Of late, the Guthrie Theater has had a tradition of producing a classic crowd-pleasing musical every summer (most recently: South Pacific, The Music Man, and My Fair Lady). But inexplicably, they have never produced a musical by the great Stephen Sondheim on the main stage. Perhaps it's because Sondheim is not easy, to do or to watch; not as readily familiar and accessible as the classics of the '50s. But Sondheim is the Shakespeare of musicals, and it's about time the Guthrie remedied this gross oversight. They do so in splendid fashion this summer with their stunning production of what is perhaps the musical theater master's greatest masterpiece, Sunday in the Park with George, directed masterfully by Artistic Director Joseph Haj. Sondheim and frequent collaborate James Lapine first joined forces on this piece that won them a Pulitzer Prize, getting their inspiration from the 19th century painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat, one of the leaders of the Impressionist movement. Artists being inspired by the work of another artist who lived a century earlier to create art about art. It's pretty meta, and no surprise that it's a favorite among musical theater artists. The Guthrie has assembled a sparkling cast and created a gorgeous design that brings this work of art about art itself to brilliant life.
Saturday, June 24, 2017
Monday, June 19, 2017
Old Log Theatre's contribution to the summer blockbuster musical is Ghost the Musical, based on the popular 1990 movie. It premiered on Broadway in 2012 and ran for only a few months, and when I saw the tour the following year I was not impressed. At the time I wrote, "At its core, Ghost is a small intimate love story, but Ghost the Musical is a big splashy techno-heavy 'show,' in which the beauty of that story gets lost. The story would be better served with less tricks, a smaller cast, fewer showy songs, and a greater focus on what we really care about - the relationship between Molly and Sam." I'm thrilled to report that Old Log has done just that. The score, which is quite good, the story, and the relationships between the characters are more the focus of the show, with lower tech effects that serve the story rather than drawing attention away from it. If you're looking for a satisfying summer musical experience, head out to Old Log Theatre, one of the oldest theaters in Minnesota, in lovely Excelsior on Lake Minnetonka.
Sunday, June 18, 2017
A 2013 Ivey Award winner for Overall Excellence returns this summer! Open Eye Figure Theatre's delightfully silly Milly and Tillie is playing at their charmingly intimate space in South Minneapolis through June 25, and then moves to Artistry in Bloomington July 8 through August 13. Like the silliest public television show for kids brought to full and vivid life, sisters Milly and Tillie Silly will delight their guests, the audience, for just under an hour, at which point you will be sad to say good-bye to them. The website says "recommended especially for grade school children and toddlers as well as parents and grandparents!!" I am none of the above, and I still enjoyed watching the Silly sisters, and only slightly less, I enjoyed watching the tiny humans who were completely enraptured by them.
Saturday, June 17, 2017
"Don Giovanni" by Skylark Opera Theatre and Angels & Demons Entertainment at the Women's Club of Minneapolis
Skylark Opera's Annual Summer Festival. Last year, the festival was abruptly cancelled as the company went through financial and leadership challenges. I'm happy to report that Skylark is back, rebranded as Skylark Opera Theatre, now with their second show under new Artistic Director Robert Neu. The Summer Festival has not returned, but Skylark's commitment to presenting accessible opera in English hasn't changed. Their second production (after The Tragedy of Carmen earlier this year) is a site-specific production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, with new English translation by Robert Neu and Gabriel Preisser, who also plays the title character. It bears more than a little resemblance to last summer's site-specific Mozart (The Marriage of Figaro in the James J. Hill House) by Robert Neu's other company, Angels and Demons Entertainment, a co-producer of this show. Like Marriage of Figaro, this Don Giovanni is an intimate, immersive experience that one doesn't usually get with opera.
Thursday, June 15, 2017
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts for just one week. Based on the classic 1951 movie of the same name, this is a movie-to-musical adaptation that makes sense. The film itself (which I admittedly have never seen) was inspired by music, George Gershwin's "jazz-inspired symphonic poem" An American in Paris, and is filled with several other of Gerswhin's songs (with lyrics by Ira Gershwin) and dancing. Lots of dancing. The stage version (with book by Craig Lucas and direction/choreography by Christopher Wheeldon) has slightly adapted the story, added and removed Gerswhin songs, and thereby turned the movie into a thoroughly enjoyable dance musical. I've heard that the reason to see this show is the dancing, but I found a few more reasons to see it. Read on to find out.
