Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play" at the Jungle Theater

On the heels of the remount of the 2018 hit The Wolves, Jungle Theater brings us another smart, funny, touching, nuanced portrayal of teenage girls in the new play School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play by Ghanaian-American playwright Jocelyn Bioh. But this time instead of American soccer players, the girls are students at a prestigious boarding school in Ghana. Although their lives growing up in West Africa are likely very different from most of you reading this blog, their emotions, struggles, triumphs, and dreams are the same. In a very fast 70 minutes, we get a glimpse into these girls' lives as they deal with family pressure, poverty, bullying, competition, colorism, and problematic standards of beauty. Like in The Wolves, they're all fully formed complex humans that I'd like to spend more time with.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"The Cradle Will Rock" by Frank Theatre at Gremlin Theatre

"When the wind blows, the cradle will rock." This sweet and innocent lullaby takes on a whole new meaning in Frank Theatre's production of the 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock. Don't feel bad if you've never heard of it; I hadn't either, and really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I went to see it at Gremlin Theatre last weekend. For a piece that was so revolutionary at the time (the original production was shut down due to its pro-union stance and skewering of the power structure), it's still extraordinarily relevant. It feels like it could have been written in 2019. As usual, director Wendy Knox and her cast and creative team have created a manifestation of the written play that is incredibly detailed, thoughtful, consistent, and true to the message. And better yet, they do it in 90 minutes with no intermission. In the past I've had problems staying engaged for over three hours at a Frank show; no matter how good the play is, that's both a physical and a mental challenge for me. But 90 minutes seems the perfect length for this sort of thing. They fully but succinctly tell the story in an incredibly effective way, without the premise wearing thin or any redundancies. It's truly a rousing and gripping piece of theater (with music!) that will stay with you long after you leave the theater.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

"When We Were Young and Unafraid" by Persistent Theatre Productions at Fallout Urban Arts Center

"Nevertheless, she persisted" has become a manifesto for female empowerment, and it has also become a #TCTheater company. Founded in 2017, Persistent Theatre Productions is all about "lifting women through untold stories." They do that through their choice of plays (original, classics, or new plays by women) and by hiring women behind the scenes. Their newest production is When We Were Young and Unafraid, which premiered Off-Broadway five years ago. It explores the lives of women and the idea of feminism in the early '70s, a time very different from our own in some ways, but in other ways not so different. The untold story it tells is that of domestic violence, always an important story to tell and to hear. Persistent tells it with a strong cast in an intimate setting that leaves nowhere to hide from the sometimes difficult emotions.

"The Hobbit" at Children's Theatre Company

Children's Theatre Company proves that you don't need eight hours, the most advanced technology for visual effects, and 765 million dollars to tell J.R.R. Tolkien's slimmest and sweetest story about the unlikeliest of heroes in literature. You can do it in just two hours with five actors, two musicians, and a whole lot of heart and imagination. The new adaptation of The Hobbit by playwright/director Greg Banks (who shockingly had never read the book before beginning this project), with music by Thomas Johnson, is a wonderful way to bring this story to new audiences, as well as delight Tolkien enthusiasts like myself with the inventive storytelling of a familiar and beloved story.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

"Roe" at Mixed Blood Theatre

I'm not sure there is a more controversial or hotly debate Supreme Court decision than the 1973 case Roe v. Wade that confirmed that the constitutional right to privacy includes a woman's right to decide whether or not to end a pregnancy. Every American has heard of this case, and every American has an opinion about it, usually a very strong one. In Lisa Loomer's brilliant new play Roe, receiving just its second production at Mixed Blood Theatre ahead of a possible Broadway premiere, she explores the life of the two women behind the case: Norma McCorvey, the originally anonymous plaintiff, and Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who successfully argued the case in front of the Supreme Court. It's a fascinating story, not just the journey to the Supreme Court, but the continuing journey since. Or rather, two intersecting journeys for these two very different but equally determined women who parted ways somewhere along the line. But this is no dry history or legal lecture, or a preachy lesson. The play is smart, funny, dynamic, and moving, telling very human and relatable stories about very real and flawed characters. The cast and creative team bring it to life flawlessly, with all elements combining in a way that makes Roe the best thing I've seen this year. It closes at the end of the month, with many performances at or near sell-out; act fast so as not to miss this important and exciting new work (click here for more info and to reserve tickets).

Friday, March 15, 2019

"The Mikado" by The Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center

This long winter is beginning to transition into a very wet spring, which means it must be time for The Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company's annual production of a Gilbert and Sullivan classic comic opera. GSVLOC has been around for 40 years, but this is just my 5th year attending their spring show. I love G&S's fast, witty, joyful operas, and GSVLOC does them well with a huge cast and orchestra. This year they've partnered with Rick Shiomi, directing his adaptation of The Mikado which removes the Japanese stereotypes and modernizes some of the songs. G&S were famous for their biting social commentary, so I'm all for updating their shows to include more relevant social commentary, remove the offensive bits that no longer play to today's audience, but keep the things we love about the original (see also Park Square Theatre's Pirates of Penzance). This Mikado welcomes in the spring "with laughing song and merry dance."

