previews July 4 in the intimate Thomas Theatre. "Henry IV, Part Two" officially opens July 8 and runs through Oct. 29.

"Off the Rails," a premiere by Randy Reinholz, is the first play by a Native American playwright in OSF’s 83-year history. This irreverent, subversive adaptation of Shakespeare’s "Measure for Measure" uses healthy doses of humor and music to illuminate the painful legacy of Indian boarding schools in the American West. Directed by Bill Rauch and playing in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, "Off the Rails" begins previews July 27, opens July 30 and runs through Oct. 28.