Eight theatre shows to see in southern Ontario this summer (Toronto Star & Hamilton Spectator)

Our critic picks the 8 Ontario theatre shows worth a road trip, from frothy musicals to seminal Canadian classics.

June 16, 2024

The Toronto Star

By Joshua Chong

Theatre companies and festivals across the province have a full slate of programming this summer, including comedies, musicals, and timeless dramas. 

Live theatre in southern Ontario is kicking into high gear as arts organizations prepare to raise the curtain for a busy summer season.

While Stratford and Niagara-on-the-Lake are perhaps the province’s most recognizable theatre towns, there’s a rich history of the performing arts in communities across Ontario. And this summer, there’s no shortage of offerings — from Canadian classics and riotous comedies to world premieres and frothy family musicals.

So, here are the productions you should see at eight lesser-known theatre companies in southern Ontario.

“Fiddler on the Roof” at Huron Country Playhouse

Sixty years ago, “Fiddler on the Roof” premiered on Broadway, where it ran for more than 3,000 performances. Since then, the musical has remained one of the most popular shows to be produced, buoyed by its universal and timeless themes of family, prejudice and tradition. Drayton Entertainment’s new production of the show stars the company’s artistic director, Alex Mustakas, as Tevye, an impoverished Jewish milkman who struggles to maintain the traditions of his community as his five daughters grow up and marry. Runs until June 30.  

“The Tempest” at St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival

There’s Shakespeare outside of Stratford, too. In Prescott, Ont., the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival will mount “The Tempest” at its outdoor amphitheatre overlooking the St. Lawrence River. It’s one of two shows running in repertory at the company, which recently welcomed Julia Nish-Lapidus and her husband, James Wallis, as its new co-artistic directors. Wallis will direct this new production of the Bard’s tragicomedy, starring Stratford Festival veteran Gordon Patrick White as Caliban. Runs from July 13 to Aug. 10. 

“Dinner with the Duchess” at Here for Now Theatre

A year after his moving play “Casey and Diana” debuted at the Stratford Festival, garnering rapturous acclaim, Canadian playwright Nick Green is back in town, this time at Here for Now Theatre, the small Stratford-based company that punches well above its weight. His latest play, “Dinner with the Duchess,” is set to receive its world premiere here after a workshop production at the Toronto Fringe Next Stage Festival in 2019. Helmed by actor-turned-director Kelli Fox, the three-hander follows a violin virtuoso at the end of her career who, with the help of her husband, gives one final interview to an ambitious young reporter tasked with telling her story. Runs from Sept. 11 to 28. 

“The Full Monty” at Capitol Theatre Port Hope

Adapted from the 1997 British comedy film of the same name, “The Full Monty” follows six unemployed steelworkers who turn to stripping to earn some extra cash. The musical, which features a pop-rock score by David Yazbek and a book by Terrence McNally, was a hit when it opened on Broadway in 2000, running for nearly two years and garnering 10 Tony Award nominations. This new production is directed by Julie Tomaino and features faces familiar to Toronto theatregoers, including Jacob MacInnis (“Dion: A Rock Opera”), Donna Garner (“Once”) and Gavin Hope (“The Lion King”). Runs from July 12 to 28. 

“Isle of Demons” at Guild Festival Theatre

In August, Scarborough’s Guild Festival Theatre will mount the Toronto premiere of “Isle of Demons,” a riveting historical drama by the Governor General Award-winning playwright Robert Chafe. His play dramatizes the true story Marguerite de la Roque, a French noblewoman from the 16th century who was abandoned for several years on a deserted island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Described as “part tragedy, part thriller,” the play, starring Kiera Publicover, Josh Johnston and Helen Juvonen, will be presented outdoors at the Greek Theatre in Guild Park. Runs from Aug. 8 to 25. 

“The Farm Show: Then & Now” at the Blyth Festival

The Blyth Festival is looking back — way back — to commemorate its 50th anniversary season. The theatre company near Clinton, Ont., will present a new production of “The Farm Show,” the seminal piece of Canadian literature that helped kick-start the company. The play, which premiered in 1972, was collectively created by a group of artists from Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille, who spent a summer in the farming community to document and theatricalize life in rural Ontario. It was such a success that it spawned numerous productions across the country and launched a tradition of theatre in Clinton and the surrounding region, ultimately leading to the creation of the Blyth Festival in 1974. Runs from June 12 to Aug. 4. 

“Mary’s Wedding” at the Lighthouse Festival

Stephen Massicotte’s “Mary’s Wedding” has become a staple in the Canadian theatrical canon since it premiered in 2002. Set amid the First World War, this sprawling, time-shifting drama follows the relationship between an English immigrant to Canada and a young farmer. This new production at the Lighthouse Festival, playing in both Port Dover and Port Colborne, will be helmed by the company’s artistic director, Derek Ritschel. Runs from July 3 to 20 in Port Dover and from July 24 to Aug. 4 in Port Colborne. 

“Mamma Mia!” at the Thousand Islands Playhouse

The Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, Ont., may be thousands of kilometres away from the azure-coloured seas of the Mediterranean, but the theatre company still boasts the perfect setting to host “Mamma Mia!,” the ABBA-inspired jukebox musical set on a provincial Greek island. Located on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, the playhouse is just a stone’s throw away from its namesake, the equally idyllic Thousand Islands National Park. Directed and choreographed by Dora Award-winner Stephanie Graham, the company’s new production of the Broadway juggernaut also features a knockout cast, including Jessica Sherman (“Dear Evan Hansen” and “Kelly v. Kelly”) as Donna Sheridan. Runs from July 2 to Aug. 4.

Joshua Chong is a Toronto-based culture reporter for the Star. Follow him on X: @joshualdwchong.