Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"The Night of a Million Stars" at the Ordway McKnight Theatre

The Rocky Horror ShowGrey Gardens. Flower Drum SongThe Full Monty. Evita25th Annual Putnam County Spelling BeeMu DaikoCompany. The Broadway Songbook Series. These are some of the great memories I have from the Ordway's McKnight Theatre. It has been home to a lot of wonderful local musical theater, and I will miss it now that it's being demolished to make room for a new 1100 seat concert hall. But as was the case when the Guthrie left their original home, the history does not reside the building. It's in the people, the community, our shared memory of time spent together. And that will continue in another space. The Ordway's Artistic Director and amiable host of the McKnight's final celebration, James Rocco, said that he likes to think of the Twin Cities acting community as one big rep company, and I agree. That company will never perform in that space again, but it will continue. And one of my favorite memories of that space will always be Sunday night's warm and fuzzy celebration - The Night of a Million Stars!

I'm not going to give you a play-by-play, because that wouldn't even come close to describing the experience. You really had to be there. Like Peter Rothstein said (more on that a bit later), theater is an art form that isn't captured on a disc or tape, it only exists when artist and audience share a space together. I think that's why I write this blog, to try to capture my experiences at the theater and make them last a little longer, make something permanent out of it. But it's not, it's ephemeral. And that's the beauty of it.

There were over 40 performers on that stage, including a four-piece band led by Raymond Berg. Most were familiar to me, some beloved, and a few I'd never seen before. All were entertaining and complementary to the Ordway and James, and several brought him to tears with their love. It was a big, mushy, happy, bittersweet night. And it was long - over three hours, although it didn't feel that long to me. Most of the performances were from the 81 shows that have played in the McKnight, many with original cast-members. Scenes from the shows were displayed on a large screen at the back of the stage. These are a few of my favorite moments:

  • Love, Janis is one show I wish I would have seen. I was happy to get a taste of it when Jill Mikelson sang "Me and Bobby McGee."
  • Greta Grosch played the part of an usher who finally gets her chance to be a star. Very funny.
  • The entire cast of the most recent Broadway Songbook, featuring Cole Porter, stayed after their matinee to perform a few numbers, including Gary Briggle's wickedly funny "Miss Otis Regrets," Kersten Rodau's rousing "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," and Jennifer Baldwin Peden's hilarious "The Physician." All of the six Songbooks were represented, including the only one I missed - Johnny Mercer. Tonia Hughes brought the house down with "Come Rain or Come Shine," and then her son Cameron Wright just about outdid her- the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!
  • Theater Latte Da's Peter Rothstein and Denise Prosek were there, having staged six shows at the McKnight over the last several years. Peter put it best - "parting is such sweet sorrow!" They introduced performances from two of those six shows. Dieter Bierbrauer sang one of the best musical theater songs ever written, Sondheim's "Being Alive" from Company (the fourth time I've heard it in that room, and I never tire of it). Josh Campbell sang the funny and overly macho "Man" from The Full Monty, and told a hilarious story about a technical malfunction during one show that revealed more than was intended.
  • A medley of songs from Blues in the Night, another show I missed, directed by Austene Van and featuring the divine Debbie Duncan and Jamecia Bennett, who absolutely shredded the title song from the show (in the evening's most dangerous heels, no less!).
  • Erin Schwab (who had to follow the above performance) never fails to crack me up. She's hilarious, not to mention her fabulous voice that she can use for comedy or drama or both, as she did in another Sondheim classic, "I'm Still Here."
  • The cast of the 2007 Ordway production of The Rocky Horror Show (including Randy Schmeling, Bradley Beahen, and Nicole Fenstad) reunited for a few numbers, including, of course, "The Time Warp."
  • Kimberly Richards brought back her nun from Late Night Catechism and had the crowd in stitches, with her pope jokes and asking women to cover up with tissues.
  • Christina Baldwin performed the final solo number, the lovely and haunting "Will You" from 2009's Grey Gardens, the last Ordway musical in the McKnight, in which she played both Edies - big (in her younger days) and little (from the iconic documentary).

So farewell to the McKnight Theatre. The street just outside the theater is already blocked off so construction is sure to begin imminently, and will continue through 2015. But they really don't even need a wrecking crew - many of these performers could bring the house down on their own. There was so much talent on that stage I'm surprised it didn't collapse with the sheer weight of it! It was a fun night, a great celebration of local talent, and a nice way to say good-bye.


the new concert hall

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