Since its inception in 2004, the Great River Shakespeare Festival has become a way for theater-goers to get out of town for a day or weekend during the summer, check out the beautiful Mississippi River valley on the drive south to Winona, and see plenty of familiar faces when they arrive in the southeast corner of the state. This year, the six-week festival brings a trio of shows: two by the Bard himself and a production of the long-running Off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks. For Shakespeare, audiences can take a trip to one of theater's most famous fairylands in A Midsummer Night's Dream, or they can travel deep into the history of English kings with King Henry IV, Part 1. The latter play centers on the relationship between young Prince Hal (who later bests the French on the battlefield as Henry V) and Falstaff. For its Shakespeare pieces, the festival is dedicated to producing clear, understandable productions, so novices—or those turned off by studying Romeo and Juliet in high school—need not be frightened. Meanwhile, The Fantasticks (which ran for several decades in its small New York City home) looks at what happens after "happily ever after," and features a terrific Tom Jones score to boot. It all starts this weekend with the traditional Will's Opening Weekend, which sees a string of special events, along with the premiere of the two Shakespeare plays, including a "picnic on a stick" Sunday evening. The Fantasticks opens July 9.
Thursdays-Sundays. Starts: June 23. Continues through July 31, 2011