Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Kinky Boots" at the Orpheum Theatre

There's something about putting on a beautiful, well-made pair of high heels that makes me feel stronger, more confident, even happier, helping me to literally and figuratively walk taller in the world. But women aren't the only ones who get to experience this pleasure. For drag queens I imagine it's an even greater transformation - donning heels, wigs, make-up, and dresses to create a new persona that perhaps feels more natural than the one society expects of them. The 2013 Tony-winning musical Kinky Boots celebrates this love of shoes and self-identity in a glorious, fun, warm-hearted way. But of course it's about more than just shoes (even if they are "the most beautiful thing in the world"). As with most musicals there's a love story at its core, but this time the love story is a friendship between two very different men who grow to admire and respect each other, encouraging each other to live up to their full potential. With this great story (based on a 2005 movie that was based on a true story) adapted to the stage by Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein with music by music legend Cyndi Lauper, it's a surefire hit!

Charlie (Steven Booth) and Lola (Kyle Taylor Parker)
(photo by Matthew Murphy)
In this fictionalized version of the true story, Charlie inherits his father's shoe factory in Northampton England. The business is in trouble and Charlie is faced with the prospect of firing his friends and neighbors, until he gets a brilliant idea. Through a chance encounter with a drag queen named Lola, he discovers a niche market - high-heeled boots for men. He convinces Lola to help him design the line and make samples for an upcoming fashion show in Milan. Like any good love story, the two share their deepest feelings (bonding over not living up to their fathers' expectations), have fun together (dancing, singing, and creating beautiful shoes), and argue (Charlie feels the pressure of the business and lashes out at Lola's choices), only to resolve their differences just in time to save the day. It's a beautiful, uplifting, fun story.

One might think it's a given that the woman who gave us "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and "Time After Time" could write a Tony-winning score. But not all successful pop musicians can write a successful Broadway musical (cough-Spiderman-cough). It's a different beast. But Cyndi Lauper has the musical, lyrical, and emotional chops to write for musical theater, as evidence by this fantastic pop-rock score with fun singable anthems and beautiful ballads. I just downloaded the cast recording, and it's sure to become my top-down summer soundtrack. "Everybody say yeah!"

the cast of Kinky Boots (photo by Matthew Murphy)
The cast of this first national tour is quite fantastic. It's a difficult task to step into the high-heeled boots of Billy Porter (who won a Tony for his performance and is still in the show on Broadway after a few brief hiatuses). But never having seen Billy's performance, I can say that in this show, Lola is completely Kyle Taylor Parker's role. He displays incredible vocal and emotional range, playing the over-the-top drag queen, the modest and unsure man behind her, and everything in between. He looks  and sounds gorgeous, whether in men's or women's clothes. Completing this sweet bromance is Steven Booth as Charlie, a charming boy next door (if you live in Northampton) who also sings the heck out of these songs. Standouts in the ensemble are, of course, the six beautiful Angels supporting Lola, and Lauren Nicole Chapman as a factory worker with a crush on Charlie, whose "The History of Wrong Guys" is a crowd-pleaser.

I've never seen anyone dance on a conveyor belt before, but the cast of Kinky Boots does, and it's amazing. It's so much fun to watch, and this, along with the fabulous drag numbers and a slow-mo fight scene, is the reason director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell won a Tony for his choreography.

A musical about shoes, drag queens, and blue collar workers in England, with a heart-warming story and a fantastic pop-rock score. What's not to love? Playing through this weekend at Hennepin Theatre Trust's Orpheum Theatre.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" at the Old Log Theatre

Having opened in 1940, The Old Log Theatre is the oldest theater in Minnesota. But it's also a long drive out to Excelsior, so I don't get there as often as I'd like. They've stepped up their game in the last few years, pulling in top area talent, adding a new restaurant, and remodeling the lobby. There were a number of shows this season I wanted to see, but just wasn't able to work the 70-mile round trip into my busy theater schedule. So I was happy that I finally made it out there this weekend for their fun and energetic production of the charmingly corny 1978 Broadway musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (later made into a movie starring Dolly Parton* and Burt Reynolds).

