summer theatre toronto

The top 10 live theatre shows in Toronto this summer

The summer theatre season is upon us in Toronto, and there's lots to look forward to. Along with annual favourites like the Fringe and Summerworks festivals, local theatre-goers will be treated to a host of opportunities to see Shakespeare under the stars, a new production from Cirque du Soleil and a masterful allegory by Arthur Miller. The Toronto production of Titanic has been delayed, but there's no need to cry about it much, as there's so much else to see in the coming months.

Get primed for summer with our top picks for Toronto theatre this season.

Fringe Festival
Toronto's largest indie theatre festival kicks off summer with one of the most exciting and jam-packed weeks on the arts calendar. The fest spans 12 days and features over 140 shows across 35 different venues in the city. The list of addition programming (FringeKids!, a site-specific Art Category, Fringe Club, Tent Talks, etc.) will make your head spin. To plan your fringe journey, pick up a guide book at one of the locations listed on their website.

Shakespeare High Park - As You Like It and Titus Andronicus
Quite possibly the most romantic and summer-focused theatre of the year is that which takes place outdoors. Of the various options in Toronto, CanStage's Shakespeare in High Park is the best-produced and most popular. This year's offerings are As You Like It and Titus Andronicus - one comedy and one tragedy. The best bet is to see them both. Pack a picnic, discreetly sip on some wine, and just be thankful that you're not eating human pie. July through September - free.

Return to Grace
If you love rock 'n roll-style musicals, this one is for you. Giving an American music icon his due, Return to Grace tracks the highlights of Elvis' career via a well cast Steve Michaels as the King. This is a fast-paced upbeat production that will make older music fans particularly fuzzy and nostalgic. One of Mirvish's big productions this summer, you can expect the Ed Mirvish Theatre to be rockin'. Starts July 8. Tickets $30 to $100.

Humber River Shakespeare - Romeo and Juliet
Now this might just be the ultimate date night. Humber River Shakespeare presents outdoor theatre across the GTA, even venturing as far as Aurora, Caledon, and Collingwood. The production of choice this year is none other than Romeo and Juliet, the tragedy of two star-cross lovers from the warring houses of Capulet and Montague. In Toronto, you can find Humber River at Black Creek Pioneer Village, the Montgomery Inn, Old Mill Inn, and Etienne Brule Park. Full schedule and dates available here.

Guild Festival Theatre - The Importance of Being Earnest
Now in its fourth season, the Guild Festival Theatre presents a play each summer by the Scarborough Bluffs at Guild Gardens, a sprawling space dotted with old Toronto architectural details (part of the glorious old Temple Building resides here) that seems built for outdoor theatre. Past productions include an adaptation of Aristophanes' The Clouds in 2012 and Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard in 2011. This year the company presents The Importance of Being Earnest, the great Oscar Wilde comedy. July 17 to Aug 10 2014. Tickets $25.

Dusk Dances
If you haven't yet experienced Dusk Dances, there's something incredible about seeing a park crowd swell with spectators as the roving performances unfold. While it's a shame that Withrow will once again be the only Toronto park to host this year's series, there are sure to be some standout pieces among the works assembled this year: La vie (Sylvie Bouchard), Through the Mask (Peter Chin), Inner City Sirens Part II (Julia Aplin), Platoon (Milan Gervais), Doun Doun Dance (Sis Robert Hibbert), Incandescent (Kate Franklin and Meredith Thompson). August 4 to 10 - $10 suggested donation.

Running from August 7 to 17, the Summerworks Festival just seems to get better and better. The 2014 lineup of live art, music and theatrical performances has just been announced and features over 50 performance spread over its 11 days in venues like Theatre Passe Muraille, the Lower Ossington Theatre, the Factory Theatre, and a host of special venues. Check the festival website for the complete schedule, and stay tuned for our dedicated preview in the coming weeks.

Shakespeare in the Ruff - Cymbeline
This young and enthusiastic Shakespeare company enters its third year in Withrow Park with the somewhat under-appreciated problem play, Cymbeline. Less formal than Shakespeare in High Park, the performance takes place between two trees, which create something of a stage that viewers can setup rather close to. This is as intimate as it gets. And Cymbeline is as wild as it gets from both a narrative and stage direction standpoint. Runs August 12-31.

Cirque du Soleil's Kurious - Cabinet of Curiosities
Cirque du Soleil returns to Toronto this summer under the big tent in the Port Lands. Already hailed as one of the better productions for the troupe in years, Kurious brings steampunk into the big time with a dazzling spectacle that probes by the spirit of invention and notions of the real. This promises to be circus performance at its best. Starts August 28. Ticket prices are all over the map, so check the Cirque website for more info.

The Crucible
Arthur Miller's masterpiece returns to Toronto courtesy of Soulpepper. While McCarthyism might seem like a distant memory, the allegorical take on the Red Scare via an examination of the Salem Witch Trials hasn't really aged so much given contemporary rhetoric surrounding otherness (not to mention the intolerance and fear than still marks North American culture). Starts August 30th. Tickets $29 to $74.


Labcab Festival
Taking place on the last weekend in July, Parkdale's Labcab Festival will stretch across Queen St. from Dufferin to Roncesvalles with a variety of live performances, art exhibits, and concerts. Check out the full lineup here.

What shows are you excited for this summer? Let us know in the comments!

pure leafThanks to Pure Leaf for sponsoring our summer adventures. For more things to do this summer, check out our Best of Summer page.

With contributions by Keith Bennie

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