Donna Feore, the director/choreographer behind some of the most acclaimed musical theatre productions in the Stratford Festival’s recent history, will not return to the festival next season, the Star has learned, though she plans to come back in the future.
Feore is working on a number of projects in the U.S., including the world premieres of two shows with connections to hit films.
She is director and choreographer of “The Griswolds’ Broadway Vacation: The Musical,” which opens for a limited run at Seattle’s Fifth Avenue Theatre on Sept. 10. The musical comedy extends the franchise of “Vacation” movies that began in 1983 with “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” It is produced by Ken Davenport, whose other projects include the 2018 Tony-Award winning revival of “Once on this Island” and “A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical,” which opens on Broadway in December.
“Hopefully Seattle is the Griswolds’ first stop on their journey to Broadway,” said Feore.
Feore is also directing and choreographing “Bruce,” a behind-the-scenes story about the making of the blockbuster 1975 movie “Jaws.” It played at Seattle Repertory Theatre in May-July 2022 and a source close to the production confirmed to the Star that it is eyeing Broadway, following further development. Tom Smedes Productions, the Manhattan-based production company behind numerous Broadway shows including “The Prom” and “Bandstand,” is producing “Bruce.”
Feore has been working on these and other projects for a number of years while directing one or two shows a year at Stratford. “I love both and I was able to do both for a while,” she said. “The projects I’ve been working on are getting further and further along … they’re requiring a bit more of my time than even a year ago.”
Feore first worked at the Stratford Festival as a dancer in 1990 and has made Stratford her home since the mid-’90s. She met her husband, actor Colm Feore, at the festival.
Nearly all her recent Stratford productions have been revivals of well-known musicals including “Guys and Dolls,” “The Rocky Horror Show,” and this season’s “Chicago.” In some cases, she negotiated the rights to restage material that had become identified with a particular interpretation, such as the downstage row of performers in “A Chorus Line.”
She expressed some frustration at the set length of the runs of Stratford productions. “I understand it. It’s not a commercial theatre,” she said. “There are lots of rights issues. It’s not like this is Shakespeare and in the public domain,” she said.
“But I approach my shows (at Stratford) in the same way as I would approach a commercial show. I put the same kind of time in,” Feore said. While working within these parameters did not drive her away from Stratford, it fuelled her desire to work in different ways, including on brand-new material. “I find it thrilling to have writers in the room,” she said.
Stratford Festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino said he is “nothing but grateful” for Feore’s contributions, “and I look forward to what she does at the festival in the future years. But I also am conscious that we all need growth, fulfilment, development. It’s vitally important and I’m very happy for her.”
Cimolino acknowledged that Feore’s productions have performed well at the box office: “She’s a source of strength, that’s for sure,” he said. “But the festival’s been around 70 years and when I’m gone, after she’s gone, I hope it’s around still.” Cimolino and Feore are in conversation about upcoming projects for her at Stratford.
Over the years Feore has developed a signature style — kinetic choreography, musical numbers that advance plot and character and a comprehensive eye on all aspects of stagecraft. She attributes much of her craft to meeting the challenges of Stratford’s Festival Theatre, which has a thrust stage and requires taking account of audience sightlines on three sides. “There’s nowhere like it. That stage for me, it’s my home,” she said. “And I want to come home.”
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