Thursday, March 14, 2019

"She Persists: The Great Divide III" at Pillsbury House Theatre

For the third year in a row, Pillsbury House Theatre is presented a collection of short plays that speak to our divided nation. The 2017 collection was subtitled Plays for a Broken Nation, 2018 was Plays on the Politics of Truth, and 2019 is an all-female collection/creation called She Persists. The series has been a really wonderful way to examine what divides us in a non-judgmental, non-threatening way, while offering a path towards hope and greater connection and conversation with each other. With most theater companies planning their seasons out a year or more in advance, it's difficult for them to immediately respond to what's happening in the world. But this series allows for that, with five brand new 10-minute plays that could not be more timely and relevant.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Minnesota Fringe's "Women's March" at Minnsky Theatre

It's not August (the 75 feet of snow outside your door should tell you that) but that doesn't mean there's no Minnesota Fringe happening! In fact, they have at least one event every month through the festival dates of August 1-11 (and maybe after). In January, I attended the first Drafts and Draughts - readings of new works by Fringe companies, accompanied by local brew. In February the Fringe lottery was held (you can download a list of companies at the Fringe website). And this month brought us a mini-Fringe Festival called "Women's March," showcasing work by female-identifying artists. A few events were cancelled due to the umpteenth snowstorm of the winter, but it didn't stop the festival entirely. I attended two shows, and found it to be a wonderful event. The concept of a mini-Fringe at different times of the year is a fun one, so I hope they continue it. In the meantime, you can click here to see the full 2019 event list, including more Drafts and Draughts, free outdoor performances, and the annual Five-Fifths fundraiser. Yay Fringe!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

"Mamma Mia!" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

I fell head over heels for the Ordway Original production of Mamma Mia! last summer, calling it "fantastically fun and surprisingly moving, performed by a mostly local and all fabulous cast." So when I heard that Chanhassen Dinner Theatres had chosen it as their summer 2019 production, I thought, so soon? why? The answer is that it's an inherently fun and feel-good show show, and while the Ordway production still holds a special place in my heart, it only ran for two weeks and the Chan reaches a much larger out-state audience. There's room for two big, beautiful, fantastically fun Mamma Mia!s in this town. What I love most about this show is that it's very female-forward. Yes there are male characters, but it's truly about the women's stories. Better yet, it's about women loving and supporting each other, not competing with each other. The true love story at the heart of this piece is the love between parent and child, the love of lifelong female friendships. I can't think of any better message to celebrate this summer.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

"Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical" at Old Log Theatre

I love Rosemary Clooney. But I really don't know much about her outside of White Christmas, my favorite Christmas movie. I've seen it dozens of times, each time newly obsessed with Rosemary's performance, voice, hair, costumes. Or rather, I didn't know much about her, but I do now, thanks to Old Log Theatre's regional premiere of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical. Bio-musicals are all the rage right now (see also Beautiful, On Your Feet, and The Cher Show), and IMO there's not a better choice for a bio-musical than the velvet voiced crooner Rosemary Clooney (except maybe for Karen Carpenter - will someone please wright a bio-musical about her?!). Bio-musicals can sometimes seem forced or showy, but Tenderly is not. It's an intimate look at the life of the woman behind the voice we know and love. With just a three-person cast and three-person band, we really get to know Rosie (as her friends called her, and after this show you will feel like her friend) at one of the lowest times of her life - her 1968 hospitalization for addiction and mental illness. But we also get to experience the high points of her career, and how she persevered through the hard times and reinvented herself. Tenderly plays through June 8 at the charming Old Log Theatre in even more charming Excelsior, so perhaps as spring comes (and it will), a trip Out West to visit this lovely and historic lake town and the oldest theater west of the Mississippi (or so I hear) would ge a good way to celebrate.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

British author Roald Dahl's 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of our most beloved, magical, and somewhat twisted children's books. The 1971 film adaptation starring Gene Wilder is iconic (the 2005 Johnny Depp version less so). Perhaps due to the success of the musical adaptation of one of Roald Dahl's other beloved novels, Matilda (receiving its regional premiere at Children's Theatre Company this spring), Charlie was also adapted into a musical. It premiered on Broadway in 2017, where it ran for under a year and didn't make much of a splash, so I went to the Broadway tour last night with not very high expectations. Which is often the best way to see a show, and be pleasantly surprised at what is a charming and delightful musical. There were a lot of children in attendance (about whom I was a bit worried in some of the more gruesome moments of the show), and all seemed to be enjoying the magic and wonder of the story. In fact I'd love to see CTC produce this Roald Dahl story once it becomes available for regional productions (perhaps the more successful West End version). In the meantime, you have two weeks to visit the Chocolate Factory on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis (click here for more info, including student/educator rush tickets, and "Kids Night on Hennepin").

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

"The Government Inspector" at Theatre in the Round

Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of the brilliantly ridiculous Russian satirical comedy The Government Inspector premiered at the Guthrie in 2008, featuring his usual dry wit and clever humor, and starring a bunch of beloved Guthrie actors and one Broadway star. I don't remember too much about it, other than the hilarity, and that yes, Hunter Foster (aka Seymour) did sing. While perhaps some of the jokes don't land as well in 2019, the idea of a narcissistic, greedy, corrupt politician finally getting what's coming to him is particularly appealing at this moment in time. Theatre in the Round's production, which closes this weekend, brings all the absurdity to life in a very entertaining way, with almost constant laughter from the nearly sold-out crowd.