Saturday, July 23, 2016

"Sweeney Todd" by Mill City Summer Opera at the Mill City Museum Ruin Courtyard

In just it's 5th season, Mill City Summer Opera has become hugely successful, with six sold-out performances of fantastic outdoor opera in the spectacular location that is the Ruin Courtyard at the Mill City Museum. And even though this year's selection, Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, isn't technically an opera, it works beautifully performed by this 30+ member opera company (and orchestra of nearly that many) in this unique location. Only one performance remains, but tickets have been sold out for months, so watch their Facebook page in early 2017 for the announcement of next year's show, and get tickets early!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

2016 Minnesota Fringe Festival Must-Sees

Well friends, it's that time of year again. Time to shirk all responsibilities of adulthood, abandon your friends, family, and pets, and binge on theater for 11 days straight. That's right, the Minnesota Fringe Festival, the largest unjuried theater festival in the nation, is upon us. This year's festival includes 168 shows less than an hour in length showcasing the best (and occasionally the worst) that this theater/art/dance/comedy community has to offer. I've steadily been increasing my Fringe consumption every year from a mere ten shows in 2011, my first year of Fringing, to a high of 44 last year. The maximum number of shows that any one person can possibly see, while still obeying the rules of the space-time continuum, is 56. That means seeing a show in every timeslot available. I thought it might be fun to see if I can in fact see 56 shows during the Fringe Festival. Just once, to see if it can be done, and then I'll likely never do it again. And let's face it, I'm not getting any younger, I better do it now while staying up past 11 pm for 11 nights in a row is still (barely) within the realm of possibility. I've run seven marathons, so obviously I like giving myself crazy challenges, just to see if I can do it. And also because it's fun, right? Keep reading for a list of some of the shows I'm hoping to see, and why.

"Glensheen" at the History Theatre

History Theatre's new original musical Glensheen was such a hit last fall, they brought it back this summer. If you missed it last time around, now's your chance to see this clever and wickedly funny musical. And even if you did see it last year, it's definitely worth a second viewing; I enjoyed it even more the second time around. They've brought back the original cast, a talented, charismatic, and hard-working ensemble of just seven actors who seem like more, who are if anything even more comfortable and playful in their many roles than they were last year. Sitting up in the balcony this time, I had a bird's eye view of the action and was even more impressed with this cast, the set, the lighting, the band, the sound, the costumes, and the way every element of production comes together to tell this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story of Minnesota's most notorious murder mystery. You have until the end of July to see this fantastic new creation and tickets are going fast - don't miss out a second time! And keep reading for my full thoughts on the show from last fall.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Fresh Ink: New Works at Illusion Theater

Every summer, Illusion Theater presents staged readings of new works in a program called "Fresh Ink." This year's selections include Revolving Stage, co-written by and celebrating the life of late Twin Cities actor Phil Kilbourne, and The Gest of Robin Hood, a new musical adaptation of the beloved and familiar tale. After a week or two of workshops with the creators and cast, each has four public performances, followed by discussions in which audience members give feedback on what they've seen, an important part of the new work development process. Revolving Stage was last weekend (sorry, you missed it!) and The Gest of Robin Hood plays this weekend. Head to Illusion if you can to support the creation and development of new work!

Monday, July 18, 2016

"The Drowsy Chaperone" by Mounds View Community Theater at Irondale High School

Despite premiering on Broadway only ten years ago, The Drowsy Chaperone feels like a classic old-fashioned Broadway musical, and is in fact a celebration of the classic old-fashioned musical and the people who love it. My local community theater, Mounds View Community Theater, has chosen it for their summer production this year, and that choice has paid off. It's a charming show with a show-within-a-show format that allows for fun silly numbers and also commentary on the musical form, which is a perfect choice for community theater. Because who loves musicals more than community theaters, a group of people who volunteer their time to put together a show for their community because it's something they love to do and share? That joy and enthusiasm comes through in this well-cast and well-designed show.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

"The Palabras Project" by Other Tiger Productions at Park Square Theatre

After spending the evening walking around the historic James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue watching theater, I spent the next night walking around the historic Hamm Building in downtown St. Paul watching theater. But unlike the comic opera wedding in The Marriage of Figaro, the wedding depicted in The Palabras* Project, based on Spanish playwright Frederico Garcia Lorca's 1932 tragedy Blood Wedding, is decidedly less happy. If "blood wedding" makes you think of Game of Throne's "red wedding," you're not far off. But this isn't a straight-forward adaptation of the play. New theater company Other Tiger Productions, founded by local theater artists Jessica Huang and Ricardo Vázquez with a mission "to pursue other forms, stories, and modes of collaboration in order to present an inclusive and global theater experience," has assembled a collection of short pieces around the theme of Blood Wedding. Incorporating music, dance, and puppetry, as well as theater, the pieces are performed in various locations in and around Park Square Theatre's basement Boss Stage, including hallways, lobbies, and rehearsal rooms. It's a truly unique experience that goes beyond theater, and a wonderful new (or old) form of storytelling.

