Saturday, August 23, 2014

"Golden Boys" at The Lab Theater

The new original musical Golden Boys, written by New York composer/playwright Horace Turnbull, tells the story of an integrated WWII army unit created to raise morale of troops and civilians by performing musical theater. I know, it sounds like something that was made up as a good story for a musical, but it's based on fact. The US Army created the Special Services in 1942 and set up a school at Fort Meade in Maryland to train officers and enlisted men in the art of entertainment. Golden Boys is a fictional story set in this world, focusing on one unit that rehearses and performs a musical in a US tour as well as overseas for the troupes. It's an ambitious project, covering issues of racism, the treatment of homosexuals in the military, and the camaraderie of people joining together for a common cause in the midst of war. The result is a bit unfocused and too long, but as this is the premiere, hopefully these issues can be worked out and the piece polished into a potentially great musical.

The story is told by Johnny, a man nearing 90 in the present day who tells his story to some unknown listener. The events unfold in flashback, with Johnny occasionally interjecting commentary (either in his period persona stepping right out of the scene, or as the old man, which is a bit confusing). Under the direction of Sergeant Buchanan, about a dozen enlisted men rehearse a musical called "Johnny Come Home," in which they play all parts, both men and women. Most of the men get a moment to tell their story in monologue, shining a light on the many different people who join the military and their diverse reasons for doing so. They go on tour, experiencing segregation in the south and racism in the army. Throughout the experience they form that familiar military bond, with the central relationship being that between Johnny, who plays the male lead in the musical, and Joshua, who plays the female lead Annette and falls in love with Johnny in real life as well as in the show. Familiar character types include the bad guy Baldwin who comes around only after a tragedy, the comic relief Carlos, and the wealthy playboy Rich. We come back to old man Johnny in the end, a nice bit of symmetry that ties up the story for all the guys we've come to know throughout the story.

The show-within-a-show concept, a musical theater staple, allows for many great musical numbers that have nothing to do with the plot, such as tap dancing in wet suits and flippers, and a mambo number complete with Chiquita Banana headdress. Most of the songs are fun and catchy, a few border on trite and cliche. The choreography by Jimmy Peters is fantastic, and these boys (most of whom are local talent) can dance! Highlights in the cast include Michael Fischetti as the stern but softhearted Sargeant, who is also a hoot as waitress Geena in the show; Scott Gilbert as our narrator Johnny, a likeable fellow whose story we want to follow; Bryan Gerber, who manages to create two compelling and sympathetic characters in gay soldier Joshua and lovestruck Annette; Aleutian Calabay as the tapping playboy; and Mark Anthony Hall with lovely vocals on a couple of solos as Ellis (conductor of the imaginary band, see below).

In my eyes there is only one unforgivable sin in musical theater, and that is the use of pre-recorded music instead of a live band. Unfortunately this production commits that sin. Canned music cheapens any musical and brings it down a level. Hopefully future productions will include live music; there's even mention of the band for the show-within-a-show, which would be a great opportunity to work a live orchestra into the show.

This production only has two more performances, so get to the Lab Theater fast to see these dancing and singing Golden Boys (discount tickets for Sunday's show available on Goldstar).

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Take It With You" at The Underground

There's something cool going on in Duluth. I mean, there are lots of cool things going on in Duluth; it's one of Minnesota's top tourist destinations, with the lake and the big ships and all. But specifically on the music-theater front, which is what brings joy to my heart, there is something new and cool going on. It's called Take It With You and it's live radio theater, recorded monthly at The Underground in Duluth's historic Depot, and available for free online listening. This scripted serial radio program hearkens back to the days when people used to gather around their radios to listen to music and stories about their favorite characters. Now we can gather around our computers to listen, or plug into a podcast, as we follow this quirky cast of characters on their monthly adventures. It's described as "Cheers meets A Prairie Home Companion meets Austin City Limits," but I encourage you to give it a listen and see for yourself just how charming and funny and silly and musically delicious it is.

In the first 60-minute episode of Take It With You, we meet Blake (voiced by one of my favorite musicians Blake Thomas, check out his gorgeous and heartbreaking albums on iTunes), the owner of a bar and music club in Duluth, eager new employee and aspiring musician Andy (Frye, of Yellow Tree Theatre fame), disgruntled actress-turned-waitress Mary (Fox, another fave from Yellow Tree and other local stages), and oddball regulars Rick (the hilarious mutli-voiced Ryan Nelson), Bill (Robert Lee), and Zach (Stofer), with other wacky characters played by Katy Helbacka and Andy Bennett. Whether it's a bachelorette party or a stint in the local jail, these loveably kooky characters work their way through some situation each episode, while hanging out, chatting, promoting local businesses, getting advice from too cool for school "Steve and Jamie" and theoretical physicist "Ask Brooks," and of course, playing music.

Each episode features a half dozen or so of Blake's original songs, covers, or standards. Friends, I would drive 300 miles to listen to Blake sing one of his original songs. OK maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but I'm telling you, he's the real deal. He writes clever, whimsical, poetic, simple yet profound lyrics, accompanied by haunting or driving melodies, and sings in an authentic country voice. Add to that Mary's lovely harmonies and the whole group joining in on such standards as "Sitting on Top of the World," and you have some of the best music I would ever want to listen to.

But don't take my word for it; you can listen to episodes 1 and 2 online right now, just an hour each so it's not even a huge time commitment. I had the great privilege of watching the live recording of episode 5 this week, and as much fun as it is to listen to this show, it's even more fun to watch it in person with a sold-out crowd, and see the love and energy and joy that the cast brings to this unique creation that's both modern and charmingly traditional. Listen to the podcasts, like their Facebook page, and if you happen to be in Duluth the third Tuesday of the month, go see it in person!

the Take It With You gang at The Underground

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"King Arthur: A Picnic Operetta" by Mixed Precipitation at Falcon Heights Community Garden

There's a lot of outdoor theater going on around the Twin Cities, if you know where to look for it. I partook of one such opportunity on what turned out to be a rainy day, so it was moved indoors to a warming house. But the spirit was still there. Mixed Precipitation takes classic operettas, condenses them, puts a modern spin on them, performs them in community gardens around the Twin Cities metro area, and also serves great food. What could be better? This year's selection is Henry Purcell's 1684 English Baroque opera King Arthur, with plenty of modern references and some punk rock music thrown in for good measure. It's a fun and delicious way to experience music-theater in an informal setting.

