Friday, July 29, 2016

"Maks and Val - Our Way Tour" at the State Theatre

Let's face it, after 22 seasons, the real stars of Dancing with the Stars are not the ex-football players, '80s sitcom actors, and reality show contestants that make up the "celebrity" part of the couples. The real stars of the show are the professional dancers who teach these celebrities to dance, and whom we loyal DWTS fans have come to love. There have arguably been no bigger stars (and personalities) on the show than Maksim Chmerkovskiy, and in recent years, his brother Valentin. Maks and Val may seem like the arrogant bad boys of ballroom, but their new tour "Maks and Val - Our Way" proves otherwise. If you look a little deeper, you'll see that the bad boy persona is just that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"Disgraced" at the Guthrie Theater

When the Guthrie programmed the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Disgraced to run this summer, they couldn't have guessed just how relevant and timely it would be. Or may they could, because this is America, and things seem to be getting worse before they get better. The play deals with racism, prejudice, identity, and what it means to be an American, particularly for a Muslim man who seems to have accomplished the American dream. Until a series of events cause him to face his heritage and his history in a way he never wanted to, and reexamine who he is, who he thinks he is, and who he wants to be. With the anti-Muslim sentiment that's been increasing throughout this election, a play like this, that depicts Muslims as real, flawed, relatable people and begins a conversation about these issues, is so important. The Guthrie is hosting post-show discussions after every performance in an effort to keep the conversation going and deepen the experience of the play. A play that's as compelling, gorgeously designed, and entertaining as it is sobering, thought-provoking, and important.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"Million Dollar Quartet" at Old Log Theatre

Carl Perkins, "the king of rockabilly." Jerry Lee Lewis, "rock and roll's first great wild man." Johnny Cash, "one of the best-selling musicians of all time." Elvis Presley, simply "the king." In 1956, these four men were in their 20s and at the early stages of their influential and prolific careers. They came together for one night at Sun Records in Memphis for a jam session, which was recorded and released as the Million Dollar Quartet. So of course, this story had to be made into a musical. Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux did just that; the musical Million Dollar Quartet opened on Broadway in 2010. It only ran for a year, but found success on tour and regionally, as such crowd-pleasing jukebox musicals do. Despite a fairly thin book, it's a great show, precisely because we all know and love these songs and these singers. Even if we weren't alive in 1956, these four artists and their music are an integral part of our musical heritage. The Old Log Theatre recently opened a long run of the show with a fantastic cast that's definitely worth the drive out to charming lake town of Excelsior in the Western Metro.

Monday, July 25, 2016

"Nice Work If You Can Get It" at Lyric Arts

A jukebox musical featuring the songs of the Gershwin brothers (composer George and lyracist Ira) set in the bootlegging days of the 1920s. Sounds fun, right? And it is that. It's not what I want from Broadway (I prefer new original musicals), but it's a perfect fit for regional and community theater. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed Lyric Arts' production of Nice Work If You Can Get more than I remember enjoying the Broadway tour that came through town a few years ago. It's chock full of wonderful tunes, the 20-person cast is really strong from the leads through the ensemble, the set is cool, and the large offstage band sounds great. There's nothing deep or overly meaningful about the show, but it's a great good time.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Under the Gaslight" by the University of Minnesota at the Minnesota Centennial Showboat

For nearly 60 years, the University of Minnesota has been presenting a summer melodrama on a docked showboat on the Mississippi River, currently across from downtown St. Paul. The Minnesota Centennial Showboat was christened in 1958, as those who know their Minnesota history could guess ("in 1858 Minnesota became a state"). The first show was Under the Gaslight, which returns this summer for their last season at the Showboat (click here for more on the history of the Showboat). While this is only the second U of M show I've seen at the Showboat, I'm sad that it was my last. The creative team includes some of the top talent in town (including director John Miller-Stephany, musical director Andrew Cooke, choreographer Linda Talcott Lee, and costume and scenic designer Mathew J. LeFebvre), and the cast is chock-full of talented young people that are the future of theater in this town. The melodrama is a fun, entertaining, and little-seen genre that encourages the audience to "vocalize appropriately." The Showboat is a unique and charming venue, and I hope that someone puts it to good use (and will someone please do Show Boat on the Showboat already?!). Whether you've seen dozens of Showboat melodramas, or none, it would behoove you to board the Showboat one last time for this uniquely pleasing theatrical experience.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

