Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Broadway Tour of "Jersey Boys" at the Orpheum Theatre

Jersey Boys is my musical theater guilty pleasure, and the exception that proves the rule about jukebox musicals. Meaning, I'm not usually a fan of taking popular hit songs and creating a musical around them; I much prefer new original musical theater. Except for Jersey Boys, which I can't help but love and see every time it comes to town (four and counting). After running for over 11 years, the Tony-winning musical closed on Broadway last year, but is still touring the country, stopping at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre this week. The reason I love it is not just because of the fantastically catchy music of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the sharp choreography, and the retro fashions. But because all of this is put together very smartly in the true story of the group, dealing with the good and the bad of fame and living in the music industry. If you've seen Jersey Boys at some point in the last 12 years, you know what I'm talking about. If not, it's not too late to check out this smart, funny, and musically delicious jukebox musical that gives you a peek inside some of the best known American pop songs of the last century (click here for more info and tickets).

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"Natasha and the Coat" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at Highland Park Center Theatre

For the final show of their 23rd season, Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company is bringing us the world premiere of a new play. LA-based playwright (and Playwrights' Center affiliated writer) Deborah Stein's Natasha and the Coat is an engaging look at a Hasidic Jewish family in the neighborhood of Williamsburg in early 21st Century Brooklyn, as well as the garment industry in that neighborhood. It touches on themes of immigration, gentrification, and how to maintain one's culture and traditions while still functioning in modern American society. While it could use a little tightening up (it's lacking in momentum in parts, and feels too long at 2.5+ hours), the likable and believable cast make it worthwhile.

Monday, April 23, 2018

"Thomas Tallis" by Orchard Theater Collective at Calvary Baptist Church

The long, complicated, sordid tale of the English monarchy is the source of much drama and many many plays. Wars, illegitimate heirs, beheadings, oh my! The play Thomas Tallis looks at it from another side, through the life of a man who was a surprising constant through some of the most tumultuous changes in the monarchy in the 16th Century, from Henry VIII through Elizabeth I. As composer for the Church of England, Tallis worked under four different monarchs with differing religious and musical tastes, and somehow survived to the ripe old age of 80 with his head still attached to his body. Jessica Swale's sparse play doesn't get into too many details about the composer or those he worked for, but it does paint a portrait of the artist, the era, and the importance of music. New young theater company Orchard Theater Collective has chosen this play as their second work, staging a lovely and haunting production in Calvary Baptist Church.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

"The Lorax" at Children's Theatre Company in Partnership with the Old Globe and the Old Vic

Unless. What a powerful word. So many scary things might happen. Unless. Unless what, you ask? "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." The best thing to happen lately in this dark and scary world is people caring a whole awful lot about things, and taking to the streets and the polls to make them better. That's the heart of Dr. Seuss's story The Lorax, which specifically is talking about the environment, nature, the wilderness around us. The Old Vic Theatre in London has turned this beautiful story into a charming, playful, and poignantly relevant musical that is now receiving its US premiere at Minneapolis' Children's Theatre Company (in conjunction with San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, where it will play this summer). It gave me all the feels, and had me walking down the street on this first truly spring-like day in wonder. Such is the power of theater, of stories, of people who care a whole awful lot.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"My Barking Dog" by Market Garden Theatre at the Crane Theater Studio

Eric Coble's play The Velocity of Autumn ran for just a month on Broadway four years ago, and I was lucky enough to see it. I really don't understand why it was such a short run, except that maybe the intimate family story plays better on smaller stages. Seeing it again at Old Log a few years ago  confirmed my opinion that it's a beautifully written play, smart and funny and poignant and relatable. I have now seen my second Eric Coble play, thanks to the small theater company Market Garden Theatre producing My Barking Dog in the Crane's intimate (and not yet completed) studio space. This play is also beautifully written, although much different than The Velocity of Autumn. My Barking Dog starts off as a real and relatable story of two individuals, and then veers off into the fantastical, but it's a journey I was happy to take because of the beautiful, odd, surprising script and the strong performances by the two-person cast.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" at the Guthrie Theater

The 1967 movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is a classic, but I don't think I've ever seen it. Or if I have, I don't remember it. But because this movie has become such an integral part of our culture, even people who haven't seen the movie know the premise: a young woman introduces her black fiance to her white family, who, despite being liberals who believe in racial equality, have trouble accepting the relationship. A stage adaptation of the movie was written just a few years ago (by Todd Kriedler) and is currently showing on the Guthrie mainstage. Why tell this story 50 years later? In a world in which black men are arrested for sitting at Starbucks, it's still an important and unfortunately relevant story. But it does feel a little too easy for the mostly older white audience to laugh at these people's reaction in a past we may think we've overcome, but which we obviously haven't.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"The Imaginary Invalid" by Combustible Company at Gremlin Theatre