Condensing a full opera down to under 90 minutes creates a bit of a hard to follow jumbled mess, but from what I gathered, King Arthur of Cameloteapolis is building a new jousting stadium that will host the Super Joust, a costly endeavor that faces opposition from the Saxons, who are concerned about things like corporate personhood and minimum wage. Or something like that. There is fighting, jousting, magic, a wedding or two, and much beautiful music. I didn't care for the rock songs as much as the opera songs, which are so beautifully sung and played by this wonderful cast and small orchestra that it doesn't seem necessary to add modern songs (although I do kind of love the idea of a rock cello).

Grant Schumann, Peter Middlecamp, and Cassandra McNally
This wonderful cast of adults and children appears to be having a great time playing together, which always makes it more fun for the audience. And they look crazy cool in punk hair, make-up, and costumes. Young Grant Schumann leads the wildly energetic band of Saxons; Wric Larson is dark and mysterious with a commanding deep voice as the demon Grimbald; Elizabeth Windnagel is a delightfully airy imp; Jim Ahrens is our beautiful-haired and slightly out of touch King Arthur; magic is created by JP Fitzgibbons' Merlin and Naomi Karstad's Morgan Le Fay; Maggie Lofbloom's jousting champion Guinevere is a heroine to root for; and Peter Middlecamp is charming as her jousting rival/suitor. And the whole casts sounds fantastic; turns out the warming house has surprisingly good acoustics.

The most unique aspect of this experience is the food. Delicious, interesting, creative, fresh, local food is served in perfect little bites throughout the show, very cleverly worked into the plot and introduced by the characters. I think people should serve me food at the theater all the time! I do wish I had been able to experience this in the great outdoors as intended, but it was still great fun, and they somehow made the last minute change of venue work.

King Arthur continues weekends through September 21. Check the schedule for a garden near you, and then go see some fun and creative music-theater while enjoying delicious food.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Guys and Dolls" at Bloomington Civic Theatre

I love a big old-fashioned classic musical* at Bloomington Civic Theatre, and Guys and Dolls is definitely that. This 1955 musical with a well-known score by Frank Loesser is one of the most beloved musicals of the last century. As per usual, it gets fine treatment by BCT, with fantastic choreography and direction by Matthew Michael Ferrell, Anita Ruth's always wonderful pit orchestra, a huge and energetic ensemble, bright and beautiful period costumes, and fine performances by the leads. If you're a lover of classic musicals of the '50s - this is it.

Guys and Dolls centers around the underground gambling business in NYC and a mission trying to save the sinners. Nathan Detroit runs the big craps game in town and is always looking for a place to hold it, while trying to hide it from Adelaide, Hot Box dancer and his fiance of 14 years. To get the money to secure a location for the game, Nathan bets big-time gambler Sky Masterson that he cannot convince pious mission worker Sarah to go to Havana with him. Sky wins the bet, but it's not quite that simple. To win Sarah's heart, he bets against the guys' souls to get them to come to a meeting and save the mission. And everyone lives happily ever after.

Highlights of the show include:
  • The music. The score includes such favorites as "Bushel and a Peck," "Adelaide's Lament," "If I Were a Bell," "Luck Be a Lady," and "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," all played and sung beautifully be the orchestra and cast.
  • Michael Matthew Ferrell's choreography. The group numbers are so much fun to watch, from the opening number, creating perfect tableaux of city life, to the Hot Box Girls performances, to the smooth swinging Havana scene, to the crapshooters sharp dance. And these guys and dolls can dance.
  • Ed Gleeman's costumes. Men in rainbow-colored suits, two-toned shoes, and hats used as props in dances - what's not to love about that? The women look pretty smashing too.
  • Bill Rolon and Rachel Weber. Perfectly cast as Nathan and Adelaide, they absolutely sparkle and crackle on stage, individually (Nathan working the guys, Adelaide's charming lament and leading the Hot Box Girls) but especially together ("Sue Me" is a highlight, funny and tender). They even look the part; somehow the height difference (in Adelaide's favor) only makes them more perfect for each other. This is a relationship you can understand and root for, despite the overly long engagement.
  • The voices of Holli Richgels and Joshua Paul Smith. I always find the Sky/Sarah romance less appealing than Nathan/Adelaide, but these two sound lovely together.
  • The charming trio of Lamar Jefferson, A.J. Longabaugh, and Andrew Newman. They're almost like narrators of the show, singing the opening number and the title song in enthusiastic harmony. And Lamar is pitch perfect as Nicely-Nicely, singing the crowd-pleasing "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat."
This faithful and fun production of a beloved musical theater classic continues through September 14. You might want to get your tickets sooner rather than later, as this one is sure to be popular (Goldstar tickets are currently sold out but check back in case more dates are added).



*As much as Guys and Dolls is a quintessential example of a classic piece of musical theater that BCT does well, their next show is a great example of a new and modern rock musical, Next to Normal. I'm excited to see BCT step out of their comfort zone a bit with this devastatingly brilliant Pulitzer Prize winning musical that features a small six-person cast and typically onstage rock band rather than a traditional pit orchestra.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"The Big Lowdown" by Bedlam Theatre on the streets of Lowertown

When was the last time you played Red Light Green Light? Or told ghost stories at a slumber party? Or searched for eggs in a park? It's been more than 30 years for me, but playing Red Light Green Light in a parking lot in St. Paul's Lowertown neighborhood with a bunch of strangers, mostly adults, I was immediately taken back to when I used to play it with my cousins on the sidewalk outside my great aunt's house. And that's the idea behind Bedlam Theatre's walking theatrical experience The Big Lowdown - giving adults the space to play like we did when we were children, but which most of us stopped doing as the concerns of the real world began to weigh us down. The Big Lowdown attempts to awaken that childlike spirit again, and while it was a bit too interactive and participatory for my comfort level (perhaps I would have felt more comfortable if I were wearing a mask and told to be silent), I do appreciate the spirit of the evening, and enjoyed some really cool and unique performances.

