Thursday, May 25, 2017

"Refugia" by the Moving Company at the Guthrie Theater

One of my favorite theater companies, The Moving Company (an offshoot of the dearly departed Theatre de la Jeune Lune), made their Guthrie debut last weekend with Refugia, after five or so years of producing new work that is interesting, bizarre, lovely, or all of the above. Several of my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers* saw it opening night and had some strong reactions, to say the least. Even though I mostly stayed out of the conversation, when I saw the show last night I couldn't help but look for issues. And I did find some, although I also found some really beautiful moments and a powerful and timely message. Would I have noticed these issues if not for my friends? I don't know, but I'm grateful to them for speaking their experiences honestly and opening up a conversation. A conversation that will continue with an open forum discussing representation** in theater coming up at the Guthrie (I'll post the details when they become available). In the meantime, go see the show and decide for yourself.

Monday, May 22, 2017

"Intimate Apparel" by Ten Thousand Things at Minnesota Opera Center

I saw recent two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage's play Intimate Apparel at the Guthrie almost 12 years ago. I usually don't remember anything about shows that I saw before I started blogging in 2010 (that's why I started blogging, to keep a record of my theater experiences), but I clearly remember loving this play. I even remember the basic plot, although not a lot of details. But what I remember most clearly is that feeling you get when you see a play that really touches you, really gets under your skin, and stays with you - even for 12 years. Last weekend I saw Ten Thousand Things' new production of Intimate Apparel, and now I remember why I love this play so much. It's a beautiful story of a woman discovering her strength through friendships, a failed relationship, and her own sense of self-worth. And as always, Ten Thousand Things brings us the truest version of the story, with little in the way of sets, lighting, or other theater magic to get in the way. Along with beautifully real acting, clear direction, and an intimacy with the story that only the specific TTT "all the lights on" up-close-and-personal style can bring, this Intimate Apparel is one I will remember.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

"Amy's View" at Park Square Theatre

Shortly after Mother's Day, Park Square Theatre brings us a mother/daughter story that is just one of the "complicated relationships" (the name of the signature drink accompanying this show) in Amy's View. Theater, criticism, art, finances, and messy relationships of all sorts are exposed in this play that spans 15 years. The play perhaps tries to cover too much, in time and topics, but the excellent cast and design make it worth the ride.

"Broadway Songbook: Hollywood and Broadway" at the Ordway Center

Thursday night I attended my 13th show in the Ordway's Broadway Songbook series, an edutainment series about musical theater (I think I've only missed one, maybe two). Starting way back in 2011 (aka the good old days) with "The Words and Music of Irving Berlin" in the dearly departed McKnight Theatre, the series has traveled to the stage of the main theater and now to the swanky new concert hall, and gone on to cover such composers as Stephen Sondheim, Comden and Green, and Rodgers and Hammerstein and Hart, and such topic or eras as musicals of the '50s and rock and roll on Broadway. Each has been a fun, entertaining, and informative history lesson about musical theater (which happens to be my favorite thing in the world). Which brings us to the current installment: "Hollywood and Broadway." A topic so vast (there was a time when every successful Broadway musical was made into a Hollywood movie, and now it seems every successful Hollywood movie is made into a Broadway musical), that it's impossible to cover in two quick hours. But co-writers Jeffrey P. Scott and the Ordway's Artistic Director James A. Rocco, who also hosts, managed to put together an interesting story that was perhaps a bit too much Hollywood and not enough Broadway for my taste, but was still a wonderful evening of musical theater history and performance.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"Red Velvet" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Southern Theater

In just four days, I saw two plays in which an actor of color donned white face. A little strange, a little disturbing, but a very good sign that the #TCTheater community is telling some important and relevant stories right now. Mu's Charles Francis Chan Jr.'s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery deals head on with the practice of yellow face and Asian American stereotypes in media, while paying homage to real life pioneers of Asian American theater. Walking Shadow's Red Velvet deals with art, politics, and race in theater while telling the story of a real life pioneer of African American theater who had a successful career doing Shakespeare in Europe in the 19th Century. Both plays provide astute social commentary through historical stories that are also engaging and entertaining, and are both well worth seeing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Little Wars" by Prime Productions at Mixed Blood Theatre