The title pretty much tells you what this show is about. But you may not know that it's based on the story of a real life Texas brothel known as the Chicken Ranch (during the Depression the Madam would accept chickens as payment) that was largely tolerated by law enforcement and government until a TV reporter investigated and demanded it be shut down. In the musical version, Miss Mona (a strong performance by Julie Cook) runs the Ranch with a strict set of rules and presides over her girls, most of whom seem happy to be there, although some have dreams of a better life. Ed Earl (an excellent Jefferson Slinkard) is the sheriff and her sometimes beau, and is torn when given orders to shut the Ranch down after it's exposed by the TV star reporter Melvin Thorpe (a very funny Jon Andrew Hegge in a Colonel Sanders wig). It's a sad ending as the girls all move on, but there's plenty of fun to be had before that with cheerleaders, football players, and a general hoedown atmosphere.

Miss Mona (Julie Cook), Jewel (Whitney Rhodes), and the girls
This is one of those musicals where many supporting characters get one song, and everyone in the large and talented cast steps up. Highlights include Whitney Rhodes as Jewel singing "Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin'," Maisie Twesme's lovely "Doatsy Mae," Britta Ollman and the girls singing my favorite song in the show, the poignant "Hard Candy Christmas," and John Paul Gamoke's brief but memorable appearance as the Governor in the hilarious and all too true song "The Sidestep." All of the songs have a twangy Country-Western sound (which I happen to love, as I did the great old Country songs played before the show and during intermission). John Lynn directs the band behind a screen at the back of the stage.

the boys high-stepping it
With Regina Peluso as the choreographer you know there are going to be some fantastic dance numbers, especially with several members of her company (Collide Theatrical Dance Company) in the ensemble. The group numbers are lots of fun and well performed by the cast. As you would expect of a musical set in a whorehouse, there is a bevy of scantily clad women, but the boys have a shirtless singing and dancing number, which is only fair. ;) Sara Wilcox's costume design takes advantage of the '70s era (I love a jumpsuit!) and gives each character a distinct personality.

The Texas accents are so much fun to listen to. I don't know how accurate they are to reality, but they sound like the Southern accents you hear on TV (in fact the entire show is almost like an episode of Dukes of Hazzard). Greg Eiden is especially good at it in his dual roles as a senator and a diner patron, milking every line for laughs, and getting them.

If you live in the East metro like I do, Excelsior is a bit of a hike, but it's worth it to see the work that Old Log is doing, and this fun summer musical in particular. I recommend heading over to the charming lake town in the afternoon to avoid traffic (if such a thing is possible in this busy summer construction season), checking out the shops or sitting by the lake, and dining at one of the many area restaurants (I had yummy vegetarian sushi at Yumi's Sushi Bar) before seeing the show. It's a great idea for a staycation and checking out another beautiful part of the Twin Cities metro area.

The Old Log has an interesting line-up for next season, and I'm particularly excited that they're producing the regional premiere of the smart, funny, poignant two-person play The Velocity of Autumn, which I saw last year during it's too-short Broadway run. Starring Melissa Hart as a 79-year-old woman who has barricaded herself in her Brooklyn home and Paul de Cordova as her son who climbs in the window to try to talk her down, it's definitely going to be worth the drive.

*I was seriously derailed in writing this blog when I went down a black whole of Dolly Parton youtube videos, starting with "Hard Candy Christmas" and ending with the best country duet of all time, "Islands in the Stream."

Saturday, July 25, 2015

"Stage Kiss" at the Guthrie

As someone who has never worked in theater but is enamored of the whole theater world, I'm often curious about the rehearsal process and how a piece of theater is created. Sarah Ruhl has given us a peek inside that world in her play Stage Kiss, now playing on the Guthrie's Proscenium Stage. I don't know how accurate it is, but it's a pretty hilarious look at the entire process of creating a performance, from audition, to first read-through, to blocking, to dress rehearsal, all the way to opening night. The writing, as delivered by this fantastic cast, is laugh-out-loud funny and the play (which Sarah notes is "for actors") is a loving send-up of acting, theater, and love.