BodyCartography Project
The adventure begins at Bedlam's new bar/ restaurant/performance club, Bedlam Lowertown. Participants are divided into groups led by "rovers" in character - from wizards to aliens. I followed the Peanuts character Lucy, along with about ten other adventurers, to seven stops in Lowertown, mostly outdoors in odd and interesting spaces. In addition to Red Light Green Light and the slumber party (where I was hoping to play "light as a feather, stiff as a board" like we did at slumber parties in the '80s), activities include a Unity parade, er, strut; a really cool robotic and fluid dance performance; a couple of bellhops whose actions are narrated by a bearded man, that hits just the right mix of audience participation and performance, and is oddly delightful; and my favorite stop - a fascinating performance by The BodyCartography Project. Six people dressed in orange meld their bodies onto the concrete and metal surfaces of an alleyway, and get absolutely filthy because they are literally rolling around on the ground with their faces and bodies pressed into the concrete, hanging on anything and everything. I could have watched these amorphous beings creating strange and beautiful shapes for hours.

The adventure culminates in lovely Mears Park with a few more games and the announcement of the winners (did I mention it's a competition?). In the end it was a fun evening, despite the awkward moments, and is a great way to see some of the interesting spaces of Lowertown. I appreciate Bedlam's mission to get the audience involved in their art, but after this and the recent Fringe fest, I'm ready to go back to sitting comfortably behind the fourth wall in a darkened theater. At least for a little while.

The adventure continues this weekend only, so get there fast to take part in the playing. It's especially fun for kids, who are a little more connected to their playful spirits than us adults.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Proof" by Candid Theater Company at People's Center Theater

I like to refer to the 2001 Tony winner for best play Proof as my second* favorite math play (yes, I am a math geek in addition to being a theater geek). But of course it's not about math. Math is the language with which this very relatable story about family, identity, and mental illness is told. And even though I saw this play less than a year ago at Bloomington Civic Theatre, I welcomed the chance to spend more time with this complicated, dysfunctional, yet loving family. Candid Theater Company's production is nicely done in the intimate and sparsely decorated People's Center Theater on the U of M West Bank campus.

Proof tells the story of a young woman named Catherine whose father, a renowned mathematician, has just died. She took care of him in the final years of his life as his mental health deteriorated. In that time he filled 100 notebooks with gibberish, or is it mathematical genius? Similar to the movie A Beautiful Mind (based on the biography of mathematician Jon Nash), he sees patterns and codes everywhere, and it's difficult to decipher the difference between madness and genius. One of his former students, Hal, comes over to the house to go through the journals to see if there's anything of value. At the same time, Catherine's sister arrives from New York and tells her she's sold the house, and wants Catherine to move to New York with her. When Hal discovers one beautiful, complicated, ground-breaking proof, Catherine says that she wrote it. No one believes her since she's had little schooling; she dropped out of college to take care of her father. It's obvious she has inherited her father's mathematical skill, but has she also inherited his mental illness? That's the question that Catherine struggles with as she tries to figure out who she is without her crazy genius father to take care of and define her life.

Kendall Anne Thompson shines in the central role of Catherine. She beautifully, deeply, and physically conveys the complex emotions of Catherine, from the joy of discovery to deep loss and despair. The more I see of Kendall the more convinced I am that she's on her way to becoming a star of the Twin Cities theater scene (see also RENT). Steven Flamm is appropriately befuddled as Catherine's mentally ill father, seen in flashbacks and hallucinations. His final descent into his illness is devastating. Rounding out the cast are Katherine Prebel as Catherine's pragmatic, over-protective, and controlling sister, and Michael Terrell Brown as young mathematician Catherine falls for.

Proof is a great play, and you don't have to be a math nerd like me to enjoy it. But if you are, you'll learn some interesting facts about prime numbers and mathematician Sophie Germain, and enjoy a few inside jokes, like the one about a song called iProof continues through August 24 (discount tickets available on Goldstar).


*My favorite math play is Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, which I first saw almost 20 years ago in London, and haven't seen in over 10 years. Some local theater needs to produce this play soon!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Rose" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company

Who can resist a one-woman show by Sally Wingert, one of the Twin Cities best actors? Add to that an intimate in-home setting and an epic story that encompasses the entire scope of Jewish history in the 20th Century, and you have an unforgettable evening of theater. Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's production of Martin Sherman's play Rose, which is being performed in homes around the Cities, is inspirational, horrifying, funny, charming, disturbing, brutally honest, and entirely compelling. With just seven performances remaining and limited seating, you'll want to get your tickets now.

We meet Rose at the age of 80 in 1999 as she's sitting Shiva for a murdered girl (who that girl is comes out later). She's lived through many pivotal events in her life - growing up in a shtetl in Ukraine, moving to Warsaw and falling in love, being forced into the ghetto, hiding in the sewers after the uprising, boarding the fateful ship Exodus to the promised land only to be turned away, starting a new life in America, seeing her dream of a Jewish homeland realized for her family, only to watch helplessly as it's marred by violence that continues today. All of this is told with a personal perspective by this fictional woman in a way that makes these unthinkable events feel painfully real.

Sally Wingert as Rose (photo by Sarah Whiting)
Sally Wingert's performance as this remarkable woman is nothing less than transportive. She takes you right along with her as Rose tells stories from her past, from amusing to horrifying. The intimate setting adds to the feeling that you're sitting there with Rose, in her home, listening to her tell her stories. Sally is so real and natural in this role, making side comments to the audience who return knowing nods or laughs, getting short of breath and slowly sipping water, crunching on her daily pills with ice cream. It's another beautifully real performance by Sally Wingert.

Above all, this woman is a survivor. What is it about the human will to survive that makes a person live on when everything she's ever known - home, family, community, identity - is gone? But she did, as did many others. Rose carries her past with her into the future, even when her children and their children tell her to let it go, that it doesn't matter anymore, that this is the future. But Rose knows that the past informs who we are and must never be forgotten. Stories about the countless individual and collective atrocities committed during the Holocaust never stop being horrifying. And this play cuts right to the heart.

Rose continues in homes around the Twin Cities through August 24. Call the box office to reserve your space on this incredible journey.