Monday, June 12, 2017
her final novel Persuasion, has received a new adaptation by local theater artist Kayla Hambek for Aethem Theatre Company, and it's just delightful. Full of the Jane Austen charm, the familiar story of a strong, determined, principled woman who won't settle for less than her heart's desire, brought to life by a large wonderful cast with creative use of movement to convey emotions - it's a must-see for Janeites.
the highest grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation), Gone with the Wind had an infamously difficult beginning. Producer David O. Selznick bought the rights to the popular book shortly after it was published in 1936, and spent years obsessing over every detail of the production, hiring and firing directors and screenwriters along the way. The play Moonlight and Magnolias, which premiered at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in 2004, imagines one week in this years-long process in which Selznick locks himself in his office along with screenwriter Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming to rewrite the script after filming has already begun. The play is part hilarious look at Hollywood and what makes it tick, part recap of the popular movie, and part exploration of the balance between making a movie you can stand behind and giving the people what they want. Lyric Arts' production is fast and funny, with a strong four-person cast that works and plays well together.
Sunday, June 11, 2017
folk-rock/folk/Americana is my favorite genre of music. I was primed and ready to love this show, and love it I did. Charming and funny yet poignant, with a fantastic score played by greats from the local music scene, and a cast that couldn't be better - what's not to love? Well maybe a few things - a bit of the ending I didn't love, and a confusing timeline issue.* But other than that I loved everything about this show that is right up my alley, and I hope to get back to see it before it closes on July 23.
Saturday, June 10, 2017
Romeo and Juliet nine times in some form or other (not counting West Side Story, its most successful adaptation). Not because I particularly love Romeo and Juliet (although I still remember a few lines I memorized in high school English class many years ago). But because it's done a lot (the Guthrie is opening their season with it this fall). So why do it again? Why see it again? Romeo and Juliet still fall in love at first sight. Romeo still kills Tybalt. Romeo and Juliet still react to his banishment with despair rather than just running away together. And the friar's stupid messenger still fails to deliver the message, resulting in the senseless death of both of these teenagers. But there's a reason it's done so often and has inspired so many adaptations (the latest being James Corden and Emily Blunt's musical version). It's a story of love, crazy stupid irrational love, in the face of hate and violence. Mission Theatre Company promises a Romeo and Juliet like you've never seen before. And they deliver, with an energetic and physical adaptation that builds from romantic comedy to tragedy over two intense hours with no intermission.
Thursday, June 8, 2017
Monday, June 5, 2017
one-act 1990 Off-Broadway play The Baltimore Waltz is a funny, charming, poignant little waltz of a play. Playwright Paula Vogel wrote the play in response to her brother's death, and that sense of nostalgia, grief, and the ephemeral joy of life permeates every scene. The appealing three-person cast in the intimate setting sweep the audience up with them in this fantastical journey of the imagination.
22 years, 5 months, and 5 days ago, I was a math major studying abroad in Salzburg, traveling around Europe during the winter break. While in London, my friend suggested we go see this play called Arcadia (she was a fan of the playwright Tom Stoppard because of his play Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead, which was made into a movie in 1990). We did, and I immediately and absolutely fell in love with it, so much so that the next day I bought the script from a bookstore (to date the only script that I own). I've only seen it twice since then - once at my alma mater a few years after I graduated, and once at Theatre in the Round 14 years ago. I re-read the play a few months ago in anticipation of Chameleon Theatre Circle's production this month, and was once again entranced by Stoppard's brilliantly clever mix of math, landscaping, poetry, romance, academics, and comedy. Last night, I was thrilled to watch it come alive before me in Chameleon's excellent production with a really wonderful cast, elegant design, and clear direction. It's quite a treat to revisit a play I fell in love with 22 years ago, and discover I love it even more now.