Tuesday, July 16, 2019

2019 Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona

Last weekend I attended the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona for the second year in a row. I had such a great time with my fellow bloggers from Minnesota Theater Love and Twin Cities Stages last year that we decided to go again this year. If you're looking for a fun Minnesota theater vacation, GRSF is it. Winona is a charming river town that's just a two-hour drive from the Twin Cities, with lots of hotels, restaurants, shops, outdoor activities, and an impressive art museum. And for those of us who love theater, there's truly nothing better that getting away from daily obligations to immerse yourself in theater for a few days. Especially when the theater is so well done, so thoughtful, so inclusive, and so engaging, like it is at GRSF. I don't recall another theater experience where the Managing (Aaron Young) and Artistic (Doug Scholz-Carlson) Directors of the theater can be seen mingling with the audience before, during, and after every performance, and where there are so many opportunities to interact with the artists through various programs and events. It really feels like a fun, festive, community event celebrating theater (mostly but not exclusively written by the Bard). Ticket prices are quite reasonable, with four-show passes ranging from $85 to $140 ($21 to $35 per show). The festival runs through August 4, so you still have time to visit this year. See the GRSF website for all the details, and check out VisitWinona.com for all of the other activities available (if you can tear yourself away from the theater).

Saturday, July 13, 2019

"Legally Blonde" at Lyric Arts

Oh my God! Oh my God, you guys*!! Lyric Arts' production of Legally Blonde is so much fun! I recently wrote that Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant is the perfect fun summer musical (playing at Park Square Theatre through July 28), but now we have a second perfect fun summer musical. Unlike some other summer musicals, Legally Blonde is fresh, modern, fun, and feminist. I had never seen it before (or the movie from which it was adapted) because I'm a bit of a snob about movie-musical adaptations - I prefer original musicals. But I've been missing out! Elle Woods is a 21st Century heroine and role model who turns the stereotype of the dumb blonde on its head (see also Smart Blonde). Lyric Arts' production of Legally Blonde is sharp, funny, well-cast, and just an all around great time.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

"What Would Crazy Horse Do?" by Turtle Theater Collective at Mixed Blood Theatre

"The Turtle Theater Collective is committed to producing high-quality, contemporary work that explores Native experiences and subverts expectations about how and when Native artists can create theater. In addition to producing Indigenous plays, we center Native bodies and voices by situating them within the broader theatrical canon, providing opportunities for Native artists to grow and play."

Monday, July 1, 2019

"George" by Sheep Theater at Phoenix Theater

Celebrate Independence Day with Sheep Theater, who is bringing back their delightfully wacky original comedy George for the July 4th weekend. This show was my first introduction to Sheep four years ago, with their motto of "Original plays. Deranged sincerity," and I've enjoyed many moments of deranged sincerity since. At the time I called George "funny, clever, and irreverent, with jokes about the many things America is best at (giving speeches, celebrating) and how it's OK to lie if it's for the good of the country." Revisiting it, it gave me all of the patriotic feels, watching a bunch of goofballs make fun of our founding fathers (and mothers!) in the most lovingly irreverent way, celebrating all of the freedoms we hold dear, and remembering the ideals this country was founded on (which is easy to forget these days). As my great-grandmother, daughter of Polish immigrants, used to say - hooray for the 4th of July!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

"The Pillowman" by Theatre Coup d'Etat at SpringHouse Ministry Center

Theatre Coup d'Etat's production of The Pillowman is the third play by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh that I've seen, and the darkest and most twisted. And that's saying something, considering I've seen The Beauty Queen of Leenane about an extremely unhealthy mother-daughter relationship and A Behanding in Spokane about a man in search of his missing hand. McDonagh has a knack for writing really fascinating characters, darkly funny dialogue, and extremely twisted situations. All of those are true about The Pillowman (best play Tony nominee in 2005), which explores the brutal interrogation of a short story writer whose stories of violence against children start coming true. With a fantastic cast, inventive design, and an intimate performance space, Theatre Coup d'Etat brings this creepy story to life almost too viscerally.

"Guys and Dolls" at the Guthrie Theater

So here's the thing, my #TCTheater friends. The Guthrie Theater's production of the 1950 classic musical Guys and Dolls is spectacular. The cast is brilliantly talented, the dance numbers are phenomenal, the music is familiar, fun, and lively, and every element of design is spot-on gorgeous. But even all of that wonderfulness can't overcome the fact that Guys and Dolls is a dated, misogynist story that we don't need to tell anymore. Calling women "dolls," and all of the gender stereotypes wrapped up in that, is just not cute in 2019. I've seen the show several times in the past, and I've loved it in the past, but each time I see it I love it a little less. The world is changing, I'm changing, but Guys and Dolls remains rooted in gender stereotypes from the title to the lyrics, dialogue, and story. To their credit, the Guthrie has made a number of changes that make the show a little more palatable to a modern audience, but there's only so much they can do. Ever since they announced their season last year, I couldn't understand why they would choose to do this show now, except that it's a crowd-pleaser that will sell lots of tickets. The good news is that their other summer show is a world premiere of a new play that the Guthrie commissioned from Lynn Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning African American female playwright. If doing dated old musicals that have been done a million times is the price we have to pay to support new work from too often unheard voices, well, as Stephen Sondheim wrote in the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Sunday in the Park with George (seen at the Guthrie two summers ago in a stunning production), "that is the state of the art, my friends." And don't get me wrong, it is a super fun show and audiences are going to have a great time. I had a great time. But I'm also disappointed that we keep telling these old stories instead of discovering new ones.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant" at Park Square Theatre

