Monday, September 17, 2018

"Awake and Sing!" at Artistry

I love sad plays. I love stories of miserable families who love each other but don't know how to express it in healthy ways. Awake and Sing!, now playing at Artistry's black box theater, is one such tragically beautiful and beautifully tragic play, like Tennessee Williams set in the Bronx. Or rather, since Clifford Odets' 1935 play predates Williams' major works, I guess I should say that Tennessee Williams is like Odets set in the South. The multi-generational Berger family has become beaten down by life, with the younger generation trying to break free and make a new life in this new country, if only it will let them. With a strong cast and detailed design in an intimate space, Artistry's production is beautiful and heart-breaking.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

"Once" by Theater Latte Da at Ritz Theater

Ever since it became available for regional productions a few years ago, I've been (im)patiently waiting for a #TCTheater company to do Once, the eight-time Tony winning musical based on the Irish indie film that won an Oscar for best song. My (im)patience has finally been rewarded with a production by my favorite company of theater musically that is, in a word, grand. Theater Latte Da used to have a series called "Broadway Re-imagined," but the cool thing about Once is that the original production on Broadway was already re-imagined, at least in terms of what you usually see on a Broadway stage. It's a small intimate story lacking the traditional (clich├ęd) happy ending; it features folk-rock music; and there is no separate orchestra, rather the ensemble also functions as the band in one cohesive celebration of music, love, joy, and pain. So very Irish. Still, Latte Da has managed to put their own unique spin on it and cast 13 multi-talented local performers to create something truly special that will make your heart ache in the best possible way.

"West of Central" at Pillsbury House Theatre

A thrilling mystery in the classic noir style set in LA in the '60s sounds fun, but add in the fact that the smart and savvy detective is an African American woman and the play deals with issues of racism, segregation, riots, and changing neighborhoods, and you have a uniquely engaging and thought-provoking new play that only favorite #TCTheater playwright Christina Ham could write. West of Central was developed at the Playwright's Center, where I saw a reading two years ago as part of their Playlabs Festival. It was great then, and it's even better now after some tweaking and fully staged at Pillsbury House Theatre with precise design. Directed by Haley Finn (who also directed the PWC reading) and featuring a fantastic cast of local faves, West of Central is not just super cool and fun, but also has some interesting things to say about race relations then and now, as well as how we choose to live where we live and where we call home.

Friday, September 14, 2018

"Spring Awakening" by Shoot the Glass Theater at the Lab Theater

I love Spring Awakening so much that after seeing the eight time Tony winner on Broadway (with most of the original cast), I named the next kitten I adopted Moritz Stiefel, after my favorite character. Nine years and three bladder surgeries later, my sweet Moritz is still with me, and so is my love for Spring Awakening. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), the themes of the late 19th Century German play, as seen through a rock musical, are still relevant today. Suicide rates are on the rise, there are some very real threats to abortion rights in this country, exposure and intolerance of sexual abuse and harassment is at an all time high, and 21st Century technology is making it harder to be a teenager than perhaps it's ever been. You think Wendla and Melchi had it rough? At least they never had their most embarrassing moment go viral for the entire world to bully them! For all of these reasons I'm grateful to Shoot the Glass Theater for bringing Spring Awakening to us now, in a beautifully staged production featuring a super talented cast of young and unknown actors. I found myself falling in love with this story and these characters all over again.

Monday, September 10, 2018

"Dial M for Murder" at Gremlin Theatre

I concluded my unintentional Frederick Knott double-bill weekend with the fun and twisty murder mystery Dial M for Murder at Gremlin Theatre (see also Theatre in the Round's production of the English playwright's Wait Until Dark). It was fun to see the two plays back to back and notice the similarities: both take place entirely within an apartment with mention of a street door, both use phone calls to further the mystery, and both feature seemingly helpless maidens in distress who overcome their attacker and defend themselves, proving to their husbands that they are strong and capable and not so easily fooled. In Dial M for Murder, the husband plans the perfect murder, but if it were as easy as he thought to get away with murdering his wife, we wouldn't have a play. Gremlin's production is well cast and well designed, and tells an intriguing and engaging story.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

"Wait Until Dark" at Theatre in the Round

I first saw Frederick Knott's 1966 classic thriller Wait Until Dark, adapted by local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, at Lyric Arts two years ago. The second time around, at Theatre in the Round aka the Twin Cities' oldest theater, may have been a bit less suspenseful since I knew what was coming, but it's still a thrilling story of a blind woman who outsmarts the criminals trying to do her in and uses her sightlessness to her advantage.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

"Remembering Pins and Needles" by Theatre Elision at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center

One of my favorite new theater companies, Theatre Elision, is beginning their second full season with another original piece showcasing a little known part of music-theater history. Remembering Pins and Needles does just that - it remembers the 1937 musical created by the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union that went on to become the longest running Broadway show at the time (it's now #100). With a book by producer Cindy Polich, the show includes about a dozen songs from the original and one of the few remaining comedy sketches, interspersed with explanatory dialogue about the phenomenon that was Pins and Needles. The fantastic four-person ensemble and swingin' four-person band do a great job with these fun '30s era tunes, and the songs and story of Pins and Needles have a surprising resonance today - the working class fighting for their fair share against the rich and powerful that are trying to use them and keep them down. Remembering Pins and Needles is 75 minutes of edutainment that you can't get anywhere else.

