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Lindsay, Rigg & Conley Star in Chichester Summer

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Diana Rigg (pictured), Robert Lindsay, Maureen Lipman, Brian Conley and Susan Hampshire are just some of the stars in the remarkable line-up this summer at Chichester Festival Theatre, the third season under artistic director Jonathan Church. Programme highlights also include new plays by Ronald Harwood and Martin Sherman, the stage premiere of the hit 2003 Brit flick Calendar Girls and revivals of two 1960s Broadway musicals, Funny Girl (1967) and The Music Man (1961).

Festival Theatre

In CFT’s main house, the schedule opens with Mike Poulton’s version of Chekhov’s 1904 Russian classic The Cherry Orchard, with Diana Rigg starring as Madame Ranevskaya, who returns from Paris as the family estate, including her beloved orchard, is about to be sold to pay off mounting debts. She’s joined by William Gaunt (as Gayev), Jemma Redgrave (Varya), Maureen Lipman (Carlotta) and Natalie Cassidy (Dunyasha). Associate director Philip Franks helms the production, which runs from 23 May to 7 June 2008 (previews from 15 May).

It’s followed, from 3 July to 30 August 2008 (previews from 23 June), by The Music Man starring Brian Conley as fraudster Professor Harold Hill (played by Robert Preston in the 1962 film of the musical) and Scarlett Strallen as Marian Parool, the librarian who falls for Hill’s charms even though she knows he’s a charlatan. The musical has book, music and lyrics by Meredith Wilson and a story for Wilson and Frank Lacey. The score includes “Seventy-Six Trombones”, “Trouble” and “Till There Was You”. The new production is directed by Birmingham Rep artistic director Rachel Kavanaugh, designed by Robert Jones and choreographed by Stephen Mear.

From 30 July to 29 August 2008 (previews from 22 July), The Music Man will run in rep with Jonathan Church’s revival of Somerset Maugham’s 1921 social satire The Circle, in which Susan Hampshire will play Lady Kitty, recently returned to England after abandoning her husband and son 30 years ago to run away with another man.

The Festival Theatre schedule concludes with Tim Firth’s adaptation of the award-winning Miramax film Calendar Girls, which tells the real-life story of a Yorkshire chapter of the Women’s Institute who decide to pose nude for a charity calendar. Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, Penelope Wilton and Celia Imrie starred in the 2003 screen original, also written by Firth. Calendar Girls runs from 16 to 27 September (previews from 5 September).

Minerva Theatre

In the smaller house, Funny Girl, the 1967 musical based on the life of Broadway and film star Fanny Brice and her relationship with the feckless Nicky Arnstein, is first up, with Samantha Spiro taking the ‘ugly duckling’ title role, immortalised on screen in 1968 by Barbra Streisand. The production, running from 8 May to 14 June 2008 (previews from 28 April), is directed by Angus Jackson, designed by Mark Thompson and, like The Music Man, choreographed by Stephen Mear.

Rupert Goold’s previously announced Headlong co-production of Six Characters in Search of an Author then runs from 8 July to 30 August 2008 (previews from 28 June). Goold and co-adapter Ben Power have updated the 1921 classic by Italian Luigi Pirandello for the “media-obsessed age” of the 21st century (See News, 29 Jan 2008).

It’s joined in rep, from 29 July to 30 August 2008 (previews from 16 July) by two companion plays by Ronald Harwood: a revival of Taking Sides, premiered on the same stage in 1995, and Harwood’s new play Collaboration. Both plays star Michael Pennington – as, respectively, conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler and composer Richard Strauss, both wrangling with Nazism - and are directed by Philip Franks.

The final offering in the Minerva is the world premiere of Martin Sherman’s latest play Aristo, in which Robert Lindsay stars as Aristotle Onassis. The play is based on the last years in the life of the late Greek tycoon, including his relationships with Jackie Kennedy, Maria Callas and his son Alexandros. Nancy Meckler directs. Aristo runs from 25 September to 11 October 2008 (previews from 11 September).

Outside the main theatres, there will also be an outdoors promenade performance of AA Milne’s children’s classic Toad of Toad Hall around the Rolls Royce Motor Cars manufacturing plant at Goodwood.

Public booking for the 2008 summer season opens on 6 March.

- by Terri Paddock


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