Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Street Scene" by Girl Friday Productions at Minneapolis Theatre Garage

Hello.  My name is Jill and I'm a theater-aholic.  It had been two weeks since I'd been to the theater, and I didn't have anything on my schedule for another two weeks.  A month without theater, perish the thought!  So when I received an email telling me about Girl Friday Productions' Street Scene, I eagerly looked it up.  A theater company I'd never seen, a location I'd never been to (the funky Minneapolis Theatre Garage), a Pulitzer Prize winning play from 1929 about immigrant life in a NYC tenement  - sold.  As one of the characters in the play says, "you never know, when you get up in the morning, what the day will bring."  Unlike the tragedy that the day brought to the characters in the play, my day unexpectedly brought a wonderful and moving experience at the theater.

Street Scene was written by Elmer Rice and first produced on Broadway in 1929.  The entire three-act play takes place on the streets and stoops in front of a NYC tenement building, teeming with life of all flavors.  The mix of accents is a delight to the ear - Irish, German, Italian, Swedish, and New York "natives."  20-some actors (including several children and a dog) play 50+ different roles, some as small as a man who strolls down the street singing and is never seen again, or a little girl being reluctantly pulled along by her mother, or a milkman making his deliveries.  The busy sounds of the street are playing softly throughout the play, as well as 20s-era radio (songs, ballgames, talk) playing during intermission and before the show.  It all sets up the environment of the show: a close, supportive, and contentious neighborhood in which the neighbors all know each other - perhaps a little too well.

The show starts off with everyone mopping their brow and asking "hot enough for you?" - a scene that could have been lifted from just about any neighborhood in the country right now (I suspect that the "it's not the heat it's the humidity" line might have been added to cater to local audiences).  The first act establishes the characters: the gossipy and bigoted Mrs. Jones, with her bully son Vincent and flapper girl daughter; the Maurrant family, sad suffering Anna and her abusive husband and idealist working-girl daughter Rose; the outspoken Bolshevik Mr. Kaplan and his smart student son Sam, in love with Rose.  The characters have long conversations with each other, both philosophical and practical, and gossip about their neighbors behind their backs.  The chief object of gossip is Mrs. Maurrant, who appears to be having an affair with the milkman.

Things start to happen in the second act.  Vincent torments Sam, and he and Rose talk about running away together, getting out of the tenements.  She's hopeful of a better life; he believes life is nothing but pain.  He has a serious case of Weltschmerz, as his father points out.  Mr. Maurrant goes off on a trip for a few days, and Mrs. Maurrant invites her milkman up.  In true soap fashion, her husband returns to find them together and (spoiler alert) kills them both in a bloody and action-packed scene.  In the final act, Rose is forced to grow up fast and make a new life for herself and her little brother.  She plans to leave town, and Sam wants to go with her, declaring his undying love for her.  But Rose gently refuses him, putting her in the position of having to comfort him (which doesn't seem fair since she's the one who's just lost both of her parents!).  Rose says people shouldn't belong to anyone but themselves, and that was part of what caused her parents' problems.  She's determined not to fall into the same trap.  As the show ends, modern day sneaks into the old neighborhood: a Lady Gaga song is heard, a man enters with a cardboard coffee cup and Target bag, and a boy rides a skateboard while listening to an iPod.  Life goes on, not so different now from what it was then.

The Theatre Garage is a small space with a small stage, but there's nothing small about this production.  The large cast fills the space and moves around and through it with ease (as directed by Craig Johnson).  It's a strong ensemble; most of them are new to me.  Anna Sundberg is luminous and captivating as Rose, and Logan Verdoorn is heart-breaking as the serious studious Sam.  John Middleton (Theater Latte Da's Song of Extinction) brings a strength to the frail old Mr. Kaplan.  Ellen Apel provides much of the humor as the busybody Mrs. Jones.  Kirby Bennett conveys sadness and longing with a look as the poor Mrs. Maurrant, and Bob Malos as her jerk of a husband is infuriating and somehow almost sympathetic.  It was a thrilling, engaging, tragic night at the theater.  From what I gather, Girl Friday's shows are few and far between, but judging from Street Scene, it's worth the wait.

