1 of 7
Karl Hugh, copyright Utah Shakespeare Festi
Ben Jacoby, left, as Pistol and Roderick Peeples, as Sir John Falstaff, in the Utah Shakespeare Festival's production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor."
It's selling off the charts! People who have never come to USF are now about to be first-timers. —Festival founder Fred Adams

Excitement emanates from Cedar City, or perhaps the Bard would say it better, "O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!"

The 51st Utah Shakespeare Festival opens Monday, so that means directors, actors, set designers and builders, costumers, makeup artists and support staff are feverishly preparing what they believe will be a much-talked-about season.

Six productions offer unique choices to audiences. "The Merry Wives of Windsor," a festival favorite, will revive the feisty character of Sir John Falstaff, who is determined to woo a couple of women, who are, in fact, well-aware of his reputation. What ensues, festival management hopes, will bring rollicking laughter from patrons.

"In our promotion, we call this 'the original desperate housewives," said Scott Phillips, the festival's executive director. "It brings balance to our program and is definitely family-friendly. We have to think about what will draw the traveler."

Festival founder Fred Adams calls it a good cast. "The two wives are adorable, Falstaff is splendid and this production definitely has a zany side to it."

In its efforts to produce all of Shakespeare's works over the next 12 years, the festival brings its audiences "Titus Andronicus." Adams says during Shakespeare's lifetime, it was his most often-produced play. Audiences clamored for it. But let's not forget, they also witnessed public executions, men being drawn and quartered.

Revenge is the order of the day in "Titus" and it's brutal. "But it resonates today, " Phillips says, noting "man's inhumanity to man."

"The cast is superb. The audiences will have a memorable experience with this demanding play. And they will witness visual surprises with the creation of timeless costumes," Adams said.

"For 41 years, I have wanted to do 'Mary Stuart,'" Adams said. "Shakespeare lived this story of two queens, Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, and as a closet Catholic, he could never have written it."

But Friedrich Schiller did tell the story of two women so powerful that they commanded armies and spies and plotting courtiers. "They never met in life but they will on our stage," said Phillips, "and the results are stunning."

Shakespeare lights up Cedar City, bringing an average of 120,000 visitors every year. "It's huge," said Scott Jolley, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. "Guests come for the festival and eat at our restaurants, buy gasoline and stay in our hotels, with an impact on the local economy of more than $35 million annually."

Plus, it raises awareness of what's going on in Southern Utah. "The festival increases the profile within the state, the country and beyond. Everyone is enriched."

And those numbers are expected to increase with at least one of the offerings in the indoor Randall Theatre.

"It's selling off the charts! People who have never come to USF are now about to be first-timers," Adams said.

He's referring to the production of "Les Miserables." First produced for the Royal Shakespeare Company, when producers learned an American Shakespeare festival wanted it, they granted the rights. And the musical will take the original format, no turntable.

"No need for it — our cast members have brilliant voices. When Melinda Pfundstein sings 'I Dreamed a Dream,' there will not be a dry eye in the house," Adams said. He is over-the-moon about the stunning voice of J. Michael Bailey, who portrays Jean Valjean.

Brian Vaugn plays Inspector Javert. Adams calls the costumes and sets stunning. It will include the largest orchestra in festival history. "And the story, what God can do to the soul of a man, we will deliver with our hearts," Adams said.

One of the greatest American novels, celebrating its 50th anniversary, will also come to life on stage this summer.

"'To Kill A Mockingbird' is the most-read book following the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare," Phillips said. It is the only play Harper Lee ever authorized. "It is not the movie; the play is actually deeper," Adams said.

He is enthusiastic about the return of two veteran actors, Monica Bell as an adult Scout and Martin Kildare as Atticus Finch. Adams said there is a great deal of tenderness in this production.

And finally, Moliere's "Scapin." Adams describes it as slapstick, a delightful moment with the depth of tissue paper. "It is pure vaudeville with David Ivers at his best. Outlandish costumes will add to the hilarity. Audiences will roll in the aisles."

The Utah Shakespeare Festival's fall season, which begins Sept. 25 and runs through Oct. 20, will include "Hamlet," "Stones in His Pockets" and "Les Miserables."

When asked to describe the entire season, Phillips said, "The only thing bigger than the 50th season is the 51st!" Adams said, "It's huge, it's overwhelming, they're going to love it!"

For complete information, see www.bard.org.

Email: cmikita@desnews.com