Friday, July 13, 2018

"Guys and Dolls" at Lyric Arts

Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in Anoka is closing their 2017-2018 season with a fun and classic musical - Guys and Dolls. Is the story dated and full of gender stereotypes? Yes. But it's also chock full of great music, including many popular songs ("A Bushel and a Peck," "Luck Be A Lady," and my favorite, "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat"). Lyric Arts has assembled a fantastic cast, and the show is well-staged in their small performance space. If you're looking for a fun '50s era show, Anoka is the place to go.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

"Carmen" by Mill City Summer Opera at Mill City Museum Ruins Courtyard

A review in brief of the final dress rehearsal of Mill City Summer Opera's Carmen, before a brief rain delay (which I hereby declare shall forevermore be referred to as a raintermission) turned into a cancellation of the performance, midway through Act II of IV:

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"Boy Crazy" by Madde Gibba at Bryant Lake Bowl

If you watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (and if you're not, you should be), head to Bryant-Lake Bowl on the next two Monday nights to see Madde Gibba's original musical comedy improv show Boy Crazy. Not unlike Rachel Bloom, Madde can turn a comic and slightly crazy (although the situation is a little more nuance than that) love story into a clever, melodic, funny, and sometimes even sweet song. The 80-minute show is like a song cycle about love and relationships in the modern world, and it's great fun.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"Jeeves in Bloom" at Theatre in the Round

To end their 66th season, the longest running theater in Minneapolis, aka Theatre in the Round, is bringing back a popular character from a few seasons ago - the quintessential English valet Jeeves. Even if you've never read the stories of British author P.G. Wodehouse, who created the character (and also wrote some of the Princess Musicals featured in Theatre Elision's latest show), you know the name Jeeves from any number of references. The original Jeeves was an all-knowing, unfailingly competent valet to a charming mess of a young Englishman named Bertie. Playwright Margaret Raether adapted Wodehouse's stories into three plays; Jeeves in Bloom is the second produced by TRP (the third is part of their upcoming 67th season). This was my first experience with Jeeves, and I found it funny and charming and very well done by the cast and team at Theatre in the Round. It's the perfect light comedic summer entertainment.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

"Ideation" at the Gremlin Theatre

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. The characters in the play Ideation are definitely paranoid, entertainingly so, but whether or not someone is out to get them is still a question mark at the end of the play. The regional premiere of Ideation by Gremlin Theatre is a taut, thrilling, engrossing, and funny 90 minutes of work colleagues going down a paranoid rabbit hole, and it'll make your head spin, in the best way. Rarely has my logical math left brain side been so engaged and excited at the theater as I tried to follow these characters through their hypotheses and arguments and conclusions. Theories and algebraic equations are written on the white board, only to be erased and written over by a new theory. By the end you don't know what to believe, and neither do the characters in the play, but it sure is fun to watch their wheels spin.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

"French Twist" by Flying Foot Forum at Park Square Theatre

To celebrate their 25th anniversary, Joe Chvala's percussive dance troupe Flying Foot Forum* has brought back their original dance musical French Twist. Now playing on Park Square Theatre's Andy Boss stage in the basement of the Historic Hamm Building in downtown St. Paul, it feels like a weird and magical dream of a barely remembered night in Paris. A series of thrilling and entertaining dances loosely tell the story (with very little dialogue) of a group of friends in a cafe called "Chez Jojo" (the proprietor played by Joe Chvala, natch). With vibrant costumes, a detailed and eclectic set design, a mix of live and recorded music (and film!), the wonderful ensemble of dancers/singers/musicians brings this dream of Paris to vivid life in what would be a perfect 90-minutes-no-intermission (if not for the early and unnecessary intermission). Escape the hot and steamy streets of St. Paul to the cool and fun world of French Twist (through July 15).

"Ken Ludwig's Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery" at Park Square Theatre

Staging a mystery play during the summer is a longstanding tradition at Park Square Theatre, and I've come to look forward to it every year. It's always fun to immerse yourself in the light yet brain-teasing summer blockbuster fare. But their production of Ken Ludwig's Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery is anything but traditional. This new play tells one of the most well known Sherlock stories in a fresh, fun, and imaginative way, with just five actors and a whirlwind, almost slapstick style. Director Theo Langason brings all the innovation and physical storytelling experience from Sandbox Theatre, of which he is an ensemble member, to bear on this wonderfully playful and endlessly delightful production. And the fantastic five-person cast is so playful and fun to watch, including a female Holmes and Watson, because why not?! At a time when so many of us need it, Baskerville provides pure escapist summer fun.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

