PENNSYLVANIA SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL

A notoriously difficult Shakespeare play being staged for the first time and an iconic American musical that has a surprising connection to Shakespeare make 18th season of the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival at DeSales University a highly anticipated one. The fest has expanded its season in the face of a dour economy and features nearly 200 performances of nine shows, 30 more than last year.

Producing Artistic Director Patrick Mulcahy is excited to be presenting Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" for the first time. The play, with a staggering 42 scenes, is not often done but features two of drama's most fascinating characters, Mulcahy says. Lisa Zinni, who was associate costume designer for the Tony-nominated Broadway production of "Hair," is designing the play's sexy costumes.

One of the Bard's most popular plays returns, but this time "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is in the smaller Schubert Theatre and set both in 1960s Greece ala "Zorba the Greek" and in ancient world Greece for the woodland scenes. Five-time Emmy Award winner Bob Phillips is designing the scenery, including an homage to the Parthenon.

Two years after its last musical, the festival is presenting the most American of all musicals, "1776." Mulcahy says he discovered the founding fathers were fans of the Bard and frequently quoted Shakespeare to inspire others to action as they pursued their vision of independence. The production features a re-creation of both the interior and the exterior of Philadelphia's Independence Hall that moves on a turn-table.

New this year is "Shakespeare for Kids," a program designed to introduce children to Shakespeare, and a one-night-only show of "The Great Divorce."

'THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED)'
  • What: Shakespeare's 37-play canon condensed into one irreverent show, presented in 99 minutes, with frequent improvisation, by Chris Faith, Shawn Fagan and Christopher Patrick Mullen.
  • When: June 3–28
  • Where: Schubert Theatre
'1776'
  • What: The Tony-winning musical about the founding fathers who drafted the Declaration of Independence.
  • When: June 17–July 5
  • Where: Main Stage
'A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM'
  • What: This popular comedy about fairies and mismatched lovers is perfect way to introduce someone to Shakespeare.
  • When: July 8–Aug. 2
  • Where: Schubert Theatre
'ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA'
  • What: Against the backdrop of the Roman Empire, Cleopatra finds love with Marc Antony. Greg Wood is Marc Antony; Lauren Lovett is Cleopatra.
  • When: July 15–Aug. 2
  • Where: Main Stage
'CINDERELLA'
  • What: Classic tale of a young woman who triumphs with the help of a fairy godmother. Children can meet the cast after every performance for pictures and autographs. Set designed by Bob Phillips, who has six Emmys for his work as production designer on "Sesame Street."
  • When: May 29-Aug. 1 Where: Schubert Theatre
SHAKESPEARE FOR KIDS
  • What: Team Shakespeare introduces elementary-age children to the friendliest of Shakespeare's characters and situations.
  • When: July 22–Aug. 1
  • Where: Main Stage
'THE GREAT DIVORCE'
  • What: Anthony Lawton's one-man adaptation of C.S. Lewis' story.
  • When: June 22
  • Where: Main Stage