Stage Kiss is one of those play-within-a-play shows (actually two-plays-within-a-play), providing multiple levels and nuances for this great seven-person cast to play with under the sharp direction of Casey Stangl. As opposed to the character of the director, who doesn't seem to have a clue what he's doing in directing a 1930s flop called Last Kiss in a New Haven theater. He seems flummoxed whenever he's asked a question, and often talks about the "slippery" tone of the play, in which a wealthy married woman finds out she's dying, sends for her first love, and is reunited with him, only to watch him run away with her daughter. Complicating the rehearsal process is that the actors playing the woman and her lover are former lovers in real life, with some unresolved feelings about their relationship. The line between art and reality begin to blur as they find themselves drawn to each other, remembering why they fell in love so long ago, until they remember why they broke up. The play has some fantastical elements, as characters in the "reality" portion of the play step out to speak their feelings, or break out in song, while seeming perplexed that they're singing. There's nothing slippery about the tone of Stage Kiss, it's the humor of heightened reality.

Todd Gearhart and Stacia Rice (photo by Joan Marcus)
Six of the seven actors in this cast have multiple roles to play, both in the play world and in the "real" world, and all appear to be having a blast with the wide range of duties, from sitting bored in a rehearsal room to over-the-top acting as characters in the play-within-a-play. Stacia Rice is so funny and natural as the actress, in contrast to the delightfully exaggerated play roles. A dreamy Todd Gearhart is a great match as her lover on stage and off. Michael Booth plays the actress' husband both in the play and in the real world, like flip sides of the same coin. Grant Fletcher Prewitt (half of the great comedy duo that was last year's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) is a scene-stealer with his genius physical comedy skills, eliciting laughter from the audience just from walking onstage in his second act getup. Cat Brindisi and Rebecca Hurd provide great support in multiple roles, both real and deliciously over-the-top. Charles Hubbell is the one member of the cast who exists only in the "real" world, as the amusingly daft director.

the cast of Stage Kiss as the cast of Last Kiss
(photo by Joan Marcus)
Devon Painter should be commended for displaying great range in her costume design, which includes cute and chic modern wear, the glamorous world of the '30s, and outrageous '70s costumes in the second act play-within-a-play (entitled I Loved You Before I Killed You, or Blurry, it's too ridiculous to be described). Todd Rosenthal's set design is also quite versatile with lots of moving pieces and startling transformations. We're taken from the bare stage and brick walls of a theater rehearsal room, to a sleek '30s living room, to a shabby '70s apartment. It's fun to watch the progression of sets and costumes in the ongoing rehearsals in the first act, beginning with street clothes and markings on the floor, slowly adding a wardrobe piece here or there, or a representative piece of furniture or two. If you've ever pored over the rehearsal photos that the Guthrie often includes in their playbills, you'll recognize the idea.

The Guthrie is a busy place this summer with the scrumptious smash hit The Music Man causing larger than usual crowds. I just hope that visitors to River City also check out the Guthrie's many other great offerings, Stage Kiss among them. While The Music Man is a heartwarming and overflowing production of a classic musical about small town America in the last century, Stage Kiss a very funny and modern new play that is an homage to the theater world we love so well (playing now through August 30).

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival Must-See List

Last night I attended the second Fringe preview, in which 30 shows presented a three-minute excerpt. I've also read the descriptions of all 175 shows. I give them all a +, ?+, ?, or -. Right now I've got over 50 +s, which isn't really feasible (if you go to every timeslot, that's 56 shows, but I'm not quite that insane). So I've still got some work to do to get my list down to a manageable schedule of 30-40 shows. But these shows for sure are going to make the cut (scheduling gods willing).

