Saturday, April 30, 2016

"Every Sentence is For the Birds" by the Moving Company at the Lab Theater

The Moving Company is a unique theater company in this town of over 70 theater companies. The descendant of the beloved departed Theatre de la Jeune Lune, MoCo's productions are typically original ensemble-based creations. Like the proverbial box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get with them: over-the-top ridiculous comedy, lovely achingly beautiful poignancy, or more likely, somewhere in between. Their new piece Every Sentence is For the Birds falls more towards the sublime end of the ridiculous-to-sublime spectrum that they cover. The two-person show about a scientist and her subject is both simple and profound, dealing with topics no less than the nature of science and art, and what it means to be human. Words are inadequate to describe The Moving Company's work, so you should just go see it for yourself. I guarantee it's unlike anything you will see on any other stage in town.

Friday, April 29, 2016

"Anatomy of Gray" at Lyric Arts

"This play is perfectly theatrical... it would be like if you took Little House on the Prairie and it has a little whiskey... and got together with The Wizard of Oz and Gunsmoke and A Prairie Home Companion and a Jane Austen novel and a medical textbook and spawned a theatrical love child! That would be Anatomy of Gray." I love all of those things (OK, except maybe for a medical textbook), so how could I resist Lyric Arts' current production Anatomy of Gray?! Director Scott Ford's description turns out to be quite apt, and I might also add a little The Normal Heart and even the similarly titled Grey's Anatomy to the mix. Anatomy of Gray is a sweet, funny, moving little play about the joys and sorrows of frontier life in the late 19th Century that poignantly reminds us that "we all come from love and loss."

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"Charm" at Mixed Blood Theatre

Sometimes theater is more than just theater. Sometimes theater is about giving a voice to people whose voices are not often heard. Sometimes theater is about increasing our understanding of people who seem different than us, but who really are the same. Sometimes theater is about giving everyone a chance to see their lives and experiences reflected back at them, validating their existence and importance in the world. Mixed Blood Theatre's work often checks all of the above boxes, as is the case with the new play Charm by Phillip Dawkins.* Inspired by the true story of a transgender woman who teaches a charm school to homeless and at risk transgender youth, Charm premiered in Chicago last fall, but Mixed Blood's production is the first to include five transgender actors in the cast, which lends an air of poignant authenticity to this moving, funny, and at times difficult story.

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical" at Children's Theatre Company

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical - I've got an animal heart for you. Even though I have no familiarity with the successful book series or movies, I felt obliged to see Children's Theatre Company's world premiere musical adaptation because of the talk about a possibly Broadway run, and producer Kevin McCollum also produced my favorite musical RENT (which celebrates its 20th anniversary this week). But all sense of obligation quickly went out the window as the show won me over with it's clever and musically diverse score, universally relatable story of a kid trying to find himself in middle school, and most of all this incredible cast of mostly Twin Cities youth. Whether you're a kid stuck in the middle (school), or a jaded grown-up, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical is simply irresistible, and I think it's going to go far.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

"Six Characters in Search of an Author" at Park Square Theatre

I first saw director and playwright Alan Berks' adaptation of the 1921 Italian play Six Characters in Search of an Author three years ago at Gremlin Theatre (one of the last shows in their space on University in St. Paul). I called it "a weird, trippy experience, one that's difficult to explain or make sense of. But it sure is fun to try." I was eager to take that trip again with a slightly revamped version of the show, featuring some of the original cast members and some new ones. It was fun to see it in a new space with some new additions, and with a little more preparation for what I was in for. It's still pretty weird and trippy, and still asks some intriguing questions about reality, fiction, and theater itself. What follows is what I wrote three years ago, but with some updates about this production.

"Fiddler on the Roof" at Artistry

Tradition! The opening song of Fiddler on the Roof speaks of the traditions in the little Russian town of Anatevka in the early 20th Century, setting the stage for a story steeped in tradition, when to hold on to it and when to let go and embrace a new way of doing things. The new production at Artistry (formerly known as Bloomington Civic Theatre) is also steeped in tradition. There's nothing really new or innovative about this production; it's a faithful interpretation of this classic musical that, though a bit too long, is full of beautiful and familiar music and much heart in this universal story of a specific family. Artistry has assembled a huge and talented cast, and as always the score sounds gorgeous coming from the nearly 20-piece pit orchestra. If well done traditional classic musical theater is your thing, you might want to check this one out before it closes on May 8.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

"Harvey" at the Guthrie Theater

"I've wrestled with reality for over 40 years, and I'm happy to report that I finally won out over it." So says Elwood Dowd, he who sees the imaginary six-foot tall white rabbit, in the 1944 play Harvey by Mary Cole. That's an attitude I can fully get behind, because sometimes reality sucks. And I think that's part of the reason for my love of going to the theater - because I can forget the sometimes depressing reality of the world for a few hours and immerse myself in the world of the play. Harvey is just such a play. So maybe it's 70 years old, and is nothing ground-breaking or particularly illuminating about the society we live in today, but the Guthrie's new production of this classic is wonderful escapist entertainment that also provides some still relevant commentary on people, society, and relationships. The world might be a happier place if we all had our own Harvey to focus on rather than dwell on the harshness of the world around us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Show X" at HUGE Theater

