Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Favorites in #TCTheater

My dear theater friends, here we are again at the end of another year. Time to reflect and look back on the amazing year that 2016 was... in terms of theater anyway, if not in other areas. And now is the time, when we are faced with crises on many fronts, that we need to look to our artists to lead the way, to shine a light on the problems in the world and start a conversation. Thankfully we have an unparalleled pool of theater artists in the Twin Cities, whose work I will be looking toward and sharing in the year to come.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Public Exposure" by Market Garden Theatre

On a frigid and snowy Saturday night, I arrived on a not-very-well-plowed street in an industrial neighborhood filled with semis. I entered the building at 451 Taft Street in Northeast Minneapolis (not too far from the new Crane Theater) and made my way down the stairs to a long hallway that smelled funny and was cold. If not for the signage at various points, I would have been unsure I was in the right place. But I was in the right place, the right place to see a smart new play in a perfectly suited found space with a small cast that was so great and natural I almost felt like I was eavesdropping on a real conversation. This was my first experience with Market Garden Theatre, but not my first experience with a Keith Hovis penned work, and I continue to be impressed with his evolving talents. First he amused with his very Fringey musicals (including Teenage Misery which recently received an encore production), then he moved to tears with the lovely trio of short musicals Pioneer Suite, and now he disturbs and intrigues with a play about our modern world and how quick we are to publicly shame people for their mistakes.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

"All is Calm" by Theater Latte Da at the Pantages Theatre

If you're looking for 70 minutes of calm, peace, and wonder in this crazy busy season at the end of this crazy busy year, look no further than Theater Latte Da's annual favorite, All is Calm. But look quickly because only a few shows remain this weekend at the Pantages Theatre. This is my fifth time seeing the show, and since I've written about it four times I don't really have any more words left to write. Except that this is a truly beautiful piece of music-theater. Created by Latte Da's Artistic Director Peter Rothstein based on extensive research, with gorgeous musical arrangement of traditional Christmas carols and military songs by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach, All is Calm is a succinct and exquisite look at a moment of peace in the midst of war. An ensemble of a dozen men sing in breath-taking harmony and read (in a delicious smorgasbord of accents) the words of soldiers who experienced the Christmas Truce of 1914. With simple staging and costumes and no applause breaks to interrupt the storytelling, it's 70 minutes of beauty, sadness, and hope.

Read my thoughts on last year's show, which is virtually the same as this year's, here.
Read my thoughts on the previous version of All is Calm featuring Cantus here.

Friday, December 16, 2016

"Fun Home" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

The 2015 Tony winner for best musical, Fun Home, is on tour and is stopping at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre this week. I was lucky enough to see this funny and heart-wrenching modern musical on Broadway last fall with most of the original cast intact. And now we here in the Twin Cities are lucky to see it with a fantastic new cast (including Kate Shindle, Abby Corrigan, and Alessandra Baldacchino as the Alisons large to small, and Robert Petkoff and Susan Moniz as the parents) and a slightly modified set design and direction (it played in a much smaller in the round house on Broadway and has been adapted to fit a large proscenium theater like the Orpheum). If you're a fan of music-theater, I highly recommend you head to Minneapolis this cold and snowy weekend to see what the future of the art form looks like: an intimate, real, raw story about life, death, love, and loss told with a small cast and a smart and beautiful score. You can read all my thoughts about the musical here, and keep reading below for a conversation with my fellow bloggers Laura at Twin Cities Stages and Jules and Carol at Minnesota Theater Love.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

"The Longest Night" at Open Eye Figure Theatre

Ah, winter. Those of us who've lived in a cold climate like Minnesota for a number of years know that winter is not just a season. It's a force, it's a living thing. And while maybe it's not actively trying to kill us, it certainly doesn't care if we live or die. It's all we can do to survive the cold, the snow, the dark, the seasonal affective disorder. But winter is also a welcome time to slow down, to reflect on one's life, to recharge for the coming spring. Because spring will come again, as hopeless as it sometimes feels when the temperature fails to climb above zero or a sudden snowstorm forces you to cancel your plans. But as Bradley Greenwald tells us in his solo show The Longest Night, our ancestors have given us a solution to this possible death by winter - celebration. And The Longest Night is most definitely a celebration. A celebration of winter, and a celebration that winter will end. I truly loved this show when I saw it two years ago (the solstice celebration appeals to my inner pagan), and it's just as comforting, inspiring, funny, and touching this year. Since it's virtually the same show, I'm copying what I wrote then here. I highly recommend The Longest Night as a unique and uniquely special holiday show (playing at Open Eye Figure Theatre through December 23).