This article also appears on Broadway World Minneapolis.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival Wrap-up

My house is a mess, there's no food in the fridge, my DVR is overflowing, my kitty thinks I've abandoned him, and I'm seriously sleep deprived. But it was all worth it! The 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival has come to an end, and I was lucky enough to see 37 of the 169 wonderful, frightening, charming, hilarious, disturbing, heart-breaking, heart-warming, inspiring, ridiculous, innovative, and/or delightful shows presented at this year's fest. Over 9 days (I gave myself two days off in the 11-day festival), I laughed, I cried, I meandered around the West Bank, I recoiled in horror, I tapped my toes, I enjoyed music both original and beloved, I learned about different religions and cultures, and my heart was broken open and put back together. Of course, not all of the 37 shows were great, but I did not regret seeing any of them. I also try not to regret the great shows that I did not see, because it's a given that you're going to miss something. This is only my fourth Fringe, but I think I'm starting to get the hang of it.

Here are a dozen of my favorite shows (in alphabetical order), with my favorite 2014 Fringe show being Failure: A Love Story because it was beautifully written, directed, and acted, and made me feel so many things.

Crime and Punishment - an immersive wild ride through a haunted house sort of adaptation of Dostoyevsky's novel
After seeing this show, or rather experiencing it, my initial thought was "I don't know what just happened, but I want to do it again!" I've never experienced anything quite like it; it takes theater beyond the boundaries we're comfortable with into a completely immersive experience that engages all of the senses. The sights of many little intricately detailed spaces around every corner, the sound of people whispering in your ear or shouting from behind a sea of white sheets, the touch of a hand on your arm as someone pulls you into another room, and the sickly sweet and fruity smell of fake blood. Since I'm not familiar with the source material, I didn't get much of a cohesive story, which is not necessary or perhaps even desirable in this case. And did I mention that the audience members have to wear masks? At first I was less than enthusiastic about it but soon came to realize that the masks are absolutely essential to the experience. Not only does it differentiate your fellow audience members from the actors, but it gives you something to hide behind and not worry about your reactions. I cannot even imagine the logistics of making this work, with so many things happening in so many places, in the dark! Kudos to Noah Bremer and the cast and crew for pulling it off. Crime and Punishment is a crazy brilliant theatrical experiment.

Failure: A Love Story - a whimsical, delightful, heartbreaking, and truly lovely story
It's the late '20s and the Fail sisters are going to die. That much we know, but watching it all unfold is a series of delightful and heartbreaking surprises. Director Joshua James Campbell and this beautiful eight-person cast have created the perfect tone for the show, walking that delicate line between lighthearted quirky comedy and heartbreaking and heartwarming love story. This story of an oddball family consisting of three sisters, their adopted brother (who may or may not be in love with them), and the charming young man they all loved is told through talking animals, epic swims, anthropomorphized clocks, charming ukulele music, tragic untimely deaths, and unexpected love. This show is everything I want from a Fringe show, really everything I want from theater - funny, quirky, whimsical, musical, poignant, touching, surprising, moving, and utterly heartbreaking. I was reduced to a weepy mess at the end of this show because it touched me so deeply in so many ways with its true and beautiful depiction of love in its many forms. "Just because something ends doesn't mean it wasn't successful."

The Finkles' Theater Show!!! - a brilliantly and hilariously awkward spoof of theater
Theater novices Carl and Wanda Finkles (Ryan Lear and Rachel Petrie) enter a festival and put on a show about putting on a show. What they lack in theater know-how they make up for with boundless enthusiasm. The charmingly awkward Finkles walk us through their journey of finding out they made it into the festival, holding auditions, rehearsals (complete with instructions on what differentiates good theater from great theater - don't break that fourth wall!), a big dance number (which starts out silly and peppy and slowly disintegrates as the Finkles tire when the chorus of "Holding out for a Hero" keeps repeating and repeating), all the way through to show night, when everything comes full circle. It's all very meta. But while Carl and Wanda may be theater amateurs, Ryan and Rachel are professionals and a true delight to watch as they effortlessly pull off this trick of looking like rubes. This could be the most brilliantly awkward 60 minutes of theater you'll see this year.

Four Humors Does Every Show in the Fringe - hilarious improv comedy
Rather than creating an original piece as Fringe faves Four Humors usually do, they're improved a different show every night based on the title and description of another Fringe show chosen at random. I'd watch these guys do anything (these guys being Ryan Lear, Brant Miller, Nick Ryan, and Matt Spring). And when you go see this show, that's pretty much what you can expect - anything. A big show was made of the random drawing of the numbered ping pong balls, and the lucky winner was Fish Stories. Somehow guest performer Tim Hellendrung heard "the one that got away" and immediately thought - Katie Holmes. So these fish stories included a grocery store meet-cute, a wish-granting time-traveling poorly mimed fish, a fight scene between said fish and Tom Cruise, and an escape to post-apocalyptic Canada. In between shows Tim read some "audience reviews" of the show, which was a hilarious spoof on what these reviews sometimes are. This show is silly and fun and inventive, and it's a joy to watch these guys work.

Hour Town - Our Town set in Minnesota with Garrison Keillor as the stage manager
This show is littered with Minnesota references, which I love. Everything from Joe Mauer's bilateral leg weakness to Jesse Ventura's recent court win, from Paul Bunyon to Little House on the Prairie, from pedal pubs to a list of Minnesota-made movies. But that's not the only thing that makes Hour Town unique. The creators have also added puppets, pop culture references, and music. While not everything works, enough of it does to make this show a delight. And while some of the poignancy of the original gets lost amidst the goofy humor, there's still a touch of it here, particularly in the repeated use of the song "Que Sera, Sera," which perfectly fits with Wilder's theme of appreciating life in the moment because you don't know what the future will be. The large cast does well with the many roles; Brad Erickson does a spot-on Garrison Keillor impression, and as the young lovers Drew Tenenbaum and Sulia Altenberg are fresh-faced and charming (and Sulia has a lovely voice and looks like a young Judy Garland, Minnesota reference not intended). It's a clever take on a classic and appeals to those of who unabashedly love (or at least love to complain about) our home state.

Into the Unreal City - a musical walking tour through the West Bank neighborhood
One of four all new "site-specific" shows at the fringe, Into the Real City takes place on the city streets and campus walkways of the West Bank neighborhood. Musician Zeke and writer Bet are happily married but struggling to find time for each other and their dreams. As we follow them, they run into younger and older versions of themselves. Not much happens; they sing a few songs, ask questions, and look forward hopefully into the future - "the doing and the learning and the figuring." It's unabashedly sincere and romantic - the cynical need not apply. Along the way you get to experience the sights and sounds and smells of the neighborhood in an immersive experience. Yes sometimes you can't hear them, or there's a bit of awkward silence while wait-wait-waiting for the light to change, but that's part of what makes this a wonderfully unique experience - just what the Fringe is for.