"Sweeney Todd" by Mill City Summer Opera at the Mill City Museum Ruin Courtyard

In just it's 5th season, Mill City Summer Opera has become hugely successful, with six sold-out performances of fantastic outdoor opera in the spectacular location that is the Ruin Courtyard at the Mill City Museum. And even though this year's selection, Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, isn't technically an opera, it works beautifully performed by this 30+ member opera company (and orchestra of nearly that many) in this unique location. Only one performance remains, but tickets have been sold out for months, so watch their Facebook page in early 2017 for the announcement of next year's show, and get tickets early!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

2016 Minnesota Fringe Festival Must-Sees

Well friends, it's that time of year again. Time to shirk all responsibilities of adulthood, abandon your friends, family, and pets, and binge on theater for 11 days straight. That's right, the Minnesota Fringe Festival, the largest unjuried theater festival in the nation, is upon us. This year's festival includes 168 shows less than an hour in length showcasing the best (and occasionally the worst) that this theater/art/dance/comedy community has to offer. I've steadily been increasing my Fringe consumption every year from a mere ten shows in 2011, my first year of Fringing, to a high of 44 last year. The maximum number of shows that any one person can possibly see, while still obeying the rules of the space-time continuum, is 56. That means seeing a show in every timeslot available. I thought it might be fun to see if I can in fact see 56 shows during the Fringe Festival. Just once, to see if it can be done, and then I'll likely never do it again. And let's face it, I'm not getting any younger, I better do it now while staying up past 11 pm for 11 nights in a row is still (barely) within the realm of possibility. I've run seven marathons, so obviously I like giving myself crazy challenges, just to see if I can do it. And also because it's fun, right? Keep reading for a list of some of the shows I'm hoping to see, and why.

"Glensheen" at the History Theatre

History Theatre's new original musical Glensheen was such a hit last fall, they brought it back this summer. If you missed it last time around, now's your chance to see this clever and wickedly funny musical. And even if you did see it last year, it's definitely worth a second viewing; I enjoyed it even more the second time around. They've brought back the original cast, a talented, charismatic, and hard-working ensemble of just seven actors who seem like more, who are if anything even more comfortable and playful in their many roles than they were last year. Sitting up in the balcony this time, I had a bird's eye view of the action and was even more impressed with this cast, the set, the lighting, the band, the sound, the costumes, and the way every element of production comes together to tell this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story of Minnesota's most notorious murder mystery. You have until the end of July to see this fantastic new creation and tickets are going fast - don't miss out a second time! And keep reading for my full thoughts on the show from last fall.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Fresh Ink: New Works at Illusion Theater

Every summer, Illusion Theater presents staged readings of new works in a program called "Fresh Ink." This year's selections include Revolving Stage, co-written by and celebrating the life of late Twin Cities actor Phil Kilbourne, and The Gest of Robin Hood, a new musical adaptation of the beloved and familiar tale. After a week or two of workshops with the creators and cast, each has four public performances, followed by discussions in which audience members give feedback on what they've seen, an important part of the new work development process. I was fortunate enough to see both shows, and both are and exciting and promising new works of which I hope to see more in the future.

Monday, July 18, 2016

"The Drowsy Chaperone" by Mounds View Community Theater at Irondale High School

Despite premiering on Broadway only ten years ago, The Drowsy Chaperone feels like a classic old-fashioned Broadway musical, and is in fact a celebration of the classic old-fashioned musical and the people who love it. My local community theater, Mounds View Community Theater, has chosen it for their summer production this year, and that choice has paid off. It's a charming show with a show-within-a-show format that allows for fun silly numbers and also commentary on the musical form, which is a perfect choice for community theater. Because who loves musicals more than community theaters, a group of people who volunteer their time to put together a show for their community because it's something they love to do and share? That joy and enthusiasm comes through in this well-cast and well-designed show.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

