Monday, November 30, 2015

"Christmas in the Airwaves" at Lyric Arts

If today's snowstorm doesn't get you in the holiday spirit, Lyric Arts in charming downtown Anoka will! This year they commissioned a new holiday play, Christmas in the Airwaves, which premiered the week before Thanksgiving, and this weekend they open their "Mainly for Kids" (and grown-ups who can't get over their childhood obsession with all things Little House) production of A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas. I'll be visiting my friend Laura on Saturday, but first, let's return to the 1940s. A time when men went off to war, women stayed behind to run things (and sing harmony), and radio was king. It's in this idealized world of the '40s that our story takes place. It's Christmas 1944 in a small snowy Minnesota town, as we watch a live radio broadcast, along with the behind-the-scenes lives of the cast and crew of the show. This simple, sweet, charming story with lovely holiday and wartime music is as comforting as hot apple cider on a cold and snowy day.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

"The Night Alive" at the Jungle Theater

The Night Alive is an odd little play. Which is really no surprise - it's Irish. No offense meant, I love all things Irish, including odd little Irish plays. I'm not quite sure what to make of Irish playwright Conor McPherson's newest work The Night Alive, now playing at the Jungle Theater, other that it's funny, tragic, and wholly engaging. This tale of a bunch of misfits in a run-down house in Dublin is brought to gritty life by an endlessly watchable five-person cast speaking with lovely Irish brogues (some more authentic than others) and the Jungle's usual perfection in design. I may have left the theater a little perplexed, but definitely with something to chew on.

"The Wizard of Oz" at Children's Theatre Company

Children's Theatre Company proves again and again that you don't need to be a child to enjoy a "children's show." Maybe it's because children are people just like grown-ups, and CTC treats them that way. Or maybe it's because we were all once children too. With their latest production of The Wizard of Oz, CTC reminds weary grown-ups what it is to experience the wonder and magic of childhood. They have brought one of the most iconic movies of all time to vivid life on stage. It's understandable why this show has a permanent place in their rotation - it's full of heart, color, wonderful music, and a beautiful message of home, family, self-discovery, and friendship. It's enough to restore your faith in humanity, at least for a moment. This so-called children's story is peppered with wisdom such as "It's always best to start at the beginning," "Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking," and "If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn't there, then I never really lost it to begin with." And if you don't tear up when Dorothy says her good-bye to her new friends in Oz, you might not have a soul.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

"The Cocoanuts" at the Guthrie Theater

Not being familiar with the Marx Brothers, I didn't know what to expect from The Cocoanuts. In fact, when the Guthrie announced their season this spring, I didn't even know what it was (It's a musical? But I've never heard of it!). Turns out it's a little before my time. The 1925 Broadway musical was written for the Marx Brothers by George S. Kaufman, with music and lyrics by one of the best American songwriters, Irving Berlin. The musical was adapted into one of the first "talkies" in 1929, but has never been revived on Broadway, so I guess I can be forgiven for having never heard of it. Last year the Oregon Shakespeare Festival premiered a new adaptation of this 90-year-old musical (what the Marx Brothers have to do with Shakespeare, I don't know), and that's the production that opened at the Guthrie last weekend. The Guthrie's production features the same actors playing the three most famous Marx Brothers (but with our fabulous local actors taking over most of the rest of the roles), much of the same creative team, and a book that's been slightly tweaked to add in some Minnesota references. The result is a delightfully and ridiculously fun show that pulls out all the comedic stops to entertain the audience, the cast, and even the ushers. A good time was most definitely had by all.

Monday, November 23, 2015

"My Children! My Africa!" at Park Square Theatre

As My Children! My Africa! begins to unfold on Park Square Theatre's Andy Boss Thrust Stage, there's a chance this might be a feel-good story about two young people of different race and socioeconomic status becoming friends and bonding over the love of learning. But this is 1985 South Africa at the height of Apartheid. That's not how this story goes. What unfolds instead is a tragic story oppression, rebellion, missed opportunities, lost life, and perseverance through it all. It's a powerful and heavy story, but heart-breakingly beautiful as delivered by this strong three-person cast under the co-direction of Jamil Jude and James A. Williams.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

"Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune" by Casting Spells Productions at the Minneapolis Theater Garage