Thanks to Nancy for telling me about this show, that otherwise would have passed me by without my knowledge.  Please, friends, be my enablers in my theater addiction.  Tell me about theater going on in the Twin Cities that I might not have heard about, so that I don't have to go two weeks without going to the theater again.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"In Conversation with Rainn Wilson" at the Guthrie

It's fairly obvious that I'm a huge theater fan.  But I also watch way too much TV, and I love it when those two obsessions intersect, as they did at the Guthrie today.  Before becoming famous as Dunder-Miflin's assistant (to the) regional manager Dwight Schrute on The Office (one of my favorite TV comedies ever), Rainn Wilson was a theater actor in New York and around the country, including right here at the Guthrie.  His busy TV and movie schedule prevents him from coming back to the Guthrie to do a play (for now, anyway), but he was kind enough to spend the weekend in Minneapolis and share some of his experiences acting in theater, TV, and movies.  Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling conducted an informal interview of Rainn on the deck of the H.M.S. Pinafore on the thrust stage, followed by a question and answer session.  Rainn was charming, funny, and spontaneous as he interacted with the audience, and the two men obviously have a lot of respect for each other.

Rainn Wilson and Lee Mark Nelson in
Philadelphia, Here I Come!

Joe's questions led Rainn through the chronology of his career as an actor, beginning with earning an MFA from NYU and traveling around the country doing Shakespeare with The Acting Company (which partners with the Guthrie and presented The Comedy of Errors and Romeo and Juliet here in January).  Rainn first appeared at the Guthrie in 1996 in Philadelphia, Here I Come!, which he called "a singular moment" in his life and career.  His favorite plays are ones in which there's no limit to how funny and how tragic it can be.  He returned a few years later for The Importance of Being Earnest and The Venetian Twins (which included a planned "stabbing" of an audience member, followed by an ambulance driving onto the stage).

Rainn worked as a struggling actor in NYC and around the country for about ten years.  He had other odd jobs during that time, including owning a moving company called "The Transcendent Moving Company" with the slogan, "A man, a van, and a sense of higher purpose."  He moved from New York to L.A. when he saw that actors with a TV credit on their resume were more likely to get cast at some theaters.  He thought he'd do a few TV roles so that he could return to theater and have an easier time getting roles.  Turns out he had some early success in L.A., including bit parts in the movies Galaxy Quest and Almost Famous.  But then he didn't work much for a year and half, so he returned to what he loved.  He did Taming of the Shrew at the Old Globe in San Diego, and did "what he does best" - crazy, hammy comedy using every trick in the book to get laughs.  He had a great time, and upon returning to L.A. he started booking roles in TV and film.  He was cast as apprentice mortician Arthur in HBO's brilliant series Six Feet Under (starring native Minnesotan Peter Krause), which changed his life and eventually led to his role as Dwight on The Office.  Before he got the role he had seen the original British version, calling it "a revelation" because of, among other things, the awkward pause and the way they used the camera as another character.

Rainn also talked about a couple of other projects he's involved in; causes he's been able to support and promote because of his celebrity status.  He created the website (and companion book) Soul Pancake - a way for people to grapple with life's big questions in a way that's cool and accessible for young people.  Rainn and his wife (writer Holiday Reinhorn, who was in the audience) also work with the charity The Mona Foundation, "non-profit organization that supports grassroots initiatives focused on education and raising the status of women and girls in the US and abroad."  He spoke about his experience teaching the arts to adolescent girls in Haiti as one example of the foundation's work.  It's quite obvious that in addition to being a talented stage, film, and TV actor, Rainn is also a pretty cool person.

Rainn had great things to say about his time at the old Guthrie and the new facility, and commended Joe Dowling's leadership in bringing it to life (even if he did compare him to the Lucky Charms Leprechaun).  He also joked about the annoyance of the thrust stage and having to include the people on the sides.  There were a few people sitting there, and he directed them to other open seats so that he wouldn't have to worry about them.  He's very funny and quick-witted (despite never having done improv or stand-up) and would go off on tangents or get distracted by things or people in the audience.  He gamely answered many questions from the audience, everything from audition tips to "do you hang out with your co-stars."  Rainn ended the afternoon by encouraging everyone to support the Guthrie and local theater, a sentiment with which I heartily agree!