105 Proof or the Killing of Mack "The Silencer" Klein: the physical theater company Transatlantic Love Affair returns to the Fringe after a one-year absence with this story set in the Prohibition era. But the story doesn't really matter, what matters is that TLA tells stories in an achingly beautiful way. They are not to be missed.

Collyard / Nelson's Guide to Reviewing Fringe Festival Shows & Other Tips to Help Keep Your Cool In the White-Hot World of Amateur Criticism OR "So You Kept Their Postcard; Now What?": as a bit of an "amateur critic" myself, I can't resist hearing what they have to say about it. Plus, "fringe legends."

Couple Fight: Tom Reed is one of my Fringe faves with his one-man musical spoofs, so this creation with real-life wife Anna Weggel-Reed is a must-see in my book.

Edgar Allan: I missed this new musical about an 11-year-old Edgar Allan Poe at last year's Fringe, so I'm glad I have a second chance to see it.

FRANKENSTEIN: I'm not really a horror fan, but the preview was creepy and cool, and with three of the minds behind last year's creepy cool hit Crime and Punishment, I've got to check this one out.

High Flight: the preview for this piece was incredibly moving, with Theatre Pro Rata's Artistic Director Carin Bratlie introducing the show as a tribute to her father, who disappeared on a solo flight to Duluth, told through music (a brass quintet!) and dance.

The Mrs.: they had me at Shanan Custer. But also, the preview was really funny, like a comedy version of Big Love that also spoofs TLC's increasingly trashy reality shows. This one is called PolyGIMME a Break.

Oregon Trail: The Musical: like other children of the '80s, Oregon Trail was the first computer game I ever played. And now someone's turned it into a musical?! That is the very definition of must-see.

Parent Observation Day: have you ever seen a kids' dance class perform? There's always a kid who's totally in their own world, another performing every step enthusiastically, another who's always one step behind the group. The preview for this show was exactly like that, except that adults (who you can tell are actually good dancers) are playing the adorably awkward kids.

The Picture of Dorian Gray: Tennessee Williams last year, Oscar Wilde this year. New Epic's One Arm was one of my favorites of last year's festival, so I will definitely be checking out their new production.

Pretty Girls Make Graves: I never miss a Loudmouth Collective show, whether Fringe or not. Always smart, unique, and well done, whether funny or heartbreaking, and since this one is written one of my favorites Sam Landman it's a definite must-see.

Shelly Bachberg Presents: Orange is the New POTUS: The Musical: this sequel to 2013's ridiculous musical spoof of a certain former Minnesota congresswoman is set in a prison a la Orange is the New Black. If that's not reason enough, the cast is fantastic.

To the Moon: a modern reimagining of the fairy tale genre sounds lovely, but the important thing is that it stars Debra Berger (from the quirky and charming 2013 Fringe hit Hello Stranger), Emily King (a gorgeous dancer as seen in Love's Labour's Lost), and local superstar Tyler Michaels (he's in everything), and was written by Tyler Mills (the lovely and poignant Jonah and the Whale).

Total Eclipse of the Heart: produced by The Peanut Butter Factory which only does good things, based on an awesome '80s song, and featuring an adorable kitten as the show photo. Come on.

Trial by Jury: I discovered The Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, which has existed for over 30 years, just this year. They're appearing in the Fringe for the first time with this one-act operetta from musical comedy geniuses Gilbert and Sullivan (whose work can also be seen in the Ordway's production of Pirates of Penzance, opening annoyingly right in the middle of Fringe).

Underneath the Lintel: if you missed Pat O'Brien's lovely one-man show about a librarian on a quest at the 2011 Fringe, now's your chance to see this moving and poignant show.

We Do Every Show in the Fringe: last year it was called Four Humors Does Every Show in the Fringe, but judging by the show photo, the concept and performers are the same - a hilarious improv show in which the cast performs a randomly drawn Fringe show based on the picture and description. (This is one you might want to make reservations for, see below.)