British mystery writer Agatha Christie. American playwright Lillian Hellman. Activist Muriel Gardiner. American author Dorothy Parker. It's debatable whether or not these four accomplished women met in the home of the equally accomplished women Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in the French Alps in 1940, but it sure makes for a fascinating play. One with these many roles for women in their prime. A perfect choice, then, for the debut of the new theater company Prime Productions whose mission is "to explore, illuminate, and support women over 50 and their stories through the creative voice of performance." As a woman who's approaching that age (at a seemingly greater speed with each passing year), it's a mission I whole-heartedly support. And the Twin Cities is the perfect location for such a company, as we are lucky enough to have many female theater artists in their prime. Little Wars, a play about fascinating real-life historical women*, is an exiting debut for this company. I look forward to seeing what else the amazingly talented women in their prime in the #TCTheater community can do, when given the opportunities they deserve but are often denied by our ageist and sexist society.

"Charles Francis Chan Jr.'s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery" by Mu Performing Arts at the Guthrie Theater

With their new production of Lloyd Suh's recent Off-Broadway play Charles Francis Chan Jr.'s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery, Mu tackles the issue of yellow face and the stereotypical portrayal of Asian Americans in media head on. Like Branden Jacobs-Jenkens' Octoroon (recently produced by Mixed Blood Theatre), the play includes yellow face and white face, a play-within-a-play format, and a weird human-sized animal. While Jacobs-Jenkins satirized the "antebellum melodrama," Suh satirizes the many stereotypes that have dominated the depiction of Asian Americans in popular culture, and specifically the dozens of movies from the '20s through '40s featuring detective Charlie Chan (played by a white man, natch). The result is a weird and trippy mash-up of stories, often told in exaggerated style, that effectively and poignantly exposes and skewers the stereotypes surrounding us while paying homage to the pioneers of Asian American theater.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

"Ragtime Women" by Theatre Elision at Dreamland Arts

I'm usually not a fan of the jukebox musicals, but when the songs used are little known ragtime gems from female composers, I approve! In just a brief 75 minutes, Ragtime Women manages to tell a compelling story about four real life women who composed music in the early 1900s, while sharing over two dozen songs of the era, many of them written by these women. It's smartly constructed (by Theatre Elision founder Cindy Polich), well performed, and a promising debut for this new company. But it's a short run so act quick to see this short, sweet, and musically delicious little show before it closes on Sunday.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Minnesota Fringe Festival: Five-Fifths of Jurassic Park at the Ritz Theater

Hey theater friends, the Minnesota Fringe Festival is less than three months away! The largest unjuried theater festival in the nation begins August 3, runs for 11 days, and usually includes about 170 shows at a dozen or so venues around town. The kick-off event (after the lottery, which was held earlier this year and determined who will perform in the festival) is the annual Five-Fifths show, a fundraiser that showcases all that is wonderful about MN Fringe. The crazy brilliant people at the Fringe take a popular movie, slice it into five parts, and give each part to a company to do a Fringe-style adaptation. Then the five fifths are mashed together to make one crazy whole. It's great ridiculous fun and really gives you a taste of what the Fringe has to offer, in addition to raising money to help "adventurous artists meet adventurous audiences."

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Wit" at Artistry

I don't know where to begin with this one. Artistry's production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play Wit is simply devastating. But it's also funny, and smart, and philosophical, and enlightening. This is my first experience with the play, and I really can't think of anyone I'd rather see in the lead role than the incomparable Sally Wingert. She gives a masterful performance in what has got to be one of the juiciest roles in theater - a smart, educated, independent, confident woman who experiences life in a whole new way while approaching death from cancer. This professor who is an expert in the metaphysical poetry of John Donne has spent her life contemplating life, death, and the afterlife in theory, and has to rethink everything she believes when faced with the stark reality of it. It's a brilliantly written play given an excellent and interesting staