Friday, October 28, 2016

"Black Death: The Musical" by Apostasia Productions at Sabes JCC Theater

The new original musical Black Death: The Musical runs for three performances only, just in time for Halloween. I was invited to attend the final dress rehearsal a few nights ago. Writer Susan Woehrle and composer Scott Keever have created a well-researched piece with a unique musical style. They originally intended it to be for the Fringe Festival (read my fellow Twin Cities Theater Blogger Kendra's interview with Susan here), and it definitely has that feel. If you miss those Fringey musicals of August, enjoy dark humor and original music, and don't mind driving all the way out to St. Louis Park, you might want to check out Black Death: The Musical - this weekend only!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"110 in the Shade" by Second Fiddle Productions at Camp Bar

Second Fiddle Productions, the company that brings us one-night-only staged readings of rarely produced musicals, closed their third season with the 1963 musical 110 in the Shade. I became aware of them in the middle of their second season, and now I don't miss a show. It's great for my musical theater education - for a musical theater geek, there are a lot of old shows I don't know, especially if they're not often done. It's also a great opportunity to watch some of the Twin Cities finest music-theater talent tackle something they might not otherwise have the opportunity to. Assuming they get the grant money and donations to keep this relatively simple operation going, they'll be back in 2017 with three more musicals I've never heard of! Watch their Facebook page for details.

Monday, October 24, 2016

"The Baker's Wife" at Artistry

I had a rare experience at the theater yesterday - I went to see a musical I knew nothing about and was absolutely charmed by it. Stephen Schwartz's Wicked may be the 10th longest-running show on Broadway and one of the most "popular" musicals of recent years, but his 1976 musical The Baker's Wife never made it to Broadway and is rarely produced. I'm grateful that Artistry's resident Music Director Anita Ruth was finally able to do her "dream show," and what a dream it is! The absolutely lovely score, the touching story about love and forgiveness, and the cast, led by everyone's favorite Bradley Greenwald and soon-to-be everyone's favorite Jill Iverson, make this a dream show indeed. Head to Bloomington before November 12 and take a chance on an unfamiliar musical, you just might fall in love.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"Playlabs" at the Playwrights' Center

Playlabs. It sounds like a scientific experiment about plays. And it sort of is. While the play-writing process is not as rigorous and clearly defined as the scientific process, there is a process involved in bringing a new play to the stage. The Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis is one of the best resources in the country for facilitating that process. Now in their 45th year, they work with 1700 playwrights every year in some capacity. That's a lot of new plays! And while we love our classics, and they're important to keep alive, new works of theater are what keep theater thriving and evolving and moving forward. The 33rd annual Playlabs festival is a week-long celebration of this concept. There are a number of special events during the week, but the focus is on three plays by three playwrights who have the chance to workshop the play with top local talent (actors, directors, and designers) and present two readings to the public. As audience members, this is our chance to be part of the play development process. And it's free! Playlabs ends today, but follow the Playwrights' Center on social media and keep your eye on the "Events" page of their website for more opportunities to see readings of new works, including the upcoming Ruth Easton New Play Series.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"Finding Fish" at Illusion Theater

Did you know that there's a fishing crisis in New England? Being a vegetarian who never really liked to eat or catch fish, living in land-locked Minnesota, I've never heard about this issue. I've never even thought about how environmental issues affect those making their living off the sea. But I'm thinking about it now, thanks to Carlyle Brown's new play Finding Fish, now receiving its world premiere at Illusion Theater. Rather than just being a boring recitation of facts (like "from 1991 to 2003 the cod catch fell 99%," as noted in the thick program that has tons of information and resources about environmental issues, particularly those related to water), Finding Fish combines the realism of family drama with fantastical elements to create a story that's both thought-provoking and entertaining.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Hold These Truths" at the Guthrie Theater

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal." ("And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I'm 'a compel him to include women in the sequel, werk!") Before Lin-Manuel Miranda made it impossible for me to read this quote without singing, I remember learning it in history class. And I remember my teacher saying that what the authors of the Declaration of Independance really meant was, firstly, men and not women, and secondly, the implied qualifiers of white, land-owning, and age 21 or older. In the last 200+ years, we have worked to expand that definition to include women, people of color, young people, poor people, and LGBT people, so that truly in America "all people are created equal." But the road towards that expansion has not been easy and it hasn't been linear; it's more of a two steps forward one step back kind of thing. And one huge step back was the internment of Japanese people during World War II, when over 100,000 people, 62% of them American citizens, were forced to leave their homes and live in camps hundreds or thousands of miles away. It's unthinkable that the president ordered this and our government allowed it, yet at the same time, it's scarily similar to what's going on today in terms of fear of immigrants and "others." The one-man play Hold These Truths, now playing in the Guthrie's Dowling Studio, tells the specific story of one man who defied these orders in a way that makes the injustice feel real and personal, and reminds us that we must never let it happen again.

