The Utah Shakespearean Festival's 37th season begins preview performances this week with two popular comedies and a rarely produced drama in the Adams Shakespearean Theatre, followed next week by previews of the three Randall L. Jones Theatre productions and formal openings of all six 1998 plays.

"It's a season of great plays, with a little something for everyone," says festival founder/executive director Fred C. Adams, who will be directing his first USF production in 17 years - "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."He doesn't have Donny Osmond for the title role, but Adams has his own collection of A-list Hollywood stars lined up - such as Rudolph Valentino and Theda Bara. How he fits these late, great cinema legends into "Joseph" will remain a surprise.

Despite the immense popularity of "Joseph" across the state (there are at least four overlapping productions this summer), Adams has a hunch that the rarely mounted Noel Coward comedy, "Relative Values," will be this season's biggest festival hit. He also encourages patrons to see the even more rarely produced "King John," which is being staged for the first time ever since the festival began in 1962.

Why isn't "King John" produced more often?

"I'll tell you why," said Adams during a recent trip to Salt Lake City. "It's nearly impossible to cast. Do you remember what W.C. Fields said about working on shows with children and dogs? Well, this one has both."

But, he was quick to add, that's not as bad as it sounds.

"We were very lucky to find a 12-year-old actor right here in Cedar City to play young Prince Arthur," Adams noted.

R. Dustin Harding, who had just moved with his family to the southern Utah community, has a resume that already includes such productions as "The Pirates of Penzance," "Robin Hood," "Les Miserables" and Southern Utah University's recent musical, "Gypsy."

Playing Prince Arthur is no breeze, however. There are more than 100 lines of dialogue for Harding to memorize - and the young prince ends up falling from a balcony to a gruesome death. Not nearly as much fun as "Gypsy."

The surprises in "Joseph" aside, here are a few things about this summer's Utah Shakespearean Festival activities that can be told:

- Charles Morey, who is well known to Wasatch Front theatergoers as artistic director of Pioneer Memorial Theatre, will be directing for the first time at the festival (Noel Coward's "Relative Values"). Among Morey's previous directorial jobs at PTC are two other Coward comedies, "Blithe Spirit" and "Private Lives."

- Utah native Douglas H. Baker, who both wrote and directed the festival's Greenshows and Royal Feaste from 1985 to 1989 (and who has become widely known as Merlin in the "King Arthur's Tournement" at the Excaliber Hotel in Las Vegas - a show he also developed), is back in Cedar City to direct this summer's Greenshow activities. He has also rewritten the Royal Feaste performance, "Titania's Enchantment." Baker is still performing Merlin in Las Vegas but has worked out an arrangement that gives him some time in Cedar City as well.

- For the first time, the festival will schedule extra "late" performances of one show. Beginning July 18, "Joseph" will be presented at both 7:30 and 10 p.m. on Saturdays. Because of the musical's shorter running time (roughly 90 minutes), patrons may still be out before "King John," which will be playing across the street in the Tudor style Adams theater. Note that the earlier "Joseph" performance on Saturday will be at 7:30 p.m., not the traditional 8:30 p.m. curtain time.

- Other first-time USF directors, in addition to Morey, include Rosemary Dunsmore ("All's Well That Ends Well"), Peggy Shannon ("The Taming of the Shrew") and Russell Treyz ("King John").

- Artists returning to the festival include longtime director Kathleen F. Conlin ("Romeo and Juliet"), back for her eighth season, and such familiar performers as William Leach, Gary Armagnac, Sheridan Crist, David Ivers, Robert Anderson and Angela Iannone.

Leach, who is best remembered for his stunning performance as Willie Lowman in the 1991 production of "Death of a Salesman," will play Crestwell, the butler, in "Relative Values," Lafew in "All's Well" and Cardinal Pandulph in "King John." Armagnac, who took up residence in Cedar City a couple of years ago and who is the festival's education director, will be playing Hubert in "King John," Renaldo in "All's Well" and Baptista in "The Taming of the Shrew."

Crist, who was busy at the festival for three consecutive seasons, 1993-95 (including title roles in "Timon of Athens" and "Henry VIII"), will be playing Peter in "Relative Values," Lavatch in "All's Well" and the title role in "King John."

Ivers, back for his fifth year at the festival (he played Jack Chesney last season in "Charley's Aunt" and Sir Andrew Aguecheek in "Twelfth Night"), will tackle the roles of Salisbury in "King John," the Duke of Florence in "All's Well" and Sly and the pedant in "Shrew."

Anderson, also returning for his fifth Cedar City season, will be playing Friar Lawrence in "Romeo and Juliet" and Gremio in "Shrew." Last year, he played Horatio in "Hamlet," Fluellen in "Henry V" and Helicanus and Boult in "Pericles."

Iannone is back for her second time, as Lady Capulet in "Romeo" and Katherina (the notoriously shrewish "Kate the Curst") in "Shrew." In 1996, audiences saw her as Lady Macbeth in "Macbeth" and Anne of Austria in "The Three Musketeers."

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Shakespeare festival at a glance

All seats for all Utah Shakespearean Festival performances are reserved. Prices range from $15 to $38 in the Adams Memorial Theatre, from $10 to $30 for the Auditorium matinees, and from $19 to $38 in the Randall L. Jones Theatre. All tickets for the Royal Feaste are $29 each. Backstage tours are $7.

For reservations, call 1-435-586-7878 or 1-800-752-9849.

Season brochures are available directly from the festival office and may also be found throughout the Greater Salt Lake area from customer service desks at major shopping malls and travel bureaus.

Due to previews and openings, the festival's regular week-to-week schedule doesn't kick in until about the third week.

All matinees are at 2 p.m. and all evening performances are at 8:30 p.m. (except for "Joseph" on Saturdays beginning June 18).

Specific performance dates and times are:

- Adams Theatre: "All's Well That Ends Well," June 26 (preview), June 30 (opening), then Tuesday and Friday evenings through Sept. 4. No matinees.

"King John," June 27 (preview), July 1 (opening), then Wednesdays and Saturdays through Sept. 5. No matinees.

"The Taming of the Shrew," June 25 (preview), June 29 (opening), then Wednesday & Saturday matinees (Auditorium) and Monday and Thursday evenings (Adams) through Sept. 5.

- Randall Theatre: "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream-coat," July 1 (preview), July 2 (opening), both matinees; then Tuesdays & Fridays (matinees) and Wednesdays & Saturdays (evenings), through Sept. 5. Beginning July 18, "Joseph" will play at both 7:30 and 10 p.m. on Saturdays.

"Relative Values," June 29 (preview), July 3 (opening) & July 6, all matinees; then Wednesdays and Saturdays (matinees) and Mondays and Thursdays (evenings) trough Sept. 5.

"Romeo and Juliet," June 30 (preview), July 4 (opening), both matinees; July 7, evening, then Mondays and Thursdays (matinees) and Tuesdays and Fridays (evenings), through Sept. 4.

Royal Feaste: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays & Saturdays, 5:30 p.m., July 1-Sept. 5 in the King's Pavilion, directly north of the main USF box office.

Throughout the season, the festival hosts daily play orientations and literary seminars, weekly celebrity seminars and frequent music, costume and actor seminars - all free of charge, plus an ongoing series of workshops and camps (fees vary).. Later in the season, there will also be a series of New Plays-in-Progress readings, at 10:30 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays during August.