Jumpin' Jack Kerouac - a bunch of non-dancers share the joy of dance
In a show that could be subtitled "Dancing with the Writers," choreographer Windy Bowlsby turns nine writers, who are decidedly not dancers, into just that. And like that great pop culture icon that is Dancing with the Stars, even though some of the dancers might not be technically proficient, they perform with such joy and an open heart that you can't help but be moved by the dance. The brilliant thing that Windy has done is that she hasn't just forced dances upon these novices, she's talked to them and learned about who they are and what they want to accomplish or express in this experiment, and used that as an inspiration for the ten or so dances presented. And she shares some of those words with the audience to help us understand the inspiration. This is a Fringe show that will leave you smiling and happy, and perhaps give you the courage to dance your own dance.

Kafka Nuts - a screwball comedy in the vein of the Marx brothers
This show is a rapid-fire succession of puns and physical comedy, and it's just plain fun. Joshua English Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen are a couple of attorneys attempting to help poor pantsless Zeppo (Joe Bozic) when he's arrested for some nameless crime. There's a chase scene, a trial, a metamorphosis (into a mime), musical interludes (by the fabulous Rachel Austin), and lots and lots of puns followed by pointed looks at the audience. What else is there to say? It's great fun, good old-fashioned comedy, well performed by the cast (which also includes Kelvin Hatle as judge, priest, cop, etc.).

Marie-Jeanne Valet, Who Defeated La Bête du Gevaudan - innovative storytelling bringing new life to an old legend
This is Fringe storytelling at its best - creative, innovative, original, using puppets, props, and music to tell a story in a thoroughly engaging way. The four ensemble members - Megan Campbell Lagas, Theo Langason, Derek Lee Miller, and Heather Stone - not only created the piece (based on legend) but also play multiple characters and provide the sound effects and music. Red ribbons or cloths represent blood, two-dimensional puppets are used to illustrate the beast's killings, and sticks become rifles with bayonets. It's funny and amusing in parts, but also spooky or poignant at times. The beast is not the only thing terrorizing the town; the townspeople also suffer from extreme poverty and hunger. The King, who doesn't seem to care if his people starve, sends in soldiers, wolf hunters, and his master of hunt to kill the beast. Even after the beast is gone, the people are still hungry, and it's hinted that the upcoming French Revolution will kill the real beast terrorizing these people.

Now I See - a live reenactment of a 1930s radio broadcast
This story of a man who finally achieved his life's dream of becoming a manager of a boxing champion, but gave it all up, is a beautiful, powerful, intense drama, well told by the ten-person cast. It's fun to imagine this as a radio broadcast, but it's even better to be able to see it embodied before you. Sam Ginsburg tells his tragic story, to the listeners/audience, along with a series of flashbacks. Lucas Vonasek gives an emotional, compelling performance as Sam, with a great Brooklyn accent. Dave Berkman is sympathetic and likeable as the art student turned boxer whom Sam discovers and makes into a champion. The rest of the cast portray all the other characters - reporters, boxers, the crowd - and provide sound effects from trains to bells. The boxing scenes are well choreographed, with freeze frames at the pivotal moments, and fun to watch even though I'm no boxing fan. This radio broadcast turned live performance is a clever idea, and well executed.

One Arm - heartbreakingly beautiful and intense drama from Tennessee Williams
In this adaptation of a Tennessee Williams unproduced screenplay, a which a young boxer loses his arm and his identity, and turns to prostitution to survive. And like most Tennessee Williams plays, this one is a heart-breaker, full of tragic characters leading lives of despair. Ollie's (a compelling Bryan Porter) life is full of promise as a champion boxer until he loses an arm in an accident that kills two of his friends. Suffering from survivor's guilt and loss of identity, he falls into a life of hustling, traveling around the country to get by, not feeling anything. Until he ends up on death row, when the feelings come flooding back. The excellent supporting cast plays many well-defined characters in a series of perfect two-person scenesOne Arm is beautifully written, directed (by Joseph Stodola), and acted, with a well-designed and clever set, and feels like a full and complete story despite it's under 60-minute run time. This moving portrait of a beautifully tragic character and the equally tragic people he meets is completely absorbing, an extremely professional and well done Fringe show.

Shakespeare Apocalypse: A New Musical - a super-fun and Fringey musical
Similar to last year's Teenage Misery, writer Keith Hovis does not shy away from borrowing lines and themes from beloved musicals, from Little Shop of Horrors to Wicked. In the somewhat convoluted story, actor Peter goes on a rant about Shakespeare that goes viral, causing Shakespeare and friends to come back from the dead to terrorize the world, or something like that. The details don't matter, it's enough that the show is chock full of humor, great songs, and an energetic and talented young cast. Philip C. Matthews brings his usual passion and charisma to the role of Peter, Jill Iverson shows off her star power and gorgeous musical theater belt as Peter's friend, and Peyton McCandless is charming as a young blogger. Shakespeare Apocalypse is Fringe musical theater at its best.

I could go on and on, but instead I'll just list a few others I loved: DreamboysFrom Here to MaternityKitty Kitty KittyMainly Me Productions' Our American Assassin; Or You Can't Handle the BoothNatural Novice, REACHSex and Sensibility, Top Gun: The MusicalA Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant, and What You Will/Twelfth Night

That's it friends. I hope you enjoyed your Fringe as much as I enjoyed mine. Let's do it all again next year, shall we? "Just because something ends doesn't mean it wasn't successful."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fringe Festival: "Hi! Hello! Namaste?"

Day: 9

Show: 37 (and final)


Category: Dance

By: Bollywood Dance Scene - Twin Cities

Created by: Bollywood Dance Scene - Twin Cities

Location: Rarig Center Proscenium

Summary: Raagini, a teenager from Minnesota, travels to India for her cousin's wedding, and discovers that she may take after her dancer mother more than her doctor father.