Celebrity Sighting
I saw several Guthrie actors in attendance at this event.  Local actor supercouple Kris Nelson (Arsenic and Old Lace, Ten Thousand Thing's Doubt) and Tracey Maloney (God of Carnage) walked in just in front of me.  Later I saw Kris' brother Lee Mark Nelson (still bald after playing Daddy Warbucks in Annie at the Children's Theatre, he also starred in Master Butchers Singing Club last fall) talking to Hugh Kennedy (Arsenic and Old Lace).  Last but not least, Captain of the Pinafore and The 39 Steps' Richard Hannay, aka Robert Berdahl, was also in the audience.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"9 to 5: The Musical" at the Ordway

Any musical that has "The Musical" in the title is most likely adapted from a movie or TV show, and if you've read this blog before you know that's not my favorite kind of musical.  But 9 to 5: The Musical is the final show in an excellent season at the Ordway that included a super fun local production of Joseph, the Peter Rothstein-directed Guys and Dolls, and the brilliant and breath-taking original musical Next to Normal.  So I went.  And I love Dolly Parton; she's an amazingly talented and prolific songwriter and a smart woman (you have to be smart to play that ditsy).  She wrote all new music for the score, except of course for the title song which was written for the 1980 movie.  The book was written by Patricia Resnick, who co-wrote the movie script.  I don't think I've ever seen the entire movie, so I can't say how similar the musical is to the movie.  But as a musical I found it cute and funny in parts, with some great songs, but also at times silly (not in a good way) and over the top.

9 to 5: The Musical takes place in a workplace in 1979, when women were secretaries rather than administrative assistants, and were disrespected and underpaid.  (As opposed to today, when there's perfect equality in the workplace. ;)  Violet is the single working mother who has risen to the top of the secretary pool at Consolidated, but can't go any further.  Doralee (the Dolly character) is the pretty and perky blond whom everyone assumes is sleeping with the boss.  And Judy is the newly divorced woman who's stepping out into the workplace for the first time in her life.  All three leads are great.  The Tony-nominated Dee Hoty is the tough Violet who dreams of being "One of the Boys" (a woman CEO, can you imagine?) and tries to resist falling in love with the cute "junior accountant."  Diana DeGarmo (an American Idol finalist whom I saw play Sheila in HAIR on Broadway last year) does a great job of imitating Dolly, even though at times it feels like a Dolly impression rather than an original character.  It's quite remarkable how she transforms her strong voice into Dolly's high-pitched one and still manages to sound great.  She sings about being judged for her looks in "Backwoods Barbie" (which Dolly recorded as the title track of one of her CDs).  Mamie Parris is a powerhouse as Judy and has a nice arc, growing from the hurt and unsure new divorcee to a strong and capable woman who realizes she doesn't need a man, as she belts "Get Out and Stay Out!"

The three completely different women bond over their hatred for their misogynist, hypocritical, thoughtless boss, Mr. Hart.  He's a little like Parks and Recreation's Ron Swanson, only more sleazy and evil.  Joseph Mahowald has a lot of fun with the role, and has a great voice as he proclaims his "love" for Doralee in "Here for You."  Fed up with the jerk, the women fantasize about killing him, each in her own unique way.  Instead, they merely kidnap him and hold him hostage while running the company themselves in his name.  Their plan is to gather evidence that he's embezzling from the company to blackmail him into keeping quiet about the kidnapping.  Meanwhile, productivity at Consolidated increases as all the employees are happier under the women's new leadership.  The chairman of the board shows up (looking a little like Colonel Sanders) just as Mr. Hart escapes, and gives Violet Mr. Hart's job while shipping him off to Bolivia.  Dolly shows up in video form to tell us what happens to everyone after the story ends, just as she did at the beginning to introduce the story.  And everyone lives happily ever after.

So it was a light and fun end to the Ordway season, if not the strongest show in the bunch.  Similar to the "Broadway Across America" season at the Hennepin theaters, I decided not to renew my full season subscription at the Ordway so that I can focus more on new and/or local theater pieces.  I saw The Addams Family on Broadway last year because of its stars (Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane) and have no need to see it again.  But I will definitely see the wonderful Fela! (which is so unique it almost doesn't feel like a musical, but more like a concert experience) and the Tony-winning Memphis.  And I always like to see the Ordway originals (this year they're doing Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella) because they're always quality productions filled with local talent.

