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Karl Hugh, USF
Brian Vaughn chats with dog Jake in "Two Gentlemen of Verona."

What plays the fiddle, has four hairy legs and a big nose?

The Utah Shakespearean Festival.

Kicking off the summer season, the USF will fill its stages with three of Shakespeare's great works, a couple of theater classics and a musical.

"If they've been here before, they (patrons) know what we do," said R. Scott Phillips, executive director of the USF. "They can expect six very complete and grand productions in the tradition of the festival. If they haven't been before, what they'll experience is something they didn't expect to find in a community like Cedar City."

By that, he means professional, Tony Award-winning theater.

Phillips, chatting by cell phone as he left a production meeting, talked about how the company has just moved into a 24-hour work schedule. "The theaters are in use now for 24 hours a day until we open. When the actors aren't there, the electricians come in, then the painters and builders work until the actors come back. The theater is open 24 hours a day. It takes that kind of commitment."

With many folks looking to stay closer to home this summer due to rising fuel prices, USF hopes families will find Cedar City the perfect spot for a getaway. "People can use Cedar City as a hub for all sorts of outdoor activities, then come see a great show at night," Phillips said.

Here's more explanation on the above riddle and what you can expect:

"The Two Gentlemen of Verona": This is where you'll find the four hairy legs.

The most ill-mannered canine ever to grace the stage will be at the outdoor Adams Shakespearean Theatre. Jake is a mutt that was rescued off the street when he was 8 months old. Chosen from 15 dogs and two competitive dog auditions, Jake had to perform tricks, pose for photos, then pass a callback with actor Brian Vaughn.

"We wanted to see how each dog responded to him," said director Raymond P. Inkel. Jake's owner, Karen Wegner, is nervous for Jake, "because I want him to do well," but she has yet to see him rehearse — she's too big of a distraction. "Hopefully, I'll be able to sneak into a performance."

Aside from scene-stealing Jake, "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," one of the Bard's earlier comedies, is about four young people and their adventures with falling in and out of love.

"The Taming of the Shrew": Audiences will see this show in a whole new light. The classic battle of the sexes will be set in the final stages of World War II and will be performed in the Randall L. Jones Theatre instead of outdoors. Director and festival newcomer Jane Page wanted to capture the hopeful and healing elements of wartime.

Petruchio is an Italian-American GI whose grandfather immigrated to the United States from Padua. Kate, with her early-20th century Italian upbringing and a tough exterior, is the shrew.

Ultimately, there's a bigger lesson: "When a person's life and heart are full of anger, selfishness or greed, there is no room for love, joy or playfulness."

"Othello": "O, beware, my lord, of jealously; It is the green-eye'd monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on ..." and will also be part of Othello's downfall. "Othello" is considered one of Shakespeare's more tangible tragedies, because Othello is neither a king nor of noble birth; he's an army general. Brimming with passion, anguish and jealousy, "Othello" explores a world of evil and betrayal that will cause him to lose everything — the man who would "love wisely, but not too well."

"Cyrano de Bergerac": Though playwright Edmond Rostand would cringe at the comparison, quite a few folks are familiar with the story of the man with the large nose through the Steve Martin movie, "Roxanne."

Considered by some to be the greatest love story ever told, this production will be performed on the Adams outdoor stage and will showcase the work of first-time festival director David Ivers.

Ivers made his USF acting debut 16 years ago in "Cyrano." This time around, he'll direct longtime friends and former co-stars, actor Brian Vaughn and Vaughn's real-life wife, Melinda Pfundstein, in the lead roles.

"The School for Wives": This is a rarely done comedy by Moliere, who is considered the pre-eminent writer in 17th century France. Billed as a "classic farce that will tickle every funny bone in your body," this production has a brand new translation. Phillips noted, "This is the third revision of 'Wives."'

With this new adaptation, it's a premiere, of sorts. And it's very funny. It's about Arnolphe and his strange devotion to Agnes — having trained her since childhood to be his wife. But she is so sweet and innocent, she falls in love — with someone else.

"Fiddler on the Roof": One of America's best loved musical theater pieces, "Fiddler" rounds out the USF summer season. It was nominated for 10 Tony Awards in 1964 and took home nine. Under the direction of Weber State University's Jim Christian, "Fiddler" takes you through the life and struggles of Tevye, his family and the little town of Anatevka, with some of Broadway's most memorable tunes, "Sunrise, Sunset," "If I Were a Rich Man," "Matchmaker" and "Tradition."

With many people making little weekend getaways, what is the must-see show?

Chuckling that it's like choosing between your favorite kids, Phillips said seeing "Cyrano de Bergerac" outdoors is a rare treat, and that "there is a special magic that Jim has brought to "Fiddler" — the cast just seems honored to be a part of it."

For more festival information including lodging, child-care options, tickets, calendars and study guides for the shows, go to www.bard.org.

E-mail: [email protected]