Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"Newsies" on tour at the Orpheum Theatre

I'm just a little bit too old to be among the ranks of teenage girls that fell in love with the 1992 Disney movie musical Newsies. Loosely based on the historical newsboys strike of 1899, the movie starred a young Christian Bale and was a flop at the box office, but found success among said teenage girls through the burgeoning home video market. So it seems inevitable that Disney would capitalize on this popularity by bringing the movie musical to the stage, as they did with the 2012 Broadway hit that ran for four years and launched a tour that is finally landing in Minneapolis this week. While it's very much a Disney production and I'm still a little too old to completely fall in love with it, I thoroughly enjoyed Newsies because of the fantastic dancing by a huge cast of charismatic young men (this is not a show that employs a lot of women), impressive set, rousing songs, and charming performances by all. But it's only here for a week, so embrace your inner teenage girl and head on down to the Orpheum Theatre.*

"Let's Get Down and Thirty" at Lush Bar featuring a reading of "For Tonight"

One of the very first things that I wrote about when I started Cherry and Spoon back in the summer of 2010 was a very fun and entertaining cabaret/comedy show called Where's My Tony?, created, written, and hosted by Whitney Rhodes and Josh Campbell. I've enjoyed watching both of them over the last five and a half years wherever their careers took them, and I was thrilled to watch Whitney host a show of her own this past Monday. Every year, she very generously uses her birthday celebration to raise money for a cause she cares about. This year for her 30th birthday, the money raised went to Mixed Blood Theatre, where she currently works as the Development Manager. Mixed Blood is celebrating their 40th birthday this year, so it seems quite appropriate to celebrate these two milestones with a great evening of beloved and new musical theater.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"Rough Cuts" at Nautilus Music-Theater: "Bold in Their Breeches" and "The Lady with a Lapdog"

Have you ever been to "Rough Cuts," Nautilus Music-Theater's monthly series in which they present readings of new works of music-theater? Even though they've presented 170 "Rough Cuts" over 23 years, you're forgiven if you've never been, or even if you've never heard of it. Their website is uninformative (but it appears they're working on improving it) and while they are on Facebook and Twitter, they're not very active on either. Maybe they like it that way, because even with this lack of publicity there was a standing room only crowd at their small studio space in St. Paul's Lowertown neighborhood last night. But that's why I'm here, to let you know about delicious well-kept secrets in the local theater world such as "Rough Cuts."

Monday, February 1, 2016

"Country Roads: The Music of John Denver" at Plymouth Playhouse

Shortly into Country Roads: The Music of John Denver, creator and host Dennis Curley tell us a story about his aunts and uncles sitting around the living room laughing, telling stories, and singing songs of the great singer/songwriters of the '60s and '70s, including John Denver. Dennis has successfully recreated that experience on the stage of the Plymouth Playhouse. He's not trying to imitate John Denver, or tell John Denver's life story, he's simply singing the songs that he loves and sharing what this music means to him, his friends and family, and the audience. There's really no theater here; it's a casual concert of one John Denver fan (and his awesome band) singing to a roomful of John Denver fans, who are encouraged to sing along. If you're a fan of John Denver, Country Roads is a must-see to experience all of that John Denver goodness. If you're not a fan of John Denver, well, you're missing out on some great music!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

"'Til Death" by Bucket Brigade at Art House North

On the heels of seeing a new original locally created musical about dating, I went to see a new original locally created musical about marriage. It must be (almost) February. But even though 'Til Death is written by a married couple, stars two married couples, and is directed/music directed by a married couple, you don't have to be married to enjoy it. It's a charming, silly, funny, and at times poignant musical comedy about life and relationships.

Vanessa and Jeremiah Gamble are co-Artistic Directors of Bucket Brigade, and co-wrote 'Til Death as a way to "take an inward look at our own struggles of trying to practice forgiveness and live out a committed relationship."

Friday, January 29, 2016

"Right, Wrong, or Bomb! A Dating Musical" by Backyard to Broadway Productions at Illusion Theater

"The protagonist, Jill, professionally successful but socially awkward, finds herself in a state of perpetual singleness." Upon reading this description of the new original musical Right, Wrong, or Bomb! A Dating Musical, I was afraid someone had written a musical about me. But after seeing it last night, I was reassured that it's not really about me, because this Jill, unlike the musical Jill, is focused on more than just finding a man. Still, the musical has moments that ring true about the pressure that society, friends, and family put on us to find a mate, and the strange way that many people go about it in the internet age. There's nothing too deep or revelatory here, but Right, Wrong, or Bomb! is a fun, funny, and entertaining musical with a pleasing score and wonderful heartfelt performances.