I experienced my first night of improv comedy last night, not including a Fringe show here or there. My friend and blogger colleague Kendra of Artfully Engaging arranged a blogger night at HUGE Theater, and a great time was had by all! "All" includes myself and Kendra, our fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers Laura from One Girl, Two Cities and Gina from The Room Where It Happens, and the entire Monday night audience, judging by the sounds of laughter in the room for the 90 minute two-act show. I enjoyed it even more than I expected to, and was truly impressed at the talent required for this very specific type of theater.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

"Constellations" at the Jungle Theater

The theory of the quantum multiverse suggests that many different universes simultaneously exist, based on every choice we ever (or never) made. I don't know if I believe that, but I do believe that we are where we are in life based on a million choices we've made in our life, both significant and seemingly insignificant. It's intriguing to think that if we had made one or a hundred choices differently, we might be in a completely different place in life, doing something completely different, surrounded by completely different people. English playwright Nick Payne's new play Constellations, the second production in the Jungle Theater's 2016 season, plays with that idea to great effect. In one of my favorite plays that I've seen all year, we are taken on a journey of a relationship, but not just one single linear journey, rather countless iterations of that journey, some funny, some heart-breaking, some hopelessly romantic, all focused on these two people that are connected in some way in every one of the universes traveled.

Friday, April 15, 2016

"Sunset Baby" at Penumbra Theatre

A year ago Penumbra Theatre presented Dominique Morisseau's play Detroit '67, set during the riots that occurred in that time and place, about a family trying to make a life for themselves amidst the revolution. Her play Sunset Baby follows the next generation, a present day story about a woman born of parents active in the Black Power Movement, and how the sacrifices her parents made affected and continue to affect her. It's a powerful, weighty play, with more layers than I can hope to unwrap in one viewing and a few hundred words. It's brilliantly acted by this three-person cast, and brilliantly directed by Penumbra's Founder and Co-Artistic Director Lou Bellamy, so you should just go see it, be immersed in this very specific and well-defined world created by the playwright and fully brought to life by the cast and creative team, and attempt to unwrap the layers for yourself.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"Violet" at Yellow Tree Theatre

I fell in love with the 1997 Off-Broadway musical Violet six years ago after seeing Theater Latte Da's beautiful production in the Guthrie Studio. Produced on a sparse stage with a small cast and three-piece band, I found it to be so beautiful, raw, poignant, and relatable, that I went back and saw it again. It's one of my most listened to musical theater cast recordings, and is definitely in my list of top ten, maybe even top five, musicals. This lovely little musical finally made it to Broadway in 2014, where I saw it and loved it again.* But Violet is not a big splashy Broadway musical; it's more suited to small intimate spaces, which makes it a perfect choice for Yellow Tree Theatre. And even though this is a small musical by Broadway standards, it's huge by Yellow Tree standards. But they've really pulled out all the stops and created a beautiful and poignant production of this musical that's so close to my heart, featuring a wonderful ensemble cast that's the biggest and most diverse they've ever had. If you can snag a ticket before they completely sell out, I highly recommend you hop on the Yellow Tree bus and take this emotional and fulfilling journey with them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

"Bullets Over Broadway" on tour at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts

I didn't have high expectations for Bullets over Broadway, the 2014 Broadway musical based on the 1994 Woody Allen film now playing at St. Paul's Ordway Center, because it's: a) a movie adaptation, b) a jukebox musical, and c) written by Woody Allen (who has one of his characters say, "The artist can be forgiven anything if he produces great art." Um, no). None of these are my favorite things. But low expectations often leads to a better experience, as it did here. While definitely not "great art," Bullets over Broadway features some fantastic choreography, great performances by the talented ensemble (although they're a little too white than what is acceptable in a post-Hamilton world), and period songs that are well chosen and for the most part sound like they were written for the story.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

"The Fantasticks" at Nautilus Music-Theater

It may be spring (almost) outside, but inside Nautilus Music-Theater's tiny studio space in Lowertown St. Paul, it's most definitely September. The kind of September "where grass is green and grain is yellow," and "no one weeps except the willow." A lovely hopeful youthful September that slowly fades into a wiser, darker, and nostalgic December. While Nautilus is primarily dedicated to developing new works of music-theater, with their newest full production (which are few and far between, their last one was almost three years ago), they are presenting a new take on the longest running musical in the world. 56 years ago, The Fantasticks was just the kind of piece that Nautilus would have developed, supported, and produced - an inventive piece of music-theater storytelling that pushes the envelope of what the genre can do. While that glow of newness and inventiveness has somewhat faded over the years, Nautilus is bringing it back in a new way with age-conscious and gender-conscious casting, and by presenting the piece as it originally was - in an intimate small-scale setting that allows the simple beauty and humor of the piece to shine. With limited seating and only 12 performances, make plans soon for this rare opportunity to see this classic musical performed by some of the Twin Cities best theater artists up close and personal.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

