Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"Musical Mondays" at Hell's Kitchen, February 2015

Musical theater loving friends, if you're not at Hell's Kitchen on the first Monday of the month, you are missing out. This is when Sheena Jansen and Max Wojtanowicz gather a few of their friends, who just happen to be among the most talented musical theater artists in town, for a little cabaret show. They've been doing it for over two years now, and it just keeps getting better and better. Each month has a theme, and this being February, the theme for this month's show was love. And as much as I love hearing my favorite musical theater songs, I also enjoy the choices made by this crew that are perhaps a bit more obscure. It was a fabulously entertaining night of musical theater, and it also served as a preview for shows to come this spring and summer. Read on for highlights and to find out where you can see the cast on stages around town.

This month's performers are a veritable Who's Who in the local musical theater scene. In addition to hosts Max and Sheena, performers include Aly Westberg O'Keefe and Dominique Wooten from last fall's brilliant production of Next to Normal at Bloomington Civic Theatre; two of the Andrews Sisters from History Theatre's Christmas of Swing, Ruthie Baker McGrath and Jen Burleigh-Benz (whom you may also know as Snow White from last fall's delightfully irreverent fairy tale Disenchanted); Radames/Joseph/et al. Jared Oxborough; and everyone's favorite, who's been in too many wonderful shows to recount here, Bradley Greenwald. They performed solos, duets, and group numbers, all accompanied by the maestro Andrew Cooke on keyboard. The show lasted about two hours, with a brief intermission, with food and bar service available throughout the night. It's also a fun place for people watching, as over half of the audience are theater people.

Highlights of the show include:
  • Group numbers are always fun, including the opener, "It's Love" from Wonderful Town, and the closing number, the entirely appropriate classic
    L-O-V-E. But that's not to say that the night was fully of lovey-dovey songs. Read on...
  • Listening to Bradley Greenwald sing Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" is worth the price of admission alone (which, BTW, is a super cheap $5 suggested donation). Swoon!
  • File under the category of "my favorite musical theater songs" - Ruthie's delightfully hopeful "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy" from South Pacific, Dom's powerful "Somewhere" from West Side Story, and Jen's terrific rendition of that little known song "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl.
  • Yes, I own the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, so I was delighted to hear Dom and Aly sing "Elephant Love Medley" in a most charming way.
  • Jared sang a lovely rendition of "Hey There," a song from The Pajama Game that has become a classic.
  • The cast showed off their talent for harmony with a couple of strong quartets and a trio - "Poor Child" from Wild Party (Dom, Jared, Jen, and Sheena), "Dear One" from Kiss of the Spider Woman (Bradley, Dom, Jen, and Ruthie), and "I've Decided to Marry You" from the last year's Tony winner Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder (Aly, Bradley, and Ruthie).
  • I'd never heard the song "Lying There" from the song cycle Edges, but Aly brought tears to my eyes with her beautiful and moving rendition.
  • Somebody needs to cast Jen and Bradley in a show together, because they looked and sounded gorgeous together on "Carried Away" from On the Town, with oodles of chemistry.
  • Somebody needs to cast Sheena and Max in a show together, because they looked and sounded gorgeous together on "Where Would You Be" from from one of those aforementioned obscure musicals The Roar of the Greasepaint, with oodles of chemistry. Oh wait, they've cast themselves in a show together, that they wrote!  Which brings me to...
The cast's upcoming shows (click on show title for more info):
  • About his beautiful silver hair Bradley Greenwald joked, "I used to have brown hair, but I've been in tech for a week." He stars as Fagen in the Theater Latte Da/Hennepin Theatre Trust co-production of Oliver!, opening at the Pantages Theatre this week.
  • Max Wojtanowicz is making his Ten Thousand Things debut in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which opens next week. It's worth noting that TTT's last musical ended up on my favorites list last year.
  • Chanhassen Dinner Theatre's resident Music Director Andrew Cooke begins rehearsing his cast and orchestra this week, for the new production of Mary Poppins. Performances begin on February 27 and run through the summer.
  • Max Wojtanowicz and Sheena Jansen bring their charming, funny, and poignant auto-biographical musical Fruit Fly, a Fringe hit in 2012, to Illusion Theater this March.
  • Forcing me to make the long drive out to Excelsior once again, Jen Burleigh-Benz is starring in Old Log Theatre's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, also opening in March.
  • Dominique Wooten is Bloomington Civic Theatre's Billy in their production of the classic musical Carousel, opening in April (can you believe I've never seen it?!).
  • Ruthie Baker McGrath announced that she will be in a little show called The Music Man at the Guthrie Theater this summer.
And that's it for this month, folks. The next Musical Mondays takes place on March 2 and will feature the music of Cy Coleman (I know, I don't really know who that is either, so this one is sure to be educational as well as entertaining!). "Like" the Musical Mondays Facebook page for updates and more information.

This article also appears on Broadway World Minneapolis.