"West Side Story" at the Guthrie Theater

I grew up watching West Side Story. I've seen the movie dozens of times, listened to the music hundreds of times, and seen it on stage a handful of times (including the Ordway's gorgeous production last year). But I've never seen a West Side Story like the one currently on stage at the big blue building on the river. The Guthrie's West Side Story, directed by Artistic Director Joseph Haj and featuring new original choreography Maija Garcia (both children of immigrants), feels like it was made for today's world. A toppled over Lady Liberty dominates the set, and the musical's themes of institutionalized racism, prejudice towards immigrants, senseless violence, and hate born out of fear have never felt so relevant. It's still that timeless story of star-crossed lovers,* set to Leonard Bernstein's familiar, beloved, and gorgeous score, but with a cast that looks, moves, and feels like America today, for better or worse.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

"Ball: A Musical Tribute To My Lost Testicle" by The Catalysts at the Southern Theater

My favorite show from the 2016 Minnesota Fringe Festival is back! In fact, it never really went away. #TCTheater artist Max Wojtanowicz has been touring his original auto-biographical solo musical "Ball: A Musical Tribute To My Lost Testicle" around the state for the last two years. Shortly after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in January of 2016, his friend/collaborator/director Nikki Swoboda suggested he might want to write a musical about it. Unthinkable, yes, but that's what artists do, they process what's going on in the world and in their lives through their art, creating something that's both personal and universal. So that's what Max did. He journaled through the process of surgeries, chemotherapy, and recovery, and even invited Nikki and several composers into the chemo suite to start working on songs. He finished treatment in April (and is now in remission), and performed his show at Fringe that August. At the time it was so new and raw, a really emotional moving experience. Now with a few years of distance, it may not be quite as fresh, but it's just as moving. If you're in the Twin Cities, you can see it at the Southern Theater this weekend only before it continues its tour to places like the Mayo Clinic and the United Solo Theatre Festival in NYC.

Friday, June 22, 2018

"Romeo and Juliet" by Classical Actors Ensemble at St. Clement's Church

The best thing about summer in Minnesota is outdoor theater. And the lakes, of course. But I love nothing more on a lovely summer evening than to sit outside in a park or a garden somewhere while someone tells me a story. Classical Actors Ensemble continues their tradition of bringing Shakespeare to metro area parks (for free!) with Romeo and Juliet, playing at Lake of the Isles and many other parks every Thursday through Sunday through mid July. Previously I've seen CAE do Shakespeare's comedies, and found them to be so fun, playful, and almost interactive, the way Shakespeare was meant to be. This is the first time I've seen them do a tragedy for their fun summer outdoor play. But Romeo and Juliet is pretty much a rom-com, until somebody dies, so it's still fun and playful in the beginning. And while maybe the tragedy doesn't have quite the same effect when the sun is softly setting, the birds are chirping, and the wind is blowing through the leaves on the trees, it's still the best way to see Shakespeare. Click here to see all of the locations along with handy maps, and then just show up - no tickets or reservations needed (but donations happily accepted to keep this wonderfully free and accessible experience going).

Monday, June 18, 2018

"Fellow Travelers" by Minnesota Opera at the Cowles Center

I'm not much of an opera-goer, mostly because there's so much theater to see, and also because I have a hard time connecting to a story that's sung in a language I don't understand. I like my opera in English, modern (or modernized), and in a small(er) house (see also Skylark Opera). Minnesota Opera's final production in their 2017-2018 checks all of those boxes, plus it's directed by my favorite director of music-theater, Peter Rothstein. So I made a spontaneous trip to the opera yesterday (performed in the Cowles Center Goodale Theater) to see Fellow Travelers, commissioned by the Cincinnati Opera in 2016. Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Mallon, Fellow Travelers tells the story of two men who fall in love in 1950s Washington, D.C., during the Lavender Scare, something I was not previously aware of (bonus: educational!). It's an exceedingly beautiful piece - a heart-breakingly tragic love story, an examination of a dark period in our history, and commentary on the world today, all told with gorgeous music that heightens the emotions of the story. I'm rethinking my position on opera.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

"Into the Woods" by Shoot the Glass Theatre at the Crane Theater

I've seen Into the Woods twice in the last six weeks, and six times in the last seven years (not counting the recent movie adaptation). And while I would love #TCTheater to diversify its choice of shows (there are quite a few duplicates and triplicates this season), I'm not going to complain about this one. Every time I see Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's exceedingly clever fairy tale mash-up that explores what happens after the "happily ever after," I love it even more. It's instantly familiar due to the fairy tale characters we grew up with, but then it lures you into a darker story. And it's a versatile piece that works just as well set in the forests of Asia as in a German beer garden. For their production, newish theater company Shoot the Glass Theater has gone with a stripped down, bare bones, unmiked approach that works beautifully. With minimal (but charming) set pieces and simple costumes, they're able to focus on the storytelling and the music, which is what it's all about.