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Irving Berlin's White Christmas" at the Ordway Center

There's no denying that 2016 has been a less than stellar year, but inside the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, it's nothin' but blue skies! You may be concerned about the state of our nation, or our world, you may be worried about what the next year will bring on a national or personal level, you may be feeling grief, or loss, or confusion, but the Ordway's scrumptious production of everyone's favorite Christmas-movie-turned-stage-musical will make you forget all of that, at least for a few hours. There are two things art can do in times of crisis - it can provide a welcome escape from the stresses of the world, or it provide commentary, conversation, questioning about the world. Both are needed, and as long as we have plenty of the latter (and we do - see this, or this, or this), there is room for pure escapism that thrills and enthralls with its familiar beloved music, gorgeous set and costumes, and fantastic performances by a large and mostly local cast. This is exactly what the Ordway's White Christmas does. So if you're worried and you can't sleep, go see this show, and when you go home you will fall asleep counting your blessings. And then get up and get back to work.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

"The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer" at Park Square Theatre

At Park Square Theatre, the soul of Gershwin is alive and well. Specifically, composer George Gershwin, who in his 38 short years was one of the most prolific, influential, and important American composers of the first half of the 20th Century. Joseph Vass's creation The Soul of Gershwin: The Musical Journey of an American Klezmer, which premiered at Park Square in 2011 and for which he won an Ivey Award, is history lesson, play, music theory dissertation, and fantastic concert all rolled into one. This is my first time seeing the show, although I did see the companion piece about George's lyricist brother Ira, the lovely (and awkwardly titled) Words By... Here in The Soul of Gershwin we learn about George's Jewish heritage and how he wove the melodies of the synagogue and the klezmer street musicians into his songs. It's a fascinating examination of how Gershwin's music, so much a part of our culture, came to be. And maybe we need to be reminded of George and Ira's story, the children of Jewish immigrants who became some of the most notable American artists, at this moment in time, when anti-semitism and other forms of bigotry seem to be on the rise. Maybe now is the perfect time to celebrate Jewish music and culture and what a huge influence it's had on shaping American as we know it.

Friday, December 9, 2016

"The Norwegians" by Dark and Stormy at Grain Belt Warehouse

To close out their fourth season, Dark and Stormy Productions once again brings us an anti-holiday selection. Except that this one takes place in winter in Minnesota, so it's pretty holiday appropriate, even if it is about two women who hire two Norwegian gangsters to kill their exes. Austin-based playwright C. Denby Swanson was inspired by her time in Minnesota at the Playwrights' Center* to write this darkly funny play that pokes fun at all things Minnesota in a fun-loving way. The Norwegians is a cross between a Prairie Home Companion sketch and an episode of Fargo, with more edge than the former but without the latter's ominous cloud of despair. Director Joel Sass and his dynamic and dynamite four-person cast bring this wacky story to life in an intimate setting, providing a truly entertaining 90 minutes (no intermission!) of theater. And as if all this wasn't enough to make me love the play, any mention of the 1991 World Series Champion Minnesota Twins (or 1987 of course) is a surefire way into my heart!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Reading of "Wink" at The Playwrights' Center

"Now in its 12th year, the Ruth Easton New Play Series gives selected Core Writers 20 hours with collaborators to workshop their script—to write, rewrite, experiment, and shape their work. For playwrights, this means great leaps forward for their plays. For audiences, this means a thrilling and intimate night of theater."

