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.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

"The Best Brothers" by Loudmouth Collective at Open Eye Figure Theatre

Consider this my annual plug for Loudmouth Collective, one of my favorite new theater companies, if you can still call them "new" after four seasons of smart, intense, funny, beautifully executed theater. They only do two shows a year (often including one at the Fringe), and typically only run for two weekends, so you need to be quick to catch them. And trust me, you will be rewarded. I've been with them since the beginning and they never disappoint. Firstly, their choice of plays is interesting and excellent, small-cast (often one or two actors), smartly written, bitingly funny or darkly absurd or heart-breakingly beautiful or some combination thereof. Secondly, the production always brings out the best in the play thanks to the great artists involved. Daniel MacIvor's two-person drama about brothers coming together after the death of their mother seems tailor made for Loudmouth. It would behoove you to get your tickets now to see this funny, bittersweet, and well-acted gem before it's gone!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The History Theatre's New Works Festival "Raw Stages" 2016

January in Minnesota doesn't just mean bitter cold temperatures and the desire to hibernate. On the contrary, it's the time of year to get out of your house, head to lovely downtown St. Paul, and participate in the development of new plays and musicals at the History Theatre! One of the best theaters in town at developing, supporting, and producing new work, The History Theatre is presenting a reading of four new works this weekend. Unfortunately my schedule only allows me to attend two of the four this year, but each of them looks incredibly promising, and the talent listed below is mind-boggling! Many of the new works presented as part of the "Raw Stages" festival in the past have had successful full productions at The History Theatre, including The Debutante's Ball and Glensheen in 2015. So bundle up, heat up the car, and make your way through the bitter cold temps to The History Theatre to experience the joy of new and original theater!