Ontario theatre: 15 must-see shows around the province

Summer in Ontario means it’s high season for live theatre — and not just at Stratford and Shaw.

Live performance blossoms across the province in the warmer months, in programming that reflects vibrant, varied locales and histories. These theatres are often local labours of love, with staffers and volunteers based in the community and deeply knowledgeable about the interests and tastes of local audiences. Summer theatres offer solid contract employment for professional actors outside the regular theatre season, and drive tourism to their regions.

Comedies, musicals, historical dramas, family shows, even a tropical dinner theatre murder mystery — there’s huge variety to choose from, and you can take your pick between beautiful outdoor settings and more traditional venues.

The Star asked summer theatres and festivals across the province to recommend a “must see” in each of their seasons.

The Blyth Festival in Blyth

This festival makes history this summer with the first staging of all three of James Reaney’s Donnellys plays since they were first produced at Tarragon Theatre in the mid-1970s. “The Donnellys: A Trilogy” is based on the true story of an Irish emigrant family that moved to Biddulph Township (then part of Huron County, where Blyth is located) in the 1800s. The issues and discrimination the family faced in Ireland, plus the challenges of adapting to a changing world, all added up to a bloody, tragic event that was headline news at the time. Festival artistic director Gil Garratt has adapted the three plays with the blessing of Reaney’s family and estate. The same company of 10 actors, led by Randy Hughson, will perform the plays in repertory under Garratt’s direction.

“Sticks and Stones” runs untilSept. 1; “The St. Nicholas Hotel” runs until Sept. 2; “Handcuffs” runs Aug. 1 to Sept. 3. In August, audiences can see the trilogy over three consecutive nights on the festival’s outdoor Harvest Stage. See blythfestival.com or call 1-877-862-5984.

The Capitol Theatre in Port Hope recommends “Little Shop of Horrors,” running Aug. 11 to Sept. 3.

The Capitol Theatre in Port Hope

This celebrated theatre recommends “Little Shop of Horrors,” running Aug. 11 to Sept. 3., directed by artistic director Rob Kempson. The theatre promises an all-star Canadian cast in an innovative reinvention of the show featuring non-traditional casting. See capitoltheatre.com or call 1-905-885-1071.

County Stage Company in Prince Edward County

Formerly the Festival Players of Prince Edward County, this company recommends “The 39 Steps,” Patrick Barlow’s award-winning parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film. Four actors play more than 150 roles in Monica Dottor’s production, staged on a rotating set designed by Steve Lucas. The production runs Saturday to Aug. 6 outdoors at the Eddie Pavilion in Bloomfield. See countystage.ca or email [email protected].

At Huron County Playhouse in Grand Bend, where "Kinky Boots" will play this summer.

Drayton Entertainment in Grand Bend and Cambridge

The company recommends “Kinky Boots,” running at the Huron County Playhouse in Grand Bend until July 29 and the Hamilton Family Theatre in Cambridge Aug. 3 to 20. See draytonentertainment.com or call 1-855-372-9866.

Driftwood Theatre Group (all over!)

“Living With Shakespeare,” a one-man show performed by artistic director Jeremy Smith and co-created with Steven Gallagher, is the pick of this touring company. It weaves personal stories and memories with passages from the Bard’s work. The show, which tours to Kingston, Bloomfield, Quinte West, Peterborough, Oshawa, Pickering, Ingersoll, Toronto and Burlington from Aug. 5 to 27, rounds off Driftwood’s 30-year tradition of touring Shakespeare. The company will relaunch with a new mandate in 2024. See driftwoodtheatre.com or call 1-844-601-8057.

The Foster Festival in St. Catharines

This Niagara festival recommends “Jenny’s House of Joy” by Norm Foster, a comedy set against the backdrop of the Old West and a companion piece to “Outlaw,” which it produced earlier this summer (it’s the first time a theatre has produced the two plays in the same season). Lisa Horner directs the production, which runs Aug. 9 to 20 at Ridley College’s Mandeville Theatre in St. Catharines. See fosterfestival.com or call 1-844-735-4832, ext. 3.

The 4th Line Theatre in Millbrook recommends its revival of “The Cavan Blazers,” the historical drama that launched the theatre 31 years ago.

