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Artistic director Des McAnuff to leave Stratford Festival after 2013 season

Canadian theatre director Des McAnuff.

randy quan The Globe and Mail

Des McAnuff has extended his contract as artistic director at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for a sixth and final year, it was announced today. The 2013 season will be the Tony-winning director's last as the head of the country's most prominent theatre company.

"I think six years is a good term for an artistic director," said McAnuff, who shared the artistic directorship with Marti Maraden and Don Shipley in 2008 before assuming the top job.

In a release – that also revealed Christopher Plummer's return to Stratford for its 60th anniversary season next year – McAnuff said that international projects would pull him away from Stratford, Ont., after 2013, but that he hopes to return as a guest director in the future.

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In an interview with The Globe and Mail, McAnuff, whose Broadway hits include musicals Jersey Boys and The Who's Tommy, clarified that those projects included two with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but that he would have moved on even without them looming. "I feel this is the right time," he said. "I might still have taken this decision even if I was planning on crossing the Sahara after leaving."

McAnuff has only just opened Stratford's 2011 season – including his own production of Jesus Christ Superstar on Friday night – but wanted to give the festival's Board of Governors plenty of time to search for a successor. The board will begin its hunt in August.

For the 2012 season, Christopher Plummer will return to Stratford once more to present a one-man show called A Word or Two, in which he tells how his love of writers such as Stephen Leacock, Bernard Shaw and William Shakespeare have shaped his life.

Also on the 60th anniversary playbill will be three of Shakespeare's works: Henry V, directed by McAnuff; Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Shaw Festival artistic director emeritus Christopher Newton; and Cymbeline, directed by general director Antoni Cimolino.

In the Studio Theatre, performer Rick Miller will serve up Shakespeare with a twist, presenting his popular one-man show MacHomer, in which Macbeth meets The Simpsons.

Chicago-based director Gary Griffin will return to the festival for the fourth season in a row to stage 42nd Street, with music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin and book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. Two other classic musicals will be staged: Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, directed by Ethan McSweeny, and You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, directed by Donna Feore.

Chris Abraham – who is considered a contender for the artistic directorship of the Festival – will make his directorial debut in the 1,826-seat Festival Theatre with Thornton Wilder's comedy The Matchmaker. Athenian director Thomas Moschopoulo will visit from Greece to stage a Greek tragedy, Sophocles' Elektra in a translation by Canadian poet Anne Carson. Three world premieres of Canadian works will round out McAnuff's penultimate season: Wanderlust, a musical written and directed by Morris Panych with music by Marek Norman; The Best Brothers, a comedy by Daniel MacIvor; and The Hirsch Project (working title), an intimate portrait of former Festival artistic director John Hirsch created by Alon Nashman and Paul Thompson.

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Theatre critic

J. Kelly Nestruck is The Globe's theatre critic. More

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