Monday, October 17, 2016

"Always... Patsy Cline" at Lyric Arts

The plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper is known as "the day the music died." But what about the plane crash a few years later that killed Patsy Cline? On that day the world lost one of the best voices it's ever known. Always... Patsy Cline gives us a peek into the human side of the music icon as we get to know her through her fan, friend, and pen pal Louise. The new production at Lyric Arts in Anoka is perfectly cast, full of heart, and highly entertaining for anyone whose ever heard Patsy's music, and let's face it - who hasn't?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"The Last Firefly" at Children's Theatre Company

The new play The Last Firefly by Naomi Iizuka, commissioned by the Children's Theatre Company, feels like a new fairy tale for the modern age. The playwright has combined elements from several Japanese folktales and put at the center a child of a single mother who has never met his father and is living with an abusive stepfather. A lot of today's kids can relate to this situation in some way. Boom goes on a hero's journey in search of his father to help his mother, and along the way discovers his own strength. It's a familiar story, but one told in a new and modern way with some fantastic design elements to create an engaging 80-minute play.

"Pericles" by Ten Thousand Things at Open Book

When I first saw Pericles, at the Guthrie earlier this year, I wrote, "I had a bit of a hard time with the play (as I often do the first time I see a Shakespeare play, unless Ten Thousand Things is doing it)." Lucky for me, Ten Thousand Things is doing it! And while I appreciated that production of Pericles, it didn't resonate with me the way that TTT's new production does, it didn't get inside me and make me feel for the characters and understand their plight. I should just give up seeing anybody else do Shakespeare, because no one does it like Ten Thousand Things. They make these 400-year-old plays so relevant and relatable and current, in a way that makes me love Shakespeare! The complicated plot of Pericles, filled with many characters and locations, is made simple through the use of smart editing, props, costumes, and most of all these eight incredible actors who make Shakespearean language sound so natural and easily understandable. Trust me, you've never seen Shakespeare quite like this.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

"Jitney" at Penumbra Theatre

Jitney is the first play in the so-called "Century Cycle" that August Wilson wrote, but, set in the '70s, it's the 8th in the series chronologically. Each of the ten plays speaks to the African American experience (which I've learned at Penumbra Theatre is really the American experience) in one decade in the 20th Century. This is only the third Century play I've seen, after Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (set in the '20s) and Two Trains Running (the '60s) in 2011. I seem to recall that Penumbra planned to produce one of these plays every year, or maybe every other, but plans were derailed during their financial setback of 2012. I'm happy that they've returned to August Wilson's work during this, their 40th anniversary season. Penumbra has a long history with August Wilson, having produced his first professional play and more of his plays that any other theater. We are privileged to have Penumbra in our community, and I hope that they continue to do the Century plays until I've seen them all. August Wilson wrote such rich characters and specific experiences that speak to the universal truths of friends and family, love and heartbreak. And Penumbra's troupe of actors is experienced and quite brilliant in bringing these stories to life, as they do in Jitney.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"The Parchman Hour" at the Guthrie Theater

"Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom. Hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah!" The closing number of the fantastic music-theater piece The Parchman Hour by Mike Wiley is so uplifting and inspirational. This "docudrama" about the 1961 Freedom Riders, in which primarily young people, black and white, from all over the country, came together to make a stand for desegregation of the bus stations of the South, is pretty heavy and difficult to watch at times. But in the end it left me with an overwhelming feeling of hope. We've come a long way in 55 years, people are no longer beat up by a mob of bigots for sitting in the wrong waiting room, but we have our own issues today (the play ends with a chilling recitation of the names of black men and women who have been killed by police in recent years). But I believe that there are more people in this country like those Freedom Riders, perhaps not as brave and selfless, but with our minds stayed on freedom, than there are like the people who stood in their way. If we stand (or sit) together, stand up for freedom, practice non-violence, and sing, we can get through this difficult time and achieve true justice and equality for all. At least that's how I felt leaving the Guthrie Theater last night; such is the power of The Parchman Hour.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"Teenage Misery" by Revisionary Theatre Collective at Sandbox Theatre

There's another new theater company in town. They're called Revisionary Theatre Collective, and they're making their debut with a remount of the 2013 Minnesota Fringe musical Teenage Misery. It was one of my favorite Fringe shows that year, about which I wrote:
What do you get if you combine the Stephen King novels Misery and Carrie with the musicals Sweeney Todd and Bye Bye Birdie? You get this odd and delightful mishmash of a musical, that doesn't shy away from the material it borrows from (the opening song is "attend the tale of Carrie Black," and Conrad Birdie is replaced by Shane West). A little rough around the edges, but the songs are great, with clever commentary on what it's like to be a young person growing up today, and winking jokes about "no time for proper character introduction, we only have an hour."