"We Gotta Cheer Up Gary" by Four Humors at the Southern Theater

Are you feeling a little down? Need to be cheered up? Let the trained cheerologists of Four Humors lead you through your one-on-one (or one-on-many) cheersultation! I know they always make me feel better! Now you can sign up for one of their intimate sessions held behind the arch at the gorgeous Southern Theater, where cheerologists Jason Ballweber (silent Gary), Mike Fotis (angry Gary), Ryan Lear (accident-prone Gary), and Dario Tangelson (the Gary in charge) will lead you and 40-some other Garys through a series of jokes, magic tricks, improv, and physical comedy that is sure to leave you cheerier than you were one hour before. All this can be yours for a low price, or free as part of Southern Theater's ARTshare program. With everything that's going on in the world, couldn't we all use a little cheering up?

"Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Movies" at Orchestra Hall

From "the hills are alive with the sound of music" to "Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain," composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II have given us some of the most memorable and beloved melodies and lyrics in all of musical theater. Most of their creations were made into movies several years after the stage success, allowing even more people to fall in love with them. This weekend the Minnesota Orchestra is presenting a concert of excerpts from seven of their big hits, with clips from the movies shown on a big screen. As a former band geek who's normally too busy attending theater to listen to the orchestra, I revel in the chance to get my orchestra fix in when they do something theater related. It's an absolute thrill to hear this huge full gorgeous orchestra playing selections from Rodgers and Hammerstein's incredible and prolific partnership.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

"Buyer and Cellar" presented by Hennepin Theatre Trust at New Century Theatre

Imagine being so wealthy and successful that you need to build a mall in your basement just to hold all of your excess stuff. Such is the situation that living legend of stage and screen Barbra Streisand has found herself in, as described in her 2010 book My Passion for Design. Playwright Jonathan Tolins has taken his fascination with this idea, and Barbra herself, and turned it into a successful Off-Broadway play Buyer and Cellar. Hennepin Theatre Trust has brought this delightfully amusing one-man show to Minneapolis, starring the uber-talented local theater artist Sasha Andreev and directed by acclaimed director Wendy Knox of Frank Theatre. The one-person cast and many-person creative team have come together to create a wonderfully entertaining evening of theater that is funny, fantastical, chock full of pop culture references, and surprisingly touching. Playing through April 24, you would be wise to pencil this one into your theater schedule.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

"Musical Mondays" at Hell's Kitchen, April 2016

Last night was the first Monday of the month, which means it's time for Musical Mondays at Hell's Kitchen! If you're a fan of musical theater, you need to attend one of these monthly cabarets featuring fabulous local talent performing musical theater songs, with a different theme each month. But be forewarned - like potato chips, once you attend one you won't be able to stop! Musical Mondays has also become a monthly gathering of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers; this month I was joined by Gina from The Room Where it Happens, Laura from One Girl Two Cities, and Keith and Carol from Minnesota Theater Love. A good time was had by all as we discussed all things local theater (from impressive abs to impressive new musicals) and enjoyed some fun entertainment over yummy food and drinks. Join us on May 2, when the theme is "the lusty month of May!" Become a fan of the Musical Mondays Facebook page for information on schedule and performers.

Monday, April 4, 2016

"C." by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Friends, @TheaterLatteDa's C. totally wrecked me & left me with such an exquisite ache I might never recover. #theatermusically #allthefeels This was my 140-character review of Theater Latte Da's world premiere new musical C., and even though I will give you several hundred more words here, I'm not sure I can express it any better than this. This new musical adaptation of the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac, featuring book and lyrics by Bradley Greewald and music by Robert Elhai, directed by the incomparable vision of Peter Rothstein, is the second in Latte Da's NEXT 20/20 program in which they have committed to bringing 20 new works of music-theater to the stage by 2020. I saw the first reading of the show three years ago and thought it showed great promise, but it has exceeded my expectations in what is now a fully formed and exquisite new musical, with all elements of production coming together to tell this beloved story in a new and innovative way.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

"Coriolanus" by New Epic Theater at the Lab Theater

Last weekend New Epic Theater opened a strikingly beautiful and devastating production of the 1985 Off-Broadway play The Normal Heart about the early days of the AIDS crisis. This weekend they open part two of their ambitious spring repertory production, Shakespeare's Coriolanus. The two plays share the same terrific eight-person cast, innovative and distinctive director Joseph Stodola,* performance space (the gorgeous and spacious Lab Theater), set, and overall look. Separated in time by about 400 years, The Normal Heart and Coriolanus are in some ways similar and in other ways very different. Both continue the trajectory that this new company has set right out of the gate with visually and emotionally impactful work (see also Doubt and One Arm). After this second opening weekend, the two plays will be performed in rep for the next two weekends, culminating in both shows being performed back-to-back (with a dinner break) on Saturday April 16 (ticket information and performance schedule here). Friends, New Epic Theater is an exciting new addition to our bountiful theater community and I urge you to see one or both of these plays to experience their unique vision.