Their opening night was cancelled in the Great April Blizzard of '18, but a little (or a lot) of snow didn't stop Combustible Company from delivering a funny, clever, relevant, and really well-done version of Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid. When I finally made it to Gremlin Theatre two days later than planned, I found myself thoroughly entertained for two and a half hours by this delightfully odd mixture of humor, music, social commentary, bright costumes, and pharmaceutical ads. The play may be over 300 years old, but this clever new adaptation (by Oded Gross and Tracy Young) brings out all the relevance to 2018 in this story of a hypochondriac struggling with health care issues, as so many are today. The modern references make the play feel fresh and current, while still keeping a tie to the original, and the consistently fantastic cast plays up the comedy to a hilt, without losing sight of the humanity of the characters. (Playing through April 28, click here for info and tickets.)

Friday, April 13, 2018

"The Skriker" by Fortune's Fool Theatre at the Crane Theater

A dark fairy pursues two teenage mothers in Caryl Churchill's The Skriker, receiving a rare production thanks to Fortune's Fool Theatre. It's an ambitious undertaking, with a huge cast of 17, fantastical elements, and complicated often nonsensical dialogue. While I have to admit that the play is a little too weird for my taste, I can recognize the talent, artistry, and hard work that has gone into making this unique and striking piece of art.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"Mermaid Hour: Remixed" at Mixed Blood Theatre

On a snowy Sunday afternoon, several of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers gathered in an old firehouse in Minneapolis to witness the rolling world premiere of a new play called Mermaid Hour, which means that the premiere is happening in several theaters around the country. In this story of a 12-year-old transgender girl, her parents, and her friends, playwright David Valdes Greenwood set out to "write a real portrait of a family life, not just an 'issue' play with a message of 'do this' or 'do that.'" From where I was sitting, he succeeded. But what makes Mixed Blood Theatre's production of Mermaid Hour special is that it's the only one of the world premieres to feature music; the Mixed Blood team worked with the playwright to turn his play into a musical. As a musical theater nerd who thinks every play is better with music, I couldn't be happier with this turn of events. Mermaid Hour: Remixed is not only a real and relatable family story that features transgender characters, too often under- or mis-represented onstage, but it's also done in song!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

"Five Points" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

On Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, the Broadway tour of Something Rotten! is celebrating the "must see magical new original musical" with a wonderfully ridiculous imagining of the genre's beginnings. A few miles away in Northeast Minneapolis, Theater Latte Da is dedicated to continuing the growth of the musical into the future. Several years ago they committed to developing 20 new musicals by the year 2020 (which is almost upon us). Their latest entry into this project opens this weekend, with the "must see magical new original musical" Five Points, written by #TCTheater's current "it" playwright Harrison David Rivers (his charming immigrant story Crack in the Sky opened at History Theatre last month, and Penumbra will produce his love story This Bitter Earth later this month), with music by NYC-based Ethan D. Pakchar and Douglas Lyons and lyrics by the latter. It's an ambitious story set in Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1863, dealing with themes of immigration, racial tension, war, poverty, and of course, dancing. As always Latte Da has put together a top-notch creative team to bring this story to life, and the result is an exciting musical that's traditional in structure, gorgeously designed, fantastically performed, with many thrilling moments of dance.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

"Pink Unicorn" at Illusion Theater

When you need to dig in your purse for a tissue to blow your nose after seeing a play, you know it was a good one. I don’t cry, but @IllusionTheater #pinkunicorn made me cry with its beautiful message of love, hope, & acceptance.
#tctheater #bringtissues #openheart #walkwithme

Thus reads my 280-character immediately post-show Twitter review of Illusion Theater's production of the one-woman show The Pink Unicorn. Kate Guentzel plays the widowed mother of a teenage girl who one day says she doesn't identify as a girl, she's gender queer. In Elise Forier Edie's beautifully written play, we witness this small town woman's journey to reluctant activist, all for the love of her child. With this very personal script in Kate's deft hands, it's a incredibly moving experience. The Pink Unicorn plays for three weekends only, so waste no time in making your way to Illusion's inviting space on the 8th floor of the Hennepin Center for the Arts in downtown Minneapolis (click here for more info and to purchase tickets).

"The Basset Table" by Persistent Theatre Productions at Dreamland Arts

Welcome to the Renaissance! The day after seeing the hilarious fictional farce about (all male) playwrights in Shakespeare's day, I saw an actual play written by a female playwright of the era. Who knew that there was a successful female playwright who lived and wrote shortly after Shakespeare's time? I didn't. Susanna Centlivre was one of the first women in history to make a living as a playwright, and was also an actor in the era just after women were allowed on stage in England. With the current necessary focus on putting more women's stories on stage, it's a great idea to revisit female playwrights of the past who have been largely forgotten. Thanks to Persistent Theatre Productions, a new #TCTheater company with a "feminist voice," for bringing us one of Centlivre's works.