My annual tips for the Fringe newbie:
  • Buy a button and make sure you have it with you, it's required for entry to all shows. You can buy them in advance on the website or at any venue.
  • If you're going to multiple shows (and why wouldn't you?), buy a punch pass, available in quantities of 4 or 10, or unlimited if you plan on seeing more than 20 shows. It saves you $1-2 per show. Once you buy a pass, you can reserve a seat online at any show for $1.75, or just show up and present your pass (see below).
  • If a show is particularly popular, or you really really want to see it, consider buying (or reserving a seat) in advance. You can also take your chances and just show up. I typically only make reservations for a handful of shows that look like they might be busy (you can check the show's page to see if it's in danger of selling out).
  • All shows are general admission, so get there early for best choice of seating.
  • Shows typically run just under an hour, with a half hour between shows so it's feasible to get from any theater to any other in that time. But it's good to plan to see a bunch in one location to minimize transportation time; the highest concentration of theaters is in the West Bank neighborhood, with 6 theaters within a few blocks (4 in the same building - the Rarig Center on the U of M campus).
  • Bring snacks, water, reading material, and sunscreen - you will be waiting in line, probably outside. And be aware of what line you're in, often there's one line to check in and get tickets, and another to enter the theater and get your seat. Ask one of the friendly volunteers in the Fringe shirts if you need help with anything.
  • Keep an open mind - some of what you'll see is really weird. But that can be a good thing! And if you see a dud, well, that's part of the Fringe experience.
  • Each show has five performances, and on the last night of the Fringe (Sunday August 9), the show in each venue that has sold the most tickets receives a sixth show. Keep an eye out for the announcement late Saturday and check out a popular show you might have missed.
  • The Fringe website has pretty much all the info you'll need, so bookmark it on your smart phone for easy on-the-go reference!

Happy Fringe-ing!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

"Grease" at Lyric Arts

I love the 1978 movie Grease - '50s nostalgia, an adorable pre-Scientology John Travolta, the golden voice of Olivia Newton-John, and an endlessly singable soundtrack. It's the perfect fun and mindless movie musical. But the 1971 stage musical on which it was based is something different. Wikipedia says "In its original production in Chicago, Grease was a raunchy, raw, aggressive, vulgar show. Subsequent productions sanitized it and toned it down." With their new production, Lyric Arts and director Christine Karki move closer to the original concept than the movie it ended up becoming. It's a little darker and less bubble gum look at teenagers in the '50s. The fantastic young cast breathes new life into these familiar characters to create a Grease that's still great summer fun, but with a little more weight.

On a set that looks more West Side Story than Grease, the lives of these teenagers unfold on the gritty streets of Chicago as they deal with relationships, friendships, pregnancy, gangs, and school dances. The cast is mostly made up of high school and college kids, or recent graduates, which brings some very believable teen angst and youthful energy to the show. Jordan Oxborough is a natural as Danny, with the slicked back dark hair, pretty falsetto, and charm that all the ladies fall for. With her performance as Sandy, Megan Fischer proves that little Annie is all grown up. She's sweet and naive but with an underlying feistiness. And the two of them sound gorgeous together on the Danny/Sandy duets (just don't expect to hear "You're the One That I Want," written for the movie). Jill Iverson is a standout as Rizzo - tough on the outside and tender on the inside - and her beautifully nuanced rendition of "There are Worse Things I Could Do" is a definite highlight (she's excelled at playing misunderstood teens before). As the mooning Roger and constantly eating Jan, Michael Conroy and Christine Walth are adorable and funny. And Lucas John Beach sings "Beauty School Dropout" like an angel.

oh, those summer nights! (photo by Mike Traynor)
Of course Grease isn't Grease without the car called Greased Lightning, and this version is a pretty cute little car that actually drives around the stage and threatens to upstage the actors. The cast makes good use of the multi-level set (with the onstage band sitting upstairs), hanging off the stairs and climbing around (set by Brian J. Proball). Samantha Kuhn Staneart's '50s period costumes are, like the rest of the production, less pretty and more realistic, expressing the distinct personality of each character.