This summer, Park Square Theatre is all about supporting new works of music-theater created right here in #TCTheater. Last weekend saw the closing of one remount of a locally created new original musical (the gorgeous and moving dance musical about the Bosnian War, Heaven) and the opening of another remount of a locally created new original musical. More than a remount, this iteration of Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant is an expanded version of the 2017 Fringe hit that has been doubled in length, fun, and emotion. Created by uber-talented young composer/lyricist/playwright Keith Hovis, Jefferson Township is a darkly hilarious and surprisingly poignant look at a group of millennials turning 30, as seen through a super creepy small town Minnesota youth pageant. It's extremely clever, very funny, and the super talented well-balanced quartet of actors are having so much fun that it's impossible for the audience not to have fun too. Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant is the perfect fun summer musical.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical" on tour at the Ordway

Friends, when I heard that something called The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical was coming to the Ordway, I had no idea what that meant. Who's Percy Jackson, is this some bio-musical? I almost didn't see it, but when I read that it was adapted from a series of young adult novels that are a sort of Greek mythology fan fiction, I was intrigued. I saw the show last night with zero expectations (which is often the best way to see a show) and was pleasantly surprised at how delightful this story is. A relatable message for teens (and adults), a catchy clever score, fun theater magic, and a fantastic seven-person cast (many of whom reprise their roles from the original Off-Broadway production) make this a show worth seeing, even if you've never heard the name Percy Jackson.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

"The Rinky Dink Show! What Kind of Rinky Dink Show is This?" at Bryant Lake Bowl

There's a new group in #TCTheater called Rinky Dink Operations - a collection of very funny people you many know from the Fringe or various other theater, improv, and/or comedy stages around town. They've begun a residency at Bryant Lake Bowl in Uptown with their Rinky Dink Show, a sketch comedy/variety show inspired by everything from Saturday Night Live to The Muppet Show. It's a lot of fun, and something different from the theater I usually see. And with the 7pm showtime and 90 minute runtime, you can be home by 9 for an early bedtime still enjoy other evening festivities that cool people do on the weekends.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Fresh Ink: New Works at Illusion Theater

Every summer, Illusion Theater presents readings of new works. It's been way too long since I attended a "Fresh Ink" reading - three years! But I remedied that this year by attending the first of four performances of the staged reading of a new play by local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher. And I hope to get to one or both of the other new plays, also by local #TCTheater artists Carlyle and Barb Brown and Beth Gilleland. Like readings at the Playwrights' Center, this series is a great way to experience a new play and participate in the development process. In a way, we're the test audience, to see how the play lands and allow the playwright to make adjustments if necessary. Readings are only $10 each and run Thursday through Sunday evenings for the next three weekends (click here for more info).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

"Musical Mondays" at LUSH, June 2019

Friends, it's been over a year since I attended Musical Mondays, the monthly cabaret series featuring #TCTheater talent. Part of that is my busy regular theater schedule, and part of it is that since moving to their new home at LUSH Bar in Northeast Minneapolis, the space has felt uncomfortably crowded. Great for them for drawing a big crowd, not so great for this introvert who doesn't like crowds. So I was thrilled to hear that LUSH expanded their space just in time for Musical Mondays' annual Pride celebration! I attended the show last night with my blogger friends from Minnesota Theater Love and Artfully Engaging, and was reminded of just what a wonderful, welcoming, educational, and entertaining evening Musical Mondays is. They're taking the month of July off (because summer is busy), but they'll be back post-Fringe on August 12, and the first (or second) Monday of every month for what is hopefully a long time.

Monday, June 10, 2019

"Spring Awakening" by The Chameleon Theatre Circle at Gremlin Theatre

At last night's 2019 Tony Awards, Hadestown won eight Tonys (including best musical, notably the first best musical written and directed by women). Twelve years ago, Spring Awakening won eight Tonys, including best musical. Like Hadestown, Spring Awakening is based on an old story (not as old as the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, rather a late 19th Century German play), retold in a way that feels new utterly relevant to today's world. Sadly, the issues of suicide, teen pregnancy, abortion, child abuse, and the general difficulties of being a teenager are never not relevant. The new production by The Chameleon Theatre Circle features a talented young cast, many of whom also play instruments, and brings these issues to the forefront of 2019.