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OSF's outdoor season heats up

William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” will launch the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor season Friday, June 17, in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre, followed by the Saturday, June 18, opening of the 1970s musical “The Wiz” and the Sunday, June 19, opening of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.” The plays will run in the outdoor theater on the OSF campus through the weekend of Oct. 14-16.

OSF’s summer Green Show, which features free live entertainment on the OSF’s Courtyard Stage six nights a week, will be in full swing as of June 17, having kicked off on June 7 with The Rogue Suspects. The shows begin at 6:45 p.m. and run concurrent with the Allen Elizabethan productions. See a schedule online at osfashland.org. Look for Ashland Taiko, Charya Burt Cambodian Dance, NANDA, Mariachi Mestizo, The Curtain Climbers Aerial Dance Company, the Ugandan Kids Choir and many more.

Also on Friday, June 17, the Feast of Will celebrates OSF’s outdoor season at 6 p.m. with a dinner of barbecue chicken or vegetarian lasagna in Ashland's Lithia Park. Music will be provided by the Jefferson Bag Pipers and Siskiyou Singers. Hosted by the Lions Club, the annual event benefits Lithia Park projects and other organizations. Tickets are $15 and available online, at the OSF box office or by calling 800-219-8161.

Lisa Peterson, who directs “Hamlet,” says in a statement released by OSF that she is fascinated with the otherworldly and “between-worldly” elements of the play.

“It’s a ghost story,” she says. “This is a play that not only muses about death and our mortality, but more importantly, examines the possible passage from one side to the other. What if a message comes from the other side, as Hamlet’s father’s words seem to? What does a person, in this case Hamlet, do with that?”

While the costume design for OSF's “Hamlet” will suggest the Jacobean period, the musical score, created by veteran OSF composer Paul James Prendergast in collaboration with guitarist Scott Kelly, a guitarist and vocalist for the band Neurosis, will be a modern soundscape. Kelly also will play the role of the Gravedigger in the production.

“Scott’s music evokes a dark place,” Prendergast says. “He’s the soundscape for Hamlet’s mindscape.”

The cast includes Danforth Comins as Hamlet, Christiana Clark as Horatio, Michael Elich as Claudius, Robin Goodrin Nordli as Gertrude and Derrick Lee Weeden as Polonius. The design team features scenic design by Laura Jellinek and costumes by David C. Woolard.

Curtain is at 8 p.m. for all summer productions at the Allen Elizabethan Theatre.

The 1975 Broadway production of "The Wiz," starring Stephanie Mills, garnered seven Tony Awards, including best musical, best direction, best choreography and best original score. The book is by William F. Brown, with music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. Robert O’Hara directs OSF's production, and he says he is fully embracing the theater’s Elizabethan façade.

“There’s an Elizabethan-meets-black, '70s R&B music style in the production, and the show will begin like an Elizabethan play,” he says. “It is an actor-driven play, so the actors are part of the tornado, the actors are part of all of the dancing and all of the moving of the sets. It all comes from them, because it is also coming from Dorothy’s imagination.”

“We will have the movements from court dancing clashing with the 1970s,” says choreographer Byron Easley, “and because Dorothy is up to date, she knows today’s moves as well, so we will throw some of today’s contemporary moves in it.

“It will be a clash of these three types of movements to celebrate this story. The music makes you dance, so we are going to try to celebrate that in a big, bold, flavorful way.”

The cast includes Ashley D. Kelley as Dorothy, Britney Simpson as Glinda, Michele Mais as Addaperle, Rodney Gardiner as the Tinman, Christiana Clark as the Lion, J. Cameron Barnett as the Scarecrow, Jordan Barbour as Uncle Henry and The Wiz and Yvette Monique Clark as Aunt Em and Evillene. Guitarist, producer and composer Jeff Pevar will lead a live band that will perform the score.

For OSF's production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” director Desdemona Chiang will stage the play in two strikingly different settings — the Sicily of Shakespeare’s play is now in an ancient Eastern Kingdom, while the Bohemian scenes are set in a New World West. In addition to the Taiwanese-born Chiang, the majority of the actors and designers also are of Asian or Asian-American heritage.

“The two stories are set an entire generation apart on opposite sides of the world, with their own distinct cast of characters,” Chiang says. “These two halves are polarized in every aspect of tone, theme and content.

“They coexist in exquisite synchronicity and confront all the new worlds vis á vis powerful oppositions: dark versus light, winter versus spring, ancient versus modern, high class versus low class, heaven versus earth, parent versus child, and in this production, East versus West. We are using Han China as inspiration and a point of major departure for our vision of Sicilia, and an imagined Western frontier for a vision of Bohemia.

“'The Winter’s Tale' is ultimately about restoring what was lost and awakening faith in the impossible,” Chiang says. “It is a second chance at life when we think we’ve lost it all. It is profoundly spiritual.”

The cast features Eric Steinberg as Leontes, Amy Kim Waschke as Hermione, Cristofer Jean as Camillo, Paul Juhn as Antigonus, Miriam A. Laube as Paulina and Cindy Im as Perdita. Scenery is by OSF Senior Scenic and Theatre Designer Richard L. Hay and costumes by Helen Q. Huang.

Tickets to all Elizabethan shows start at $30 to $130 and can be purchased online at www.osfashland.org, at the box office on Pioneer Street, or by calling 800-219-8161.

Dorothy (Ashley D. Kelley), left, Scarecrow (J. Cameron Barnett) and Tinman (Rodney Gardiner) encounter a Lion (Christiana Clark) who is short on courage in OSF's production of 'The Wiz.' Photo by Dale Robinette