The ending of the movie has always bothered me, in which Sandy changes who she is in order to "win" Danny. But this feels less like that and more like a young woman who's growing up and trying to figure out who she is and what she wants. It's a more believable transition.

While it doesn't top last year's summer hit RENT (nothing ever could in this RENThead's opinion), Grease is another fun and edgy summer musical at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in Anoka. Due to popular demand, it has been extended through August 9 but the additional shows will sell out fast if they haven't already, so make plans soon.

"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" at Children's Theatre Company

Children's Theatre Company's latest offering 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea isn't what we usually think of as theater. But it is the best game of make-believe ever, and what is theater if not an elaborate game of make-believe? CTC is an expert at playing to their target audience while still creating art that we grown-ups can enjoy as well. And kids are quite familiar with playing make-believe, acting out their favorite stories, TV shows, books, or movies. That's pretty much what this show is - fan fiction (created by the wonderfully inventive team of Ryan Underbakke and Nick Ryan) about Jules Verne's novel with a fantastic team of actors playing the characters and leading the audience, who are also playing characters, through the story. It's an exercise in the collective power of imagination, something that comes naturally to kids, but that's necessary for adults to take part in occasionally as well. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a super cool and totally unique experience.

I don't want to tell you too much about the experience, because the uncertainty and surprise is part of the fun. But you should know that you will be required to get physical, running, crouching, doing jumping jacks, as you are led through backrooms, staircases, and hallways of the theater (a great way to see some theater and get in a good workout at the same time!). The premise is that the 20 or so audience members on each "launch" (see website for times) are on a mission to capture Captain Nemo aboard her (yes, her) submarine Nautilus and rescue Professor Arronax (having never read the book, I found a quick perusal of the Wiki page to be helpful). You'll be in spaces large and small (claustrophobics beware), dark and bright, with cool electronic equipment that looks like something out of Star Trek, sometimes projecting scenes going on in other rooms. And there's one particularly detailed and homey looking Victorian designed room. The scenic and projection design (by Jorge Cousinea), lighting design (by Craig A. Gottschalk), sound design (by Sean Healey), and costume design (Annie Cady) all combine to create a completely immersive multi-media underwater experience so lifelike I almost wish I had taken Dramamine!

The cast and creative team merges CTC veterans with artists from the physical theater/comedy/improv world. The roles of the two mission guides are double cast (likely due to the frequent launch times), and I was happy to be guided by Isabel Nelson (whom I will gladly follow wherever she leads me, underwater or with her lovely and inventive company Transatlantic Love Affair) and Matt Spring (of the hilariously clever Four Humors). Both give performances so committed and real that even though my plan was to let the kids go first, I found myself rushing to the front to follow their commands. Watch for CTC company members Dean Holt as the good (?) professor and a completely transformed (as usual) Reed Sigmund in a scarily convincing performance. Jame Froiland's strong performance as Nemo makes the audience question just what side we're on. And in fact, we're asked to make a choice at the end, like a live action Choose Your Own Adventure book.

Immersive walk-through theater is a bit of a trend right now (see the recent Crime and Punishment, and NYC's Sleep No More), and CTC is doing an amazing job bringing it to children, perhaps its most susceptible audience (I heard parents whispering, "don't be scared, it's just pretend"). Part of the fun of the experience is watching the wide-eyed children as a totally in character actor gets down to their level and speaks directly to them (don't worry parents, you're not asked to respond or do anything, just follow along and obey commands). For kids and adults alike, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is the awesomenest game of make-believe you've ever experienced (the mission continues through August 23).