"The Palabras Project" by Other Tiger Productions at Park Square Theatre

After spending the evening walking around the historic James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue watching theater, I spent the next night walking around the historic Hamm Building in downtown St. Paul watching theater. But unlike the comic opera wedding in The Marriage of Figaro, the wedding depicted in The Palabras* Project, based on Spanish playwright Frederico Garcia Lorca's 1932 tragedy Blood Wedding, is decidedly less happy. If "blood wedding" makes you think of Game of Throne's "red wedding," you're not far off. But this isn't a straight-forward adaptation of the play. New theater company Other Tiger Productions, founded by local theater artists Jessica Huang and Ricardo Vázquez with a mission "to pursue other forms, stories, and modes of collaboration in order to present an inclusive and global theater experience," has assembled a collection of short pieces around the theme of Blood Wedding. Incorporating music, dance, and puppetry, as well as theater, the pieces are performed in various locations in and around Park Square Theatre's basement Boss Stage, including hallways, lobbies, and rehearsal rooms. It's a truly unique experience that goes beyond theater, and a wonderful new (or old) form of storytelling.

"The Marriage of Figaro" by Angels and Demons Entertainment at the James J. Hill House

One of Mozart's most beloved operas, performed by nationally renowned opera singers and local favorites, set in the perfect and intimate location of the grand and beautiful James J. Hill House? I'm in! In by the skin of my teeth, that is. I consider myself very lucky to be one of the 140* people (4 shows x 35 audience members per show) to have had the wonderful experience that was Angels and Demons Entertainment's production of The Marriage of Figaro (with support from the Twin Cities Opera Guild). I'm not much of an opera-goer, unless it's made more accessible by companies like Skylark Opera (who always perform in English, and whose Summer Festival will hopefully return next year). But this was perhaps the most accessible and engaging opera I've ever attended. Sung in English in four different locations within the house that perfectly suited the story, it truly felt like I was in the midst of this crazy upstairs/downstairs story. I only regret that the audience was so limited, and I hope that they bring the production back sometime and expand it so that more people can know this truly lovely and special experience.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

"Talley's Folly" at Artistry

The theater previously known as Bloomington Civic opens their second season* under the name Artistry with the charming two-person play Talley's Folly. It's an ambitious season that includes interesting choices (Wit, The Baker's Wife) and big names (Christina Baldwin, Sally Wingert, and Bradley Greenwald). Talley's Folly is a quiet beginning to this big season, but a lovely one. The 1980 Pulitzer Prize winner by Lanford Wilson is a sweet, funny, and poignant romance set in WWII era rural Missouri, featuring heartfelt natural performances by the cast and wonderful production design.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Getting the Word Out: New Media and How to Use It

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel at the first ever Minnesota Theater Alliance Statewide Theater Conference. The three-day conference was held at my alma mater* St. John's University and featured keynote speakers and breakout sessions covering topics as varied as facility safety, revenue, class and equity, sound, mask-making, and the collaborative process (click here for full details on the conference schedule). I did not attend the full conference, just the session in which I participated, but from what I could tell it seemed to be a really wonderful collection of theater people sharing information and working together to make us all better. Check out the Minnesota Theater Alliance website for more information on who they are and what they do, and watch for news of next year's conference. To see some of what happened at this year's conference, search the hashtag #MTASTC on all of the social medias.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Broadway Romance: Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana in Concert at Orchestra Hall

Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana are Tony-nominated Broadway/TV/Film stars who have roots right here in Minnesota. Laura grew up here and performed on many stages around town before finding fame through the reality show competition Grease: You're the One That I Want, which she won, thereby landing the role of Sandy in Grease on Broadway and beginning her successful career on the national stage. Santino graduated from the U of M/Guthrie BFA program and did several plays at the Guthrie, most notably playing the title role in Hamlet, the last play performed at the old Guthrie Theater before the new Guthrie opened in 2006. He also has since found his way to Broadway, film (as the voice of Hans in Frozen), and TV (in the brilliant CW music-comedy series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend which you should go watch right now if you haven't yet, Season 1 available on Netflix). Laura and Santino's Broadway paths crossed in 2013 when they co-starred in the 2013 production of Cinderella, for which they were both nominated for a Tony. Fitting then, that these two Minnesota actors and Broadway stars would reunite for a concert called A Broadway Romance, developed by Ted Sterling (himself a Tony-winner for the orchestration of the stunning Light in the Piazza). The three performed the concert Sunday night at Orchestra Hall, and it was a charming romance indeed.