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Utah Shakespearean Festival Cheers Culture Vultures and Nature Lovers

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AT first glance, Cedar City, Utah, looks like little more than home to a gaggle of fast-food outlets and the ubiquitous Wal-Mart. The town of about 17,000 people, located four hours from Salt Lake City and three hours from Las Vegas, is only accessible by ''puddle jumper,'' and the airport is smaller than most convenience stores.

But every night and most afternoons during the summer, huge audiences come here to see Shakespeare productions and other classic plays and musicals at the Utah Shakespearean Festival.

Cedar City's accessibility to spectacular scenery has helped make it a major tourist destination and a boon to the festival. Within a day's drive are seven national parks (the nearest being Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park). The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is only a three-hour drive, and the Cedar Breaks National Monument, a magnificent natural-rock amphitheater, is minutes away. It makes for a perfect vacation, satisfying culture vultures and nature lovers alike. And there's a wide variety of places to stay within walking distance of festival theaters.

The festival, located on the beautiful campus of Southern Utah University, is now in its 34th year, having been founded by Fred C. Adams in 1962. It currently boasts two theaters: the Adams Shakespearean Theatre, built in 1977, an outdoor Tudor-style playhouse that resembles the probable design of Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre, seating 777; and the indoor Randall L. Jones Theatre, built in 1989, seating 763.

The festival's current season, which concludes Sept. 2, includes six productions: Shakespeare's ''Much Ado About Nothing,'' ''Othello,'' ''The Tempest,'' and ''Henry VIII''; Kaufman and Hart's Pulitzer Prize-winning ''You Can't Take It With You''; and the musical ''A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.''

Having packed in four productions during a recent weekend, I can attest to the high quality and professionalism of the festival's offerings. (Regretfully, scheduling problems forced me to miss their ''Henry VIII,'' a work so rarely performed that this production attracted Shakespeare lovers from all over the country.)

The casts, which include a mixture of professional actors and students from the university, displayed a uniformly skillful grasp of Shakespearean language, as well as the necessary comic flair for the two non-Shakespearean works.

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