Captain Nemo and her crew (photo by Dan Norman)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

"The Matchmaker" by Girl Friday Productions at Park Square Theatre

Girl Friday Productions is a theater company that specializes in large cast classic American plays. The bad news is they only do one production every two years. The good news is it's worth the wait. In their first time partnering with Park Square Theatre, they're presenting Thornton Wilder's comedy The Matchmaker (which you may know in its musical version as Hello Dolly!, seen at the Chanhassen just last fall). With a funny and poignant story about love, money, and adventure, smart period set and costumes, a cast that is sheer perfection, and direction that keeps it all running smoothly, this Matchmaker is an absolute delight from top to bottom, start to finish. It's my favorite of the three Girl Friday shows I've seen (also including the sprawling drama Street Scene and Tennessee Williams' most bizarro play Camino Real). Go see it now (playing through July 26), or wait another two years for your chance to see this great company.

Widow Dolly Gallagher Levi is the matchmaker here, and then some. She makes a living providing necessary services, but she's tired of the hard work and sets her sights on wealthy client Horace Vandergelder. What Dolly wants, Dolly gets, even if it takes some master manipulation to get there. Caught up in her web are Horace's niece Ermengarde, who longs to marry the artist Ambrose Kemper against her uncle's wishes, Horace's hard-working employees Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, who long for adventure outside of their Yonkers store, and Horace's prospective match Irene Molloy, a widowed hat maker who runs her store with the help of flighty Minnie. Their paths all cross on one wild night in New York City. It's a grand adventure for one and all.

Girl Friday has assembled a dream cast, under dream director Craig Johnson (who, BTW, won an Ivey for his direction of the aforementioned Street Scene). Karen Wiese-Thompson is a brilliant comedic actor (seen frequently on the Ten Thousand Things stage, er... floor) and therefore a perfect choice for Dolly, bringing all of her biting humor, warmth, and spirit to the role. Alan Sorenson is wonderfully grumpy as Mr. Vandergelder. His employees Cornelius and Barnaby couldn't be cuter than Dan Hopman, oozing with aw shucks charm, and Vincent Hamman, the only unfamiliar face in the cast but fitting right in as the adorably naive youngster. Lindsay Marcy's Irene is strong and funny and determined to find adventure, while Christian Bardin creates a delicate, flighty, high-voiced, hilarious character in Minnie with every look and movement. Elizabeth Hawkinson and Sam Pearson are charming as the young lovers Ermengarde and Ambrose, and the former is blissfully less shrill than her musical counterpart typically is. Sam Landman is, as always, a joy to watch as the New Yawk accented assistant with questionable motives, who delivers an amusing and not unwise speech about nurturing one but only one vice. Girl Friday Artistic Director Kirby Bennet makes a fourth act cameo as the delightfully loopy Mrs. Van Huysen. Last but not least, David Beukema and Dana Lee Thompson play multiple roles with gusto and personality, and several quick changes - sometimes onstage!

Lindsay Marcy, Dan Hopman, Karen Wiese-Thompson,
Alan Sorenson, Christian Bardin (photo by Richard Fleischman)
Park Square's basement Andy Boss stage had been transformed into charming old NYC with images of city streets on either side of the stage and a screen that's lowered between the four acts to announce the setting, with changing displays in the openings at the back of the stage to further define the four locations (set by Rick Polenek). The thrust stage is put to good use, especially in the several soliloquies delivered by various characters as they walk around and look directly at the audience. Kathy Kohl's costumes are scrumptious (if I may borrow a word from that other American classic playing on the other side of the river), especially the women, dressed in flounces, bustles, and hats.

The characters in The Matchmaker are searching for happiness and finding it in different ways - love, money, adventure, employment, a home. Young Barnaby gives the closing speech, wishing the audience the right amount of adventure and sitting at home. Perhaps he's stumbled on the key to happiness - finding that correct balance between adventure and sitting at home. Some people need a lot of adventure to be happy. For others, like Bilbo Baggins, one great adventure can last a lifetime of sitting quietly at home. Girl Friday's The Matchmaker is definitely an adventure worth leaving home for. Funny, entertaining, poignant, well-written, -acted, and -directed - an all-around delightful production of an American classic (playing now through July 26 at Park Square Theatre).