Highlights: One of the highest-selling shows of the Fringe, this is a fun feel-good show. The plot is cliche and predictable, but what matters is the dancing, and that is joyously Bollywood. There's a huge cast of dancers from young to old, and they're having a great time, as is the audience (as evidenced by the frequent cheers and calling out of names). Highlights include: Raagini's lovely and poignant soul-searching solo dance (danced beautifully by Jeeta Misra), Vikramjeet Singh as the comic relief Bunty, Himanshu Agrawal as Raagini's charming friend (both of whom can dance too!), and all of the group dance numbers. This is not the type of thing or people that I often see on a theater stage, so I very much appreciated the opportunity to experience it. And it was the perfect way to say Namaste to the Fringe fest and everyone involved. Until next year!

Fringe Festival: "Marie-Jeanne Valet, Who Defeated La Bête du Gevaudan"

Day: 9

Show: 35


Category: Something different

By: Sandbox Theatre

Created by: The Ensemble

Location: Southern Theater

Summary: A small poverty stricken town in France, shortly before the revolution, is ravaged by a wolf-like beast known as La Bête.

Highlights: This is Fringe storytelling at its best - creative, innovative, original, using puppets, props, and music to tell a story in a thoroughly engaging way. The four ensemble members - Megan Campbell Lagas, Theo Langason, Derek Lee Miller, and Heather Stone - not only created the piece (based on legend) but also play multiple characters and provide the sound effects and music. Red ribbons or cloths represent blood, two-dimensional puppets are used to illustrate the beast's killings, and sticks become rifles with bayonets. It's funny and amusing in parts, but also spooky or poignant at times. The beast is not the only thing terrorizing the town; the townspeople also suffer from extreme poverty and hunger. The King, who doesn't seem to care if his people starve, sends in soldiers, wolf hunters, and his master of hunt to kill the beast. Even after the beast is gone, the people are still hungry, and it's hinted that the upcoming French Revolution will kill the real beast terrorizing these people. This show was the audience pick at the Southern, and I can see why.

Fringe Festival: "Rich Pieces and Other Dances"

Day: 9

Show: 34


Category: Dance

By: Shelter Repertory Dance Theatre

Choreographed by: Kim Neal Nofsinger and dancers

Location: Southern Theater

Summary: A series of dance pieces, one of which is based on the writing of poet Adrienne Rich.

Highlights: I have to admit – the only reason I saw this show is that I had a gap in my schedule and it was playing at the same theater of the next show I was going to see, and I was ready to leave the Rarig and get my daily dose of iced mocha at Mapps on my way to the Southern. That being said, I'm glad this was the show I ended up at. It's really the only professional dance show I saw at the Fringe this year. I don't know much about dance, but this is lovely. The first piece is inspired by "the proper way to dress in the kitchen," and is playful and fun. The second piece, entitled "One Too Many," is a woman who, well, has had one too many (I wish I could dance half as well sober as this character does drunk!). The third and main piece of the show is based on the writing of Adrienne Rich, and has a more sober tone than the first two light-hearted pieces. A few passages are read aloud, with key words being loneliness, conversation, lies, and silence. The costumes and set (screen doors and chairs) hint at a front porch sort of scene. The two women (Megan Beseth and Holly Handman-Lopez) and one man (Kim Neal Nofsinger) dance beautifully together and as individuals, and it was a pleasure to watch and take a break from my usual drama/comedy/musical Fringe fare.

Fringe Festival: "What You Will" and "Twelfth Night"

Day: 9

Show: 33 and 36


Category: Comedy

By: Renegade Play-Reading Company and Rough Magic Performance Company

Adapted by: Catherine Johnson Justice

Location: Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night split into two shows, one focusing on the separated and disguised twins Viola and Sebastian, the other on the supporting characters.

Highlights: I was thinking this would be a Hamlet/Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead kind of pairing, but rather it's really just Shakespeare's original, only split in two by subject matter. It's a fun idea, and well executed by director Terry Hempleman (who also appears as the Duke in one of the two shows) and the excellent large cast. I saw What You Will first, which tells of the shenanigans of the members of the lady Olivia's (Alayne Hopkins) household, including a delightfully dopey Sam Bardwell as Sir Andrew, the always entertaining E.J. Subkoviak as Sir Toby, a mischievous Katie Kaufman as Maria, and Sasha Andreev with some strong monologues as Malvolio, going from proud to ridiculous to pitiable. The second hour tells the main story of Twelfth Night, with Catherine Johnson Justice and Clarence Wethern as the twins getting mixed up in the wooing of Olivia by the Duke. The two stories are tied together by Emily Zimmer's ukulele-playing fool. It's a clever idea and a fun way to view Shakespeare in a new way, performed by great actors.

Fringe Festival: "The Second Oldest Profession"

Day: 9

Show: 32


Category: Comedy

By: Tiker-2-Evers-2-Chance

Created by: Peter Moore and Susan Vass

Location: Rarig Center Arena

Summary: Veteran local actor, director, and fight choreographer Peter Moore tells stories from his life in show business.

Highlights: I went to see this show because I like Peter Moore and I grew up watching his dad on TV (I was hoping for a few more stories about that, but I guess news anchor is not the second oldest profession), and as a theater goer who's never been on the other side of the stage, I find behind-the-scenes stories fascinating. Peter did not disappoint; he's an affable, engaging storyteller, with enough stories after 40 years in the business to fill much longer than a one-hour timeslot. The stories are structured around note cards with acting (or life) advice, such as "no small parts only small actors," "never let them catch you acting," "don't take yourself too seriously," and "life is short, show up for it" (aka "no day but today"). He tells stories from his personal experiences, stories he heard from actors he's worked with (he's not afraid to name drop both local and national celebrities), and legendary stories from famous actors long ago. Amusing, entertaining, and with perhaps a lesson or two even for us "real people."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fringe Festival: "Four Humors Does Every Show in the Fringe"

Day: 8

Show: 31


Category: Comedy

By: Four Humors

Created by: Four Humors

Location: New Century Theatre

Summary: Rather than creating an original piece as Fringe faves Four Humors usually do, they're improving a different show every night based on the title and description of another Fringe show chosen at random.