Friday, September 7, 2018

"If/Then" at Lyric Arts

2014 saw the Broadway premiere of a new original musical written by the creators of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal (Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt) for two of the original stars of the Pulitzer Prize-winning RENT (Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp). I went to see If/Then with super high expectations, which is probably why I was underwhelmed. It's not going to win a Pulitzer (few musicals do, only nine if you want to get nerdy about it), in fact it didn't even win a Tony. But the more I listen to the score and see the show (I also saw the national tour a few years ago), the more I like it. It may not be a brilliant musical, but it's a good one, and it's original, fresh, and modern, which is hard to come by these days. Lyric Arts in Anoka was lucky/smart enough to snag the regional premiere, and I'm quite impressed by what this little community(ish) theater in the 'burbs was able to do with this complex show. A solid cast (and one outright superstar in Kate Beahen), a clever design that captures the spirit of NYC, clear direction by Elena Giannetti, and interesting movement around the small stage bring out the best in this smart, funny, moving, and thought-provoking new original modern musical. I can't ask for much more than that.

Monday, September 3, 2018

"Hamilton" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

That's right, #TCTheater friends, music-theater's favorite founding father has finally arrived in Minneapolis, along with all of this friends. Three years after opening on Broadway and becoming the biggest theater sensation in years, maybe even decades, the second national tour is playing at the Opheum Theatre for a six-week run. I'm lucky enough to have seen it four times now, and it's still just as epic and thrilling, if not quite as mind-blowing as the first time. Hamilton is the rare thing that not only lives up to the hype, it exceeds it. In fact it's not really about the hype at all, the "all the cool people are seeing Hamilton so I guess I should see it too." You shouldn't go see Hamilton so you can impress your friends and neighbors, you should go see Hamilton because it's the quintessential American story told through the quintessential American art form - musical theater. It's one of those ground-breaking milestone events in the history of theater that has forever changed it. And it's also three jam-packed hours of music, dance, stories, entertainment, and inspiration. If you don't already have your tickets don't despair (and DO NOT buy tickets from third-party sellers!). There are tickets still available through the official channels, and you can enter a daily lottery in which 40 lucky people win the chance to buy tickets for $10 (click here for all the info). I don't think I need to try to convince anyone to go see it, or tell you how incredibly amazing it is. You already know that, the rest is up to you.

Friday, August 24, 2018

"Dr. Falstaff and the Working Wives of Lake County: A Picnic Operetta" by Mixed Precipitation at the Dodge Nature Center


Cooler weather, back to school sales, and the Minnesota State Fair may signal the end of summer, but one of #TCTheater's summer highlights is in full swing. This is my 5th year attending Mixed Precipitation's annual picnic operetta (now celebrating their 10th anniversary), and if you haven't seen them yet you're missing out on a unique delight. Mixing classic opera, pop music, and Minnesota's bountiful harvest, they perform a charming show outdoors while feeding the audience throughout the show. What's better than that?! For this year's opera, Artistic Director Scotty Reynolds has adapted German composer Otto Nicolai's 1849 opera Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (based on Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor), setting it on the Iron Range in the '70s at the time of the foundation of the EPA, adding in songs by Bruce Springsteen. The result is exactly as weird and wonderful as that sounds. It's playful, fun, outdoors, and did I mention they feed you?! Playing in gardens and parks around the state, from Lake County to Winona (including several locations in the Twin Cities area), you're not going to want to miss this unique theatrical and culinary delight.

Monday, August 20, 2018

"What I Thought I Knew" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at the Highland Park Center Theatre

NYC-based theater artist Alice Eve Cohen had a surprise late-in-life pregnancy filled with traumatic
experiences and decisions. So she wrote a play about it, because that's what artists do. The result is a frank, funny, and almost unbelievable story that touches on many common and relatable issues. For their production of What I Though I Knew, Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company enlisted Kim Kivens to perform the solo piece, a wise choice indeed. As much as anything else, the play is about storytelling. About our need to tell stories, our need to listen to each other's stories. Alice's story is a remarkable one, and listening to it, as told by the team at MJTC, is a joyful, heart-breaking, moving experience.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

"Dear Lenny: Bernstein's Life in Songs and Letters" by Chronofon Productions at Open Eye Figure Theatre

Leonard Bernstein. I know him mostly as the composer of one of my all-time favorite musical theater scores, West Side Story (now playing at the Guthrie for one more week), as well as other works ranging from classical to popular. But I never really knew much about the man behind the music or what his life was like. Thanks to Open Eye Figure Theatre and the team from Chronofon Productions (Bradley Greenwald, Dan Chouinard, Diana Grasselli, and Prudence Johnson), I now feel like I have an even greater appreciation for the music as well as the person who created it. Dear Lenny: Bernstein's Life in Songs and Letters is a well constructed and entertaining deep dive into the life and work of one of the best American composers of the 20th Century.