Monday, January 25, 2016

"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" at Artistry

In one of those strange local theater programming coincidences, I have seen The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas twice in the last year, after never having seen it before in my life. But I enjoyed the charmingly corny show at the Old Log last summer, so I was happy to give it another go as part of the former Bloomington Civic Theatre's first season as Artistry. I think I like it even more the second time around! First of all - it's a whole lot of fun (whorehouse + '70s + Texas = fun). But if you look a bit deeper, you'll see some prescient themes in this 1978 Broadway hit about the influence of TV and the media to ignite hysteria, as well as the power of women over their lives and their bodies, or lack thereof. If you're not convinced yet, let me give you a few more reasons to see this show.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Bright Half Life" at Pillsbury House Theatre

As we approach February 14, it seems that several theaters are presenting shows with a theme of love and relationships (including a dating musical at Illusion and a marriage musical by Bucket Brigade). Pillsbury House Theatre's entry into this theme is Bright Half Life. This story of love, marriage, and children between two women spans over 40 years and is told in a non-linear fashion. In a short and sweet 75 minutes we watch these women progress through all stages of a relationship in a play that's poignant, engaging, and entertaining.

"Great Expectations" at Park Square Theatre

Expectations are high for Park Square Theatre's world premiere of a new adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations. Building expectations are a well-known and beloved novel, adaptation and direction by veteran local director Joel Sass, a diverse and talented cast, and the fact that Park Square has been continually raising the bar these last few years with the addition of a second stage and greater commitment to diversity of casting and programming. After attending opening night this weekend, I'm happy to report that these Great Expectations have been met with this innovative, funny, creepy, clever, suspenseful, and very well done production.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

"Pericles" at the Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie's newly inaugurated Artistic Director Joseph Haj makes his directorial debut with Shakespeare's Pericles, remounting a production that has recently played at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and DC's Folger Theatre (with a cast that, for the first time in my memory, is entirely new to the Guthrie). It's a promising debut highlighted by playfulness, inventiveness, and diverse casting. And while 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), I still found it to be an enjoyable experience with excellent performances, innovative set and technical design, and lovely original music. Welcome to Minnesota Joseph Haj, I look forward to what you will do in the future, especially when partnering with our fabulous local talent!

Monday, January 18, 2016

"Dear World" by Ten Thousand Things at Open Book

I consider myself a fan of musicals (although perhaps not quite an expert), but I had never heard of the 1969 musical Dear World that won Angela Lansbury her second Tony. It has certainly not seen the success of composer/lyricist Jerry Herman's other works, which include La Cage aux Folles and Hello, Dolly! That's hard to comprehend after seeing Ten Thousand Things' new production of Dear World, which reveals it to be a perfectly charming and lovely musical. But then, Ten Thousand Things productions have a tendency to reduce any work of theater, from Shakespeare to a Broadway musical flop, to it's most perfect, accessible, relatable heart. Under the direction of Jungle Theater's new Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen, with one-man orchestra Peter Vitale and a beautifully diverse eight-person cast, Dear World is a musical that's sweet, funny, hopeful, and just a little bit wacky.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

"Lullaby" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

2015 was my 5th full year as a Twin Cities Theater Blogger, and I saw a record high 200+ shows. When I look at those numbers, or at my busy schedule, I sometimes think, why do I do this? Why do I devote all of my free time to this part-time job for which I don't get paid? And then I see a show that reminds me why I do this. That reminds me why I started going to theater, why I started writing about theater, why I think theater (and specifically music-theater) is the most beautiful and powerful art form we have. Lullaby is one such show. This new original play-with-music is everything I want music-theater to be: funny, smart, relevant, relatable, moving, poignant, with awesome songs and a brilliant cast and creative team pouring their heart and souls into the work. This is the first of 20 new works of "theater musically" that Theater Latte Da has committed to developing by 2020 in a project they're calling "Next 20/20.*" It's an exciting thing to create the future of music-theater, and Lullaby has set the bar high for this project.