And that it is! I attended the second reading of the new play Wink by New York-based Jen Silverman at the Playwrights' Center. It's so much fun to be part of the play development process and get a peek inside what it takes to get a play on the stage. Here's a description of the play:

Monday, December 5, 2016

"The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at Camp Bar

And now for something entirely ridiculous (in a good way). There is a lot that's sugary sweet about Christmas, and Christmas-themed theater in Minnesota (of which there is much from which to choose). But none of it exists in Minneapolis Musical Theatre's contribution to the holiday theater scene - The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical. It's pure campy and irreverent fun. This is a sequel to The Great American Trailer Park Musical, which MMT did in 2009 (and played Off-Broadway in 2005). If you saw the original, you will recognize some familiar characters (and even one returning cast member). But if you didn't, no matter, it stands on its own in all its trailer trash glory. The songs are catchy and fun, director Ryan McGuire Grimes sets the perfect campy tone, and the terrific six-person cast completely commits to the stereotypical characters and nonsensical plot. Appropriately performed in St. Paul's Camp Bar, with readily available alcohol, it's great escapist fun (at least until that one reference towards the end that will sober you up right quick).

"A Christmas Carole Petersen" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

It's December in the Twin Cities, and that means there are a ton of holiday shows to choose from (Christmas sells well in Minnesota). I've seen six already, with six more on the schedule for the next few weeks (read about all of them here). And right smack dab in the middle of this holiday marathon comes one of my favorites of the past, Theater Latte Da's A Christmas Carole Petersen. After a successful nine-year run in the aughts, everyone's favorite Minnesota family the Petersens took an eight-year break, and are now making a welcome return this holiday season. I saw the show once near the end of its original run and was completely charmed by it, and am thrilled to see it again. Master storyteller Tod Petersen shares his unique family story and holiday traditions that may feel familiar to many Minnesotans. But even if your family traditions are different from the Petersens', even if you celebrate different holidays or no holidays, this show will make you nostalgic for the days of yore and grateful for the gifts of the present.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

"The Crucible" by Theatre Coup d'Etat at Zion Lutheran Church

I first saw Arthur Miller's 1953 play The Crucible last spring at the Guthrie, and was wowed at how this story about the infamous Salem witch trials of the late 17th Century, during which twenty people were put to death for the crime of witchcraft, speaks to the issues of the day. Things have changed a lot in the last year and a half, making the play's themes of religious fanaticism, mob mentality, and persecution of people who are different even more scarily relevant. How terrifying to live in a world where one person's false accusation can incite mass hysteria and result in the persecution of innocent people, a world that sadly isn't too far from the current reality. I'm not saying that our president elect is Abigail Williams, but I, and this excellent and intimate production by Theatre Coup d'Etat, am suggesting that we need to take a breath and look at the facts before we rush to condemn someone based on a spiteful rant. The Crucible dramatizes one of the greatest failings of the American, or rather pre-American, judicial system, and 60 years after it was written still remains a cautionary tale.

Friday, December 2, 2016

"The Lion in Winter" at the Guthrie Theater

There's no family more dysfunctional than the British monarchy. I've been hearing a lot about them recently through Shakespeare's history plays Henry IV Part I, Henry V, and Richard III. The Lion in Winter takes place a few centuries and generations before the earliest of these plays, but was written in 1966 by James Goldman, so it has a more contemporary feel. The family of Henry II on Christmas of 1183 is about as dysfunctional as it gets. And while hopefully our family members don't imprison, threaten to kill, and raise armies against each other, we can all relate to that awkward holiday dinner that goes awry. This contemporary and relatable feel, along with a truly fantastic cast of local and national talent, sharp direction, and a stunning set, make the Guthrie Theater's production of The Lion in Winter a highly entertaining evening, and a spicy counterpoint to the sweet fare across the hall.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" on tour at the Orpheum Theatre

It's rare for Broadway plays to go on tour; typically it's the musicals that travel across the country. I'm not sure why that is, maybe producers think that those of us who live between the coasts would only go for the big splashy musicals, or maybe it's been proven that plays don't sell as well as musicals. Whatever the reason, when a play does go on tour (the only other ones I can remember are August: Osage County and Proof), you know it's something special. And The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is most definitely something special. The story of a 15-year-old boy with an unspecified autism-like condition who goes on an epic journey in search of the truth is fantastically told in a clever adaptation, with stunning technical effects and innovative physical theater techniques, the high tech and the low tech combining in a unique way. And there's math, and a puppy, which makes it a winner in my book!