A short order cook who is an ex-con and reads Shakespeare. A waitress who's given up her dream of being an actress and is afraid to hope for anything more in life. It may seem inevitable that these two NYC diner coworkers get together, but how it happens is a funny, sexy, awkward, bittersweet little dance in the two-person play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune. From the company that brought us the delightfully disgruntled princesses of Disenchanted comes a very different play, but maybe not so different as it at first seems. In just their second outing, Casting Spells Productions once again delivers a funny, risky, well-cast, and entertaining show. I look forward to seeing what spells they cast in the future.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Beautiful - The Carole King Musical" at the Orpheum Theatre

"You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face, and show the world all the love in your heart." The opening lyrics of prolific songwriter Carole King's "Beautiful" paint a pretty picture, but as we learn in the biographical jukebox musical of the same name, her real life wasn't always pretty. Pregnant and married at 17, divorced by 26, she still managed to become one of the most successful songwriters of the 20th Century with such well-known hits as "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Up on the Roof," "You've Got a Friend," and "Natural Woman." Beautiful - The Carole King Musical tells Carole's life story as she finds her own voice, culminating in her Grammy-winning 1971 solo album Tapestry. Although it feels at times like a baby boomer tribute concert, Beautiful truly is just that - beautiful - as it celebrates this remarkable woman's talents and life story.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Equus" by Theatre Coup D'Etat at SPACE

A 17-year-old boy blinds six horses. This true event inspired English playwright Peter Shaffer to write the 1973 play Equus, creating characters and a story to explain how and why this might have happened. The result is a fascinating exploration of religion, idolatry, growing up, the child-parent relationship, and the role of therapy. I had never seen the play before (in fact all I knew about it is that it's the play in which Daniel Radcliffe was naked on Broadway), so I went to see Theatre Coup D'Etat's production with no expectations or prejudgments. I found the play to be thought-provoking, disturbing, and engrossing, as seen through this excellent production with a strong cast anchored by two terrific performances.

Monday, November 16, 2015

"C.L.U." by Collide Theatrical Dance Company at the Ritz Theater

My grandparents' attic contained many delights for a kid, particularly a collection of vintage board games from the '50s and '60s that my aunties used to play. My cousins and I spent hours playing Risk, Masterpiece, MonopolyLife, and one of our favorites, Clue. Sometimes we'd even get the adults to join in. I took very detailed notes on my Clue sheet with my own system of shorthand. It was such delicious mysterious fun! Collide Theatrical Dance Company's new original piece C.L.U. captures that fun and mysterious spirit. Created by Artistic Director and Choreographer Regina Peluso along with new collaborator, Director Joshua Campbell, C.L.U. is a fun and entertaining evening of music, dance, and melodrama.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"Sister Act" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

While I was off in NYC seeing a bunch of Broadway musicals last week, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres opened a new show. I missed the Sister Act press night (the best press night in town), but they kindly let me attend last night - on my birthday! (I can now cross the Chan emcee wishing me a happy birthday off my bucket list.) Director Michael Brindisi has once again brought us a polished production, and one that's a lot of fun and also has a beautiful heart, I enjoyed it as much as anything I saw on Broadway last week. This is a relatively short run for the Chan (just four months), so make your plans now so you don't miss this wonderful and heart-warming musical. If you need more reasons to see it, I've got ten - read on.

Friday, November 13, 2015

"Doubt" by New Epic Theater at the Lab Theater

Friends, I know that there are a lot of theater companies in the Twin Cities, so many that it's hard to keep track of them all and impossible to see them all. But you would be wise to take note of New Epic Theater. With just their second production outside of the Fringe Festival and their first full season of programming, they've already established themselves as one to watch with smart, intense, risk-taking, aesthetically beautiful productions. Their new production of John Patrick Stanley's 2005 Tony-winner Doubt re-imagines the new classic with inventive staging that brings the themes of doubt vs. certainty, racial and gender inequality, and the power hierarchy of the Catholic Church into almost painfully sharp focus.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"The Storms of November" at nimbus theatre

What I love about nimbus theatre is that they often present original work, usually based on history, that, while not always flawless, is always interesting and thought-provoking and sheds new light on their subject. Such is the case with their newest work The Storms of November (written and directed by Co-Artistic Directors Josh Cragun and Liz Neerland, respectively), about sailors, ships, and shipwrecks on Lake Superior. November is a notoriously dangerous month on Minnesota's great and mysterious inland sea, and this play explores the lives of fictional characters on and off the ships, inspired by real people and events.