Friday, July 15, 2011

"Latte Da in the Park" by Theater Latte Da at Lake Harriet

Outdoor music is my favorite part of summer.  And when that music is various selections from musical theater performed by some of my favorite local musical theater actors, it doesn't get any better.  Even though the weather didn't feel very summery, it was still a great night of musical theater at the Lake Harriet Bandshell as Theater Latte Da presented their annual cabaret show "Latte Da in the Park."  I've seen all five of the performers in the past year: Laurel Armstrong (Into the Woods, Flying Foot Forum's original new musical Heaven, On the Town), Sheena Janson (as the man-eating plant in Mu's Little Shop of Horrors), Randy Schmeling (Latte Da's Violet, one of my 2010 favorites, Joseph at the Ordway, TC Theatre Artists Support Japan), Erin Schwab (also in TC Theatre Artists Support Japan), and Max Wojtanowicz (as Cliff in Frank Theatre's wonderful Cabaret).  These talented performers were accompanied by, as always, Latte Da's Musical Director Denise Prosek, and Artistic Director Peter Rothstein was on hand to announce the upcoming 2011-2012 season.

"Alive and Kicking" was the opening act of the show - a chorus made up of men and women aged 61-94, directed by Latte Da resident choregrapher Matthew Michael Ferrell.  They sang a few rock classics with more energy than I can usually muster up, and they were kind of adorable.  Another big part of the entertainment was watching Matthew's one-man dance as he directed the chorus.  They were obviously having a great time (click here for a WCCO news story about the group).

On to the main act of the evening.  The performers sang an interesting selection of songs from musical theater, many of which I've never heard before.  I appreciate that because it introduces me to lesser-known musicals I might never have heard of otherwise.  (Unlike the man I heard complaining that they didn't sing any "showtunes," like from Fiddler on the Roof or Man of La Mancha.  You're in the wrong place, buddy, Theater Latte Da is about the future of musical theater, not the past.)  Laurel started off the show singing a song about falling in love with a boy who plays the clarinet, and later sang the Stephen Sondheim song "Girls of Summer."  Max sang "I Talk to the Trees" from the Lerner and Loewe musical Paint Your Wagon, and a beautiful song called "Lost in the Wilderness" from the musical Children of Eden.  Erin sang a couple of great musical theater songs that I actually have heard before - "It Won't Be Long Now" from In the Heights and "There's a Fine, Fine Line" from Avenue Q.  Sheena's selection of songs included the very funny "Crossword Puzzle" from the musical Starting Here, Starting Now.  Randy sang a really lovely song called "Favorite Places" which I discovered is from a new musical called Ordinary Days.  Here it is being performed by Hunter Foster (Urinetown and Little Shop on Broadway, and The Government Inspector at the Guthrie).



The cast also performed several numbers together, which was fun because it allowed their performer sides to really come out.  There was a bit of friendly rivalry as they sang a song from Drowsy Chaperone, with their actions belying the lyrics "I Don't Wanna Show Off No More."  Laurel and Randy dueted on the sweet and playful "You'll Never Get Away From Me" from Gypsy (a song I always sing to my cats when they try to sneak out the door).  The audience was treated to beautiful four-person harmony (the cast minus Erin) on "Dear One" from Kiss of the Spider Woman.  The first act ended with Erin's hilarious rendition of "Somebody to Love" (which she also performed at TC Theatre Artists Support Japan).  Erin has a great voice with amazing control.  She can do crazy things with her voice and play it for laughs, all the while making it seem effortless, while in reality I imagine it's quite difficult to do.  Erin's plea was answered by Randy's hilariously sincere rendition of  "I Would Do Anything for Love," which turned into a fun and entertaining duet (with some audience participation as well).

The second act featured a medley of songs from Latte Da's upcoming season, which includes the smart and silly musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, their annual Christmas show All is Calm, the play Beautiful Thing featuring the music of the Mamas and the Papas, and the brilliant new musical Spring Awakening (in conjunction with the U of M).  The whole cast sang "Spelling Bee," and Sheena sang "My Friend, the Dictionary."  Laurel sang the haunting "Mama who Bore Me" from Spring Awakening, Randy sang my favorite song from the show (and my theme song), "I Don't Do Sadness," and Max led the cast in the closing number from the show, "Purple Summer."  The final two numbers were from Beautiful Thing.  Erin (who will be in the show singing the music of Mama Cass) sang "Dream a Little Dream of Me," and the rest of the cast joined her for "Make Your Own Kind of Music."  This is how much of a theater geek I am: most of the audience was singing along to the pop songs; I was singing along to "Purple Summer!"