Highlights: I'd watch these guys do anything (these guys being Ryan Lear, Brant Miller, Nick Ryan, and Matt Spring). And when you go see this show, that's pretty much what you can expect - anything. A big show was made of the random drawing of the numbered ping pong balls (numbered shows listed in the program - no cheating), and the lucky winner was Fish Stories. Somehow guest performer Tim Hellendrung heard "the one that got away" and immediately thought - Katie Holmes. So these fish stories included a grocery store meet-cute, a wish-granting time-traveling poorly mimed fish, a fight scene between said fish and Tom Cruise, and an escape to post-apocalyptic Canada. In between shows Tim read some "audience reviews" of the show, which was a hilarious spoof on what these reviews sometimes are. This show is silly and fun and inventive, and it's a joy to watch these guys work. And I'm not alone in that opinion - this show is the best-selling show at New Century, with an encore performance tonight at 8:30.

Fringe Festival: "Waitrix: Dominatrix Waitress"

Day: 8

Show: 30


Category: Comedy

By: Black Market Doctor

Created by: Heather Meyer

Location: New Century Theatre

Summary: A woman takes a job as a waitress, but when her coworker discovers she's horrible, she teachers her to be a dominatrix at night to improve her waitressing skills. Trouble arises when the two worlds collide.

Highlights: New waitress Barbara (Debra Berger) turns service on its head when she learns to make her customers serve her in the evening, with the help of Donna (Heather Meyer). They like it, although she's not too sure. One particularly difficult customer is the harsh TV food critic Craig (John Haynes), who constantly insults and belittles her. When she lashes out at him during the daytime, he almost succeeds in shutting down the restaurant until she comes up with a plan to save it, along with adorably nerdy secret millionaire customer Andy (Andy Browers). The show also features many food-related double entendres from the ever hilarious Ryan Nelson as the cook, and tableaux of dominatrix scenes created just before blackout. It's silly fun.

Fringe Festival: "Dreamboys"

Day: 8

Show: 29

Title: Dreamboys

Category: Musical theater

By: Blue Umbrella Productions

Directed by: Suzy Winter

Location: Illusion Theater

Summary: Five actors in an audition room fantasize about what it would be like if they were able to sing musical theater songs traditionally sung by women.

Highlights: The idea of men singing women's songs isn't new (see also When a Man Loves a Diva), but it is a fun one. And these boys can sing! But the cool thing is that if these weren't beloved songs that we associate with women like Idina Menzel or Karen Olivo, you would never know they were "supposed" to be sung by women. There's really nothing about them that's gender-specific, they're songs of universal human emotion - funny, sad, or poignant. Highlights include Bart Shane Ruf's touching rendition of Jason Robert Brown's "I'm Not Afraid of Anything," David B. Young belting "Be a Lion" from The Wiz, Paul Whittemore's powerful "The Life I Never Led" from Sister Act, Kevin Werner Hohlstein's longing "It Won't Be Long Now" from In the Heights, and Zakary Thomas Morton's lovely "Goodnight My Someone" from The Music Man. Also fab is the cleverly arranged medley that includes just about all of my favorite musicals, and "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" from Company with charming choreography (again by Windy Bowlsby). Great musical theater songs sung by great singers, with fun choreography. What's not to love?

Fringe Festival: "Kafka Nuts"

Day: 8

Show: 28

Title: Kafka Nuts

Category: Comedy

By: Comedy Suitcase

Created by: Scrimshaw and Weinhagen

Location: Illusion Theater

Summary: A screwball comedy in the vein of the Marx brothers, incorporating the philosophy of Kafka.

Highlights: This show is a rapid-fire succession of puns and physical comedy. Joshua English Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen are a couple of attorneys attempting to help poor pantsless Zeppo (Joe Bozic) when he's arrested for some nameless crime. There's a chase scene, a trial, a metamorphosis (into a mime), musical interludes (by the fabulous Rachel Austin), and lots and lots of puns followed by pointed looks at the audience. What else is there to say? It's great fun, good old-fashioned comedy, well performed by the cast (which also includes Kelvin Hatle as judge, priest, cop, etc.).

Fringe Festival: "From Here to Maternity"

Day: 8

Show: 27


Category: Comedy

By: Shanan Custer and Joshua English Scrimshaw

Created by: Custer and Scrimshaw

Location: Illusion Theater

Summary: A comedy about what it means to become a parent.

Highlights: If you've seen Shanan's Ivey Award winning show 2 Sugars, Room for Cream, this will seem familiar to you - it's a similar concept except the subject is pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood, rather than coffee (and if you haven't see it, you should check it out at Park Square in January). The through-story is series of scenes about Meg and Charlie as they journey through the decision to have children, pregnancy, and childbirth. In between we see related sketches, including a fight between a midwife* and a doctor, a reading of "Curious George Goes to Day Care," a song from Shanan, and an interpretive dance to "Cat's in the Cradle" from Joshua. Individually Shanan and Joshua are hilarious (see also Our American Assassin and Kafka Nuts), and together they're comedy gold. Although they're married to other people, their real-life friendship makes them a very believable married couple. The scenes and situations are real and natural, and it's just plain funny, even if you're not a parent.

*There are several jokes about hairy legged or pitted women, about which I refer you to a Fringe show I saw last week, Natural Novice.

Fringe Festival: "Top Gun: The Musical"

Day: 8

Show: 26


Category: Musical theater

By: Rooftop Theatre Company

Created by: Wick, Newstrom, Bowlsby, Dutton

Location: Illusion Theater

Summary: A tongue-in-cheek musical adaptation of the hit '80s movie Top Gun.

Highlights: I hereby declare that all movie-to-musical adaptations should be intentionally cheesy Fringe musicals like this one, not overly sincere big budget Broadway musicals. The idea of turning any movie, Top Gun in particular, into a stage musical is so silly that you have to make fun of it. And they do. The eight-person cast gamely jumps right into Tim Wick's adaptation that hits all the high (and low) points in the movie, and particularly delights in playing up the latent homo-eroticism of the original. Windy Bowlsby's choreography is fun and has the guys flying around the stage holding hands, the costumes are spot-on, complete with aviator glasses and period mustaches, and there's some pretty awesome upside-down flying equipment. Songs include "Gotta Get Into Top Gun," "You Don't Impress Me," "Take Me to Bed or Lose Me Forever," "Ego Checks" (a running gag referring to the line "your ego is writing checks your body can't cash"), and a ridiculously over-the-top volleyball number (gold lame underwear!). Samuel Poppen is a charming goofball as Maverick, Jacob Effinger has a bit of Christian Borle zaniness as Goose, Maverick's doomed wingman, Chris Hoefer has the right look as Maverick's rival/love interest Iceman, and Chris Bowlsby has a surprisingly lovely voice as Goose's wife. This is a fun and silly show that doesn't take itself too seriously, and the audience has as much fun as the cast. And I do appreciate that the obligatory "please review our show" is sung.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fringe Festival: "Crime and Punishment"

Day: 7

Show: 25


Category: Something different

By: Live Action Set

Directed by: Noah Bremer

Location: The Soap Factory

Summary: It's something different all right - an immersive wild ride through a haunted house sort of adaptation of Dostoyevsky's novel Crime and Punishment.