"The Marriage of Figaro" by Angels and Demons Entertainment at the James J. Hill House

One of Mozart's most beloved operas, performed by nationally renowned opera singers and local favorites, set in the perfect and intimate location of the grand and beautiful James J. Hill House? I'm in! In by the skin of my teeth, that is. I consider myself very lucky to be one of the 140* people (4 shows x 35 audience members per show) to have had the wonderful experience that was Angels and Demons Entertainment's production of The Marriage of Figaro (with support from the Twin Cities Opera Guild). I'm not much of an opera-goer, unless it's made more accessible by companies like Skylark Opera (who always perform in English, and whose Summer Festival will hopefully return next year). But this was perhaps the most accessible and engaging opera I've ever attended. Sung in English in four different locations within the house that perfectly suited the story, it truly felt like I was in the midst of this crazy upstairs/downstairs story. I only regret that the audience was so limited, and I hope that they bring the production back sometime and expand it so that more people can know this truly lovely and special experience.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

"Talley's Folly" at Artistry

The theater previously known as Bloomington Civic opens their second season* under the name Artistry with the charming two-person play Talley's Folly. It's an ambitious season that includes interesting choices (Wit, The Baker's Wife) and big names (Christina Baldwin, Sally Wingert, and Bradley Greenwald). Talley's Folly is a quiet beginning to this big season, but a lovely one. The 1980 Pulitzer Prize winner by Lanford Wilson is a sweet, funny, and poignant romance set in WWII era rural Missouri, featuring heartfelt natural performances by the cast and wonderful production design.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Getting the Word Out: New Media and How to Use It

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel at the first ever Minnesota Theater Alliance Statewide Theater Conference. The three-day conference was held at my alma mater* St. John's University and featured keynote speakers and breakout sessions covering topics as varied as facility safety, revenue, class and equity, sound, mask-making, and the collaborative process (click here for full details on the conference schedule). I did not attend the full conference, just the session in which I participated, but from what I could tell it seemed to be a really wonderful collection of theater people sharing information and working together to make us all better. Check out the Minnesota Theater Alliance website for more information on who they are and what they do, and watch for news of next year's conference. To see some of what happened at this year's conference, search the hashtag #MTASTC on all of the social medias.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Broadway Romance: Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana in Concert at Orchestra Hall

Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana are Tony-nominated Broadway/TV/Film stars who have roots right here in Minnesota. Laura grew up here and performed on many stages around town before finding fame through the reality show competition Grease: You're the One That I Want, which she won, thereby landing the role of Sandy in Grease on Broadway and beginning her successful career on the national stage. Santino graduated from the U of M/Guthrie BFA program and did several plays at the Guthrie, most notably playing the title role in Hamlet, the last play performed at the old Guthrie Theater before the new Guthrie opened in 2006. He also has since found his way to Broadway, film (as the voice of Hans in Frozen), and TV (in the brilliant CW music-comedy series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend which you should go watch right now if you haven't yet, Season 1 available on Netflix). Laura and Santino's Broadway paths crossed in 2013 when they co-starred in the 2013 production of Cinderella, for which they were both nominated for a Tony. Fitting then, that these two Minnesota actors and Broadway stars would reunite for a concert called A Broadway Romance, developed by Ted Sterling (himself a Tony-winner for the orchestration of the stunning Light in the Piazza). The three performed the concert Sunday night at Orchestra Hall, and it was a charming romance indeed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Calendar Girls" at Park Square Theatre

"This is my favorite kind of play because it celebrates how deliciously human we are while also revealing how incredibly generous we can be when one of our own is in need of hope." This quote from director Mary M. Finnerty perfectly sums up the spirit of Park Square Theatre's Calendar Girls, the play based on the movie based on the real life story of a group of average, every-day, extraordinary women who come together to support one of their own by taking their clothes off. How does getting naked, or rather nude, help their friend? The calendar they pose for and sell raises hundreds of thousands of dollars, er... pounds, for Leukemia and Lymphoma research, the disease that took her husband. The play based on this inspiring story is truly a feel-good summer comedy with tons of heart and sisterhood. You'll laugh, you'll squirm in your seat, you'll shed a few (or many) tears, and you'll fall in love with these women (both the characters and the incredibly talented actors who play them) as they embrace their womanhood and their strength, and each other.

Monday, June 27, 2016

"South Pacific" at the Guthrie Theater

"Are we just as naive in America, even today, as we stand at the global altar, concurrently rejecting and embracing new faces? In our national mind and on our conscience we can hear the first three notes of South Pacific heralding again and again the foreignness and the familiarity of what we face, the potential and the risk. If music can store energy, it can release it."

Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1949 musical South Pacific is undoubtedly a genius musical score and a sweeping romance. But as the above quote from composer Adam Guettel (grandson of Richard Rodgers) indicates, South Pacific is so much more than just a pretty musical, and was truly ahead of its time. It told a story of interracial relationships 20 years before Loving v. Virginia abolished laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The song "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" is a brilliant thesis on racism and prejudice. When asked to remove the song because "it's untimely and it's not what patrons want to hear when they go to a musical," Oscar Hammerstein replied, "That's what the play is about!" Nearly seventy years later, with issues of immigration and prejudice on the daily news and in every political debate, South Pacific's themes of fear of the other vs. embracing and accepting the other are perhaps more relevant than ever. It's a perfect choice, then, to conclude Guthrie Artistic Director Joseph Haj's first season, and he does justice to this beautiful and meaningful classic with this wonderful production.