The earth will wave with corn
The grayfly choir will mourn
And mares will neigh
With stallions that they mate
Foals they've borne
And all shall know the wonder
Of purple summer.

It's been just about a year since I started this blog, and last year's "Latte Da in the Park" was my first post.  Now I've come full circle.  I've seen so much amazing theater in the past year (just look to the right of this page for the list).  But I feel like I'm just getting started; there's so much theater out there to see!  And Latte Da's new season (especially Spring Awakening) is on the top of my list.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"West Side Story" at the Orpheum Theatre

West Side Story was my first musical love.  I first saw the movie when I was about 12, and fell in love with the story, music, and dancing.  I even made my own soundtrack by holding the tape recorder up to the TV (remember those days?).  But what I didn't know then was how important and ground-breaking this show was in the history of musical theater, with a dream team of Jerome Robbins (director and choreographer), Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics), and Arthur Laurents (book).  Jerome Robbins' choreography was unique in that he choreographed for each specific character, rather than a general chorus line.  He used movement to tell the story: the opening prologue with the Sharks and the Jets on the streets of NYC, the dance at the gym that goes from a fierce competition to the love story of Tony and Maria, the dream ballet in which they imagine a better world for themselves and their friends.  All of these scenes further the story and give us insight into the characters through dance and movement alone.

This production is the first tour from the 2009 Broadway revival, which closed early this year.  I saw it on Broadway just after it opened, and loved it; it was a thrill to see a musical I had grown up with live on a Broadway stage.  The recently deceased Arthur Laurents directed this revival, and as we learned in the post-show talk-balk with a few of the actors, it was his opportunity to "fix" things things that he wanted to change in the original 1957 production, but Robbins (a notorious control-freak and perfectionist, but with the brilliant talent to back up the attitude) wouldn't let him.  Joey McKneely reproduced and updated the original choreography, which some disagreed with.*  Another change from the original is that much of the Shark dialogue (both sung and spoken) was translated into Spanish, which also met with mixed reviews.  I didn't mind it because I know the whole show by heart, so I could translate in my head even though I don't speak a word of Spanish.  But I supposed it's unrealistic and unfair to expect that of audience members, so they ended up pulling back on it a bit; in the touring production the songs "I Feel Pretty" and "America" are only partly in Spanish (and really, the lyrics in those songs are not vital to the story, as the feeling conveyed by the songs is).  All in all I think it's a successful revival that maintains the spirit of the original, if not every detail; it's a slightly different vision of the show from one of the other creators.

This cast is phenomenal, especially as dancers.  West Side Story is more dance-focused than most musicals, with Robbins' intense balletic choreography.  Another tidbit we learned in the talk-back is that the Broadway revival cast had an average age of 30, while the touring cast has an average age of 23.  Their youthful enthusiasm, passion, and young joints are evident in the way they dance, as Stephen DeRosa (who played the principal at the dance, and provided many insightful comments during the talk-back) pointed out.  All of the leads are great, beginning with Kyle Harris, who is super charming and completely believable as the lovestruck Tony (although his voice has a tad too much vibrato for my taste).  Fun fact: the producers of the tour found him in the online West Side Story parody Web Site Story, which is quite clever and funny.  Ali Ewoldt as Maria has a gorgeous voice and a little spunk along with the usual sweetness, and Michelle Aravena as Anita delivers the attitude needed for the role.  The Shark girls are funny and entertaining, even when speaking Spanish.  The Jet boys are a pure pleasure to watch, led by Joseph J. Simeone as the tough leader Riff and Drew Foster as the loose cannon Action.  They brought the house down with the hilarious "Gee, Officer Krupke."  This song comes in the second act in the stage version, but was moved to the first act (pre-rumble) in the movie.  It really makes sense here, that in that desperate moment of confusion and loss after the events of the rumble they would let loose with some crazy antics, trying to process things through slightly inappropriate humor, as kids do.  The ending of the show is as tragic and heart-breaking as it always is, with the curtain lowering as one of the Jets gently places Maria's scarf on her head, a small sign of the healing that we hope will come of this tragedy.

This was the final show of the "Broadway Across America" season, which also included the gems HAIR and Billy Elliot.  I decided not to renew my season tickets for next year, because I'm only interested in half of the shows that are included, and I'm focusing more on new and/or local theater.  But it's always a thrill to see the best that Broadway has to offer right here in Minneapolis/St. Paul, even if Broadway is offering less in the way of new original musicals these days (I want to know when Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is going on tour!).  I welcomed the chance to see this new production of an old favorite again, and found it to be just as thrilling, enthralling, and heart-breaking as ever.