Fourth Line Theatre in Millbrook

The company recommends its revival of “The Cavan Blazers,” the historical drama that launched the theatre 31 years ago. Robert Winslow’s play follows the violent clash between Protestant and Catholic Irish settlements in Cavan Township (where the theatre is located) during the early to mid-19th century. It plays Aug. 1 to 23 at Winslow Farm in Millbrook. See 4thlinetheatre.on.ca or call 1-800-814-0055.

The Lakeview Arts Barn in Bobcaygeon, home of the Globus Theatre, which is celebrating its 20 year anniversary.

Globus Theatre in Bobcaygeon

The company recommends “The Great Palm Tree Beach Tiki Bar Tragedy” (July 19 to 29), a murder mystery/dinner theatre experience written by Sarah Quick and performed by Canadian Comedy Award-winning improvisers. See globustheatre.com or call 1-705-738-2037.

The troupe in Guild Park and Gardens in Scarborough recommends their sold-out hit “Alice in Wonderland,” playing until July 22.

Guild Festival Theatre in Scarborough

The troupe in Guild Park and Gardens in Scarborough recommends “Alice in Wonderland” (until July 22), a return of their sold-out 2021 hit, which presents the beloved story in a staging suitable for all ages. See guildfestivaltheatre.ca or call 647-250-7438.

The Staircase, one of the indie venues at the Hamilton Fringe Festival.

Hamilton Fringe Festival in Hamilton

The organizers of the fest (July 19 to 30) said they couldn’t bear to choose between the 50-plus shows in their 2023 season, which promises storytellers and magicians, comedies and improv, dancers and ghost stories, coming-of-age tales, puppets, musicals, kids’ shows and an existential bowl of noodles (2022 Toronto Fringe hit “A Perfect Bowl of Pho”). See hftco.ca.

The interior of the canopy on the grounds of the Stratford Perth Museum, where Here for Now Theatre is staging its 2023 season.

Here for Now Theatre in Stratford

The other Stratford company recommends “Margaret Reid,” on until July 29, a sharp and clever comedy by Madeleine Brown about two ambitious girls and how the stories we tell ourselves shape who we become. Monique Lund directs the piece, which incorporates movement and music as part of Here For Now’s 2023 outdoor theatre at the Stratford Perth Museum. See herefornowtheatre.com or call 1-519-272-4368.

The Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover recommends “Bed and Breakfast,” Mark Crawford’s acclaimed comedy about a gay couple who inherit a B&B in a small town.

The Lighthouse Festival in Port Colborne

The recommendation is “Bed and Breakfast,” Mark Crawford’s acclaimed, well-travelled comedy about a gay couple who inherit a B&B in a small town and discover that the simple life is more complicated than they thought. The Port Dover run ends Saturday, but it plays the Roselawn Theatre in Port Colborne July 19 to 30. See lighthousetheatre.com or call 1-888-779-7703.

The Orillia Opera House recommends “Moving In,” about a 50-something couple whose decision to cohabitate gets a mixed reaction from their adult children.

The Orillia Opera House in Orillia

The company recommends its world premiere production of Norm Foster’s comedy “Moving In,” about a 50-something couple whose decision to cohabitate gets a mixed reaction from their adult children. The production, directed by Jesse Collins, plays through July 21. See orilliaoperahouse.ca or call 1-705-326-8011.

This Barrie theatre’s pick is the historical family drama “Bobbie” by Trudee Romanek, based on the true story of Russian immigrant Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld.

Theatre by the Bay in Barrie

This Barrie theatre’s pick is the historical family drama “Bobbie” by Trudee Romanek, based on the true story of Russian immigrant Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld, who represented Canada at the 1928 Olympic Games. The show runs Aug. 30 to Sept. 10 at the Five Points Theatre. See theatrebythebay.com or call 1-705-735-9243.

The 1000 Islands Playhouse in Gananoque recommends the beloved musical "The Sound of Music," which has been extended to Aug. 12.

The 1000 Islands Playhouse in Gananoque

The Gananoque company recommends the beloved musical “The Sound of Music,” directed and choreographed by Naomi Costain. The run of the show, which opened on July 4, has been extended to Aug. 12. See 1000islandsplayhouse.com or call 1-613-382-7020.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star
does not endorse these opinions.