Highlights: After seeing this show, or rather experiencing it, my initial thought was "I don't know what just happened, but I want to do it again!" I've never experienced anything quite like it; it takes theater beyond the boundaries we're comfortable with into a completely immersive experience that engages all of the senses (well except for taste, I was asked if I drank but wasn't offered one). The sights of many little intricately detailed spaces around every corner, the sound of people whispering in your ear or shouting from behind a sea of white sheets, the touch of a hand on your arm as someone pulls you into another room, and the sickly sweet and fruity smell of fake blood. Since I'm not familiar with the source material, I didn't get much of a cohesive story, which is not necessary or perhaps even desirable in this case. I'm not certain what was going on but I do know this - I was led by the hand into a small room below the stairs, a beautiful lady in a tiara and fur held my hands and looked meaningfully into my eyes, I leaned on a window sill and watched a drunken Russian, I was asked to buy wares from a market, and I'm pretty sure I glimpsed through the sheets a man with a sharp object protruding from his forehead. And did I mention that the audience members have to wear masks? At first I was less than enthusiastic about it but soon came to realize that the masks are absolutely essential to the experience. Not only does it differentiate your fellow audience members from the actors, but it gives you something to hide behind and not worry about your reactions. I cannot even imagine the logistics of making this work, with so many things happening in so many places, in the dark! Kudos to Noah Bremer and the cast and crew for pulling it off. Crime and Punishment is a crazy brilliant theatrical experiment.

I regret waiting until the last weekend of Fringe to see this, I really wish I had the opportunity to revisit it now that I have the lay of the land (literally and figuratively). If I experienced it again, I would pick out one of the "main characters" and follow them through the duration of the experience. I had a bit of a scattered experience because I kept getting pulled in different directions, which was still wonderful, but I would love more time to put all of the odd and surprising little pieces together. Just as I was getting into it, the lights went out, and then on, and we were unceremoniously told to leave. I feel like I could have spent hours exploring, but since there are only two shows remaining tonight and they're sold out, I can only hope for a post-Fringe revival. Until then I'm sure I'll be revisiting those creepy dark shabby rooms of the Soap Factory basement in my dreams, whether I like it or not.

Fringe Festival: "Pecan Brown and the Seven ...'s"

Day: 7

Show: 24


Category: Something different

By: Under the Skin Theater Company

Created by: Kloie Rush-Spratt and BriAnna McCurry

Location: Music Box Theatre

Summary: A screenwriter is given the opportunity to rewrite a film adaptation of Snow White, and decides to cast a woman of color as the lead, specifically the color of Pecan Brown, but is thwarted by racism in Hollywood.

Highlights: The under-representation of minorities in Hollywood is definitely an idea worth exploring and bringing attention to. Unfortunately the execution is a little lacking. The show brings up some great points (especially the scene where everyone explains why they're not racist), and the leads are appealing (particularly Ashe Jaafaru as the screenwriter and Chava Gabriella as her star), but the whole thing feels a bit clunky. And I'm not sure why Thor is there, but as played by Collin Knopp-Schwyn with great dedication to the camp of it, he's the most entertaining part of the show. And that's a problem. But the creators have some great ideas; I'd like to see them explored and polished a bit more.

Fringe Festival: "Buckets and Tap Shoes"

Day: 7

Show: 23


Category: Dance

By: 10 Foot 5 Productions

Created by: Rick Ausland and Andy Ausland

Location: Music Box Theatre

Summary: The title pretty much says it all. Two guys create a percussion explosion with their feet and drumsticks on various surfaces.

Highlights: This is a surefire crowd pleaser; there's really nothing not to like. There's something about the rhythm of tap dancing and drumming that gets into your very bones. Although Buckets and Tap Shoes is a regular at the Fringe, this is the first time I've seen it. Rick and Andy are not only great and inventive tap dancers and drummers, but they also have an easy chemistry with each other, are playful with the audience, and make use of the entire theater - who knew you could tap dance on carpet or drum on a coffee cup? There is some high tech stuff that is not as fun as the low tech stuff; the best moments are when it's just the guys and their tap shoes, or banging away on ten-gallon plastic pickle tubs and cake pans, or chasing the light of a flashlight like a cat chasing a laser. There's not a whole lot to say about this one - it's fun, energetic, and entertaining. And kids seem to love it.

Fringe Festival: "Hour Town"

Day: 7

Show: 22

Title: Hour Town

Category: Comedy

By: Dana's Boys

Created by: Dana's Boys

Location: Music Box Theatre

Summary: A condensed version of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, set in Minnesota with Garrison Keillor as the stage manager.

Highlights: This show is littered with Minnesota references, which I love. Everything from Joe Mauer's bilateral leg weakness to Jesse Ventura's recent court win, from Paul Bunyon to Little House on the Prairie, from pedal pubs to a list of Minnesota-made movies. But that's not the only thing that makes Hour Town unique. The creators have also added puppets, pop culture references, and music. While not everything works (as much as I love Grover, I don't understand what he was doing in the show, and the wedding dance break was fun but a bit weird, and "Super Trooper?"), enough of it works to make this show a delight. And while some of the poignancy of the original gets lost amidst the goofy humor, there's still a touch of it here, particularly in the repeated use of the song "Que Sera, Sera," which perfectly fits with Wilder's theme of appreciating life in the moment because you don't know what the future will be. The large cast does well with the many roles; Brad Erickson does a spot-on Garrison Keillor impression, and as the young lovers Drew Tenenbaum and Sulia Altenberg are fresh-faced and charming (and Sulia has a lovely voice and looks like a young Judy Garland, Minnesota reference not intended). It's a clever take on a classic and appeals to those of who unabashedly love (or at least love to complain about) our home state.