Soulpepper launches its eighth season with something old that's also something new - Ferenc Molnar 's 1928 Olympia , adapted by Michael (The Drawer Boy) Healey . The tale of a princess and a hussar captain, the piece looks with a comic eye at manners, morals and class differences. Albert Schultz directs Oliver Dennis , Healey, Stuart Hughes , Nancy Palk and Brenda Robins . Previews begin July 13, opens July 21 and runs to September 29 at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). 416-973-4000.
The Jamboree Toronto International Improv Festival is entering its fourth year, and here's hoping audiences - and not just participants - come to savour some of the best comedy around. Local improv aces Slap Happy , Mosshammer & Morency , Shortweird Radio and the cast of Hairy Patter And The Improviser's Stone are joined by Chicago fishion-duo improvisers Bassprov , the wickedly funny D & J and Sutton & Hallal . The big opening headliners are the writers from a little show called Saturday Night Live who will be performing - live in T.O. The fest runs August 15 to 21 at the Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley), the Bad Dog Theatre (138 Danforth) and the newly added space Betty's Upstairs Lounge (240 King East). www.torontoimprovfest.com.
Get set for the year's busiest 12 days of theatre, as the Toronto Fringe kicks off its 17th year. Bigger than ever - it features 134 shows chosen by lottery - the fest's a great way to see new works by established artists, but perhaps more importantly to discover artists new to the scene. Participants this year include T.J. Dawe , Nicola Gunn , Brock Simpson , Kate Lynch , Judith Thompson , Chris Abraham , Eli Batalion and Jerome Sable . Opens July 6 and runs to July 17. St. Vladimir's (620 Spadina), Robert Gill (214 College), Artword (75 Portland), Factory (125 Bathurst), Tarragon (30 Bridgman), Royal St. George (120 Howland), Poor Alex (296 Brunswick), Helen Gardiner Phelan (79A St George), Glen Morris (4 Glen Morris), Palmerston Library (560 Palmerston) and various bring-your-own-venues. 416-966-1062.
The Merchant Of Venice is in several ways a comedy, but the character of the Jewish moneylender Shylock gives the play a darker undercurrent. See how Shakespeare in the Rough handles the play's comic and serious sides, especially with the cross-gender and cross-cultural casting of aboriginal actor Jani Lauzon as Shylock. Helmed by artistic director Sanjay Talwar , the production also features Richard Alan Campbell , Carly Street , Richard Harte , Pip Dwyer and Jennifer Villaverde . Opens July 21 and runs to September 5 in Withrow Park . 647-438-6742.
Calling all Cullen fans
Now that Brent Butt's daytimer is full up, Seán Cullen has become the next comedy guy who ought to be better known in this country. His act includes irreverent silliness, dead-on pop observations and surreal songs. Maybe he'll throw in an anecdote or two about his regular stint on the Jay Leno show or the aborted local production of The Producers, in which he starred. He makes a rare headlining appearance at the Laugh Resort (370 King West), July 12 to 16. 416-364-5233.
Move me to the lake
If you find a big hole in your wallet come the end of the summer, head down to the waterfront for some performing arts on the cheap. The National Ballet of Canada 's annual Ballet By The Water series is free of charge and performed al fresco. This summer's lineup includes the world-class company dancing outgoing artistic director James Kudelka 's Full Circles and Romeo And Juliet Just Before Parting - both companies premieres - and excerpts from perennial faves like Swan Lake and La Sylphide , both on next year's NBC lineup. Hint: go with someone special; it makes a very romantic date. August 23 to 25 at Harbourfront Centre 's concert stage (235 Queens Quay West). 416-345-9595, 416-973-4000.