“Midsummer” production returns to Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s roots

By Lee J. Green

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival is connecting the present with the past as they kick off the 2023-24 season with the show that started it all when the ASF moved to Montgomery in 1985.

William Shakespeare’s classic comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will get a new telling when it hits the stage, Sept. 14 through Oct. 1. Director Rick Dildine said the ASF production focuses on “our need to love and be loved.”

“At the center of our telling of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a boy in his attic escaping a dispute between his parents,” said Dildine, who is also the ASF’s artistic director. “Here he has permission to dream and have big thoughts and feelings. He has created a fairy tale world. And through this story, he will find his way home.”

Dildine said as a director who came of age in the 1980s, he found himself drawn to intergenerational stories with movies such as “The Neverending Story,” “Princess Bride” and “The Goonies.”

“Like Midsummer, these are all stories that ask us to go not only on physical adventures but also adventures of the heart,” he said.

Dildine said the production includes live music, with the fairy characters being portrayed by the musicians. “I love employing some of the trappings Shakespeare would have used,” he said.

“The music has a folk feel to it… we would call it singer-songwriter. For me, music is a great conduit to heighten the emotions of a scene.” The ensemble features percussionist Sage, a non-binary Jewish musician.

The ASF began in Anniston in 1972. When it moved to its current 100,000-square-foot complex in 1985, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was the first show they produced.

“It’s our most-produced Shakespeare play,” said Dildine. “If you’ve never seen a Shakespeare play, it’s a great entry-point.”

Dildine will also direct “A Christmas Carol,” which hits the stage Nov. 16 through Dec. 24.

The ASF will start off 2024 with the Tony-nominated musical “Blues in the Night,” Feb. 8 through March 3. The musical includes songs from blues legends, including Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington and Johnny Mercer.

Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” brings the well-known British sleuth to the stage April 18 through May 12. Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson face a dizzying web of clues, silly accents, disguises and deceit as five actors portray more than 40 characters in this “slapstick mystery.”

Then on June 13, the ASF presents the world premiere of “Zelda in the Backyard.” Dildine said the play by Mobile-native Elizabeth Wilder was developed through ASF’s 2022 Southern Writers Festival of New Plays.

“It’s a one-woman show about a woman who inherits a wrecked 1961 Rolls Royce from her father. She sets off on a journey to reassemble the car and pieces of the past her father left behind,” he said. “In honor of her Southern roots, she named the car after Zelda Fitzgerald.” Wilder also wrote “Gee’s Bend,” which the ASF produced a few years ago.

One of the most enduring musicals of all time, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” caps the 2023-24 season July 11 through Aug. 11. The humorous retelling of the Biblical story of Joseph, his 11 brothers, his father Jacob and the coat of many colors debuted on Broadway in 1982.