*On the night before the show I attended my third "Broadway Confidential" talk sponsored by Hennepin Theatre Trust (I previously attended events for HAIR and Jersey Boys).  This one featured local dancer/choreographer Linda Talcott Lee, who appeared in Jerome Robbins' Broadway in 1989 and worked for the man himself (and therefore did not approve of the changes made to his original choreography).  It was fascinating to hear personal stories from someone who knew him and has worked on Broadway, and it gave me better appreciation for the dancing when I saw the show.  She also demonstrated a few dance moves as she talked about them (even though she was in a dress and heels!), and it's amazing how one precise, distinct movement could bring me right back to the exact scene in the movie in which it appeared.  Jerome Robbins' choreography for West Side Story is nothing less than iconic, and is a big reason why the show is as well.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Favorite Shows of the First Half of 2011

I’ve seen more than 30 local theater productions by almost 20 different theater companies so far in 2011. Now that the year is half over, I thought I’d reminisce about a few of my favorites.

[title of show], Yellow Tree Theatre
My favorite little theater in the ‘burbs produced this hilarious four-person musical about musicals, which was the perfect fit for their small intimate space (“four chairs and a keyboard”). This piece is like a love letter to musical theater, and the soundtrack is so much fun to listen to. The fantastic cast was obviously having just as good a time as the audience was. I also have to thank Yellow Tree for introducing me to the music of Blake Thomas in their production of Our Town. Check him out if you like real, original, authentic country music.

Cabaret, Frank Theatre
I love Cabaret; it can simultaneously make you laugh and break your heart. Starring Bradley Greenwald as the emcee and original Broadway cast member Melissa Hart as Fraulein Schneider, as well as a talented and diverse ensemble, this production by previously unknown-to-me Frank Theatre did just that. And it also introduced me to the perfectly lovely little theater on the Minnesota Centennial Showboat.

Heaven, Flying Foot Forum
This show gives me hope for the future of musical theater. In a time when it seems like just about every “new” musical on Broadway is a jukebox musical or tired adaptation, Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum created an original piece that’s moving and entertaining, and everything musical theater should be. Tackling a subject one wouldn’t normally think of for a musical (although I believe no topic is off limits for musical theater), Heaven tells the story about an American war photographer in Bosnia.  Repeating what I said in my original post, “Original musical theater that uses music and movement to tell an interesting, relevant, meaningful, entertaining story, and to help us make sense of the world we live in. That's what musical theater can, and should, do. And when that happens, there's nothing better.”

Man of La Mancha, Ten Thousand Things
I’m pretty sure that Ten Thousand Things will always have a place on any “best of” list I write because of their sparse, intense, stripped-to-the-bone productions with nothing getting in the way of the pure talent of the performers. They produced two amazing shows this year but I decided on Man of La Mancha for this list (even though Doubt, A Parable, featuring Sally Wingert and Kris Nelson and directed by Peter Rothstein, was also brilliant). Silly, profound, inspirational, and featuring an amazing cast led by the crazy brilliant Steven Epp as Don Quixote, the man with an impossible dream, I hope that it meant as much to the “non-traditional” audiences that were privileged to experience it as it did to me.

I was originally planning to list my six favorites of the last six months, but after the above four I couldn’t decide among the many other shows I loved. So I’ll just briefly list a few more:



  • I saw my first August Wilson play this year, Penumbra’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the Guthrie, and I can’t wait to see more of his ten-play cycle on African American life in the last century.

  • Peter Rothstein and Dan Chouinard’s original theater/concert piece Steerage Song featured a super talented cast of singers, musicians, and actors, and reminded us all of our immigrant past.

  • 7-Shot Symphony, an delightfully original piece of “physical theater” by Live Action Set, was a combination of a Western and classical myths, and also featured a yodeling love song!



Those are some of the highlights among the amazing local theater productions I've seen in 2011 so far.  My two favorites among the touring productions were both shows I had seen twice on Broadway, and both tours featured members of the original Broadway casts: the American tribal love-rock musical HAIR, and the brilliant Next to Normal.

Here's hoping the second half of 2011 is even better!