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Opening Nights at the Grove Theatre with Director Sean Cox

August 2, 2023

Million Dollar Quartet 2023 images by David Anthony Williams. Featuring Will Carr and Kaleigh Gorka. Lighting Design by Jon Cleveland, Costume + Prop Design by Alessia Urbani.

On July 27 and July 28, 2023, The Grove Theatre in Fenelon Falls opened its two mainstage performances of the season—The Comedy of Errors and Million Dollar Quartet. These performances mark a milestone for the second-year theatre company, being the first time that it is offering two professional productions in the same season. Needless to say, the theatre is excited to realize its goal of becoming a repertory theatre – the company will alternate between the two productions for the entire summer season.

The outdoor amphitheatre is located in a cedar grove on the south side of the Fenelon Fairgrounds.  Created under the auspices of the Kawartha Works Community Co-op, it welcomes guest performers throughout the year, with a unique ambience, being surrounded by the woods. With a capacity of 275 patrons, it has rapidly found a place in the local cultural scene. 

“There is something special about offering a place where people can come together and enjoy spending time together” explains Sean Cox, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of the Grove Theatre.  While the two current productions are quite different, they fit the company’s plans for the season: “It’s a big swing for us to offer two mainstage productions at the same time – we wanted to fill the venue with laughter and music.” 

Cox has a long-standing interest in Shakespeare, and is excited about sharing this joy with

Fenelon Falls audiences. The Comedy of Errors is one of William Shakespeare’s earliest works, and the young playwright produced a script more comical and lively than some of his later works. “The Comedy of Errors is definitely the most slapstick and ridiculous of Shakespeare’s plays,” says Cox.  “His script centres on the mistaken identities of two pairs of twins, who unknowingly have the same name, and dress the same.” As expected, much of the script is in the Shakespearean language but, remarkably, with the production set in 1938 New Orleans Mardi Gras, this light-hearted production translates well, making it accessible to all ages.

In contrast, explains Cox, “The Million Dollar Quartet is a love letter to Rock N’ Roll. It has been on the list of shows that we wanted to perform for a long time, because we thought it would appeal to the audiences here.” In 1956, Sam Phillips from Sun Records brought together Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins to play together. “They were young musicians, and their incredible careers were just beginning. There is something really appealing about the story of them as young artists. With the repertoire of those four great performers, the show is non-stop hits. Though none of them were at the pinnacle of their careers, and they are unpolished compared to their later work, it was a special moment when they played together. That youthful enthusiasm makes for fun energetic music that will fill the venue.” Many of the actors are also young and at the stage where their careers are blossoming, providing the audience a really authentic experience. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge of mounting these productions was casting the roles. The same actors perform in both productions—Rock N’ Roll one day and Shakespeare the next.  What made it especially challenging, is that the Million Dollar Quartet is a live performance—they are not faking it. “Not only did I have to find someone who could play the personality of Jerry Lee Lewis, but he also had to be an amazing piano player. And it’s fun to see Will Carr play Antipholus of Ephesus one night and Elvis the next.”

“The best part of a performance is when you get to share it with the audience. When you are in

rehearsal, you often wonder whether this or that is funny. It is just the performers and the audience, and when those two things come together, there is something magical. They need the audiences. The Million Dollar Quartet needs everyone clapping along, and loving these rock stars. With Shakespeare it is wonderful to see everyone come out of their shell. Once opening night comes, it can be a lot more fun.”

When Opening Night finally came on July 27, the crowd was excited to be there. Many people commented that it was nice to have a chance to have a night out and experience something new—which Shakespeare was for many of these patrons. Though practically everyone has studied Shakespeare in school, there is something different about seeing it on the stage. “Even though it is a 400-year-old play, it is fun and accessible. … I believe that Shakespeare’s plays are still being performed because they are still relevant; he wrote about universal themes so beautifully. I am interested in people noticing in the Comedy of Errors how little people have changed. Ephesus is a mysterious town full of witchcraft, dark sorcery and there are a lot of references to music and religion. That was what led us to set it in New Orleans during Mardi Gras,” explained Cox.

The following night, July 28, the Million Dollar Quartet opened and the show was awesome. As the actors played hit after hit by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, the crowd was pumped. At intermission, guests were dancing in the aisles.

All of the actors did a great job of portraying these icons, but Joshua Kilimnik stood out for his spectacular portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis—a true virtuoso. It is one of the most engaging musical performances that has taken place in Fenelon Falls in a long time. For anyone who enjoys Rock N’ Roll the Million Dollar Quartet is a must see!

If you haven’t yet experienced the magic of The Grove Theatre, don’t miss your opportunity to see both of these productions.  The Million Dollar Quartet and Comedy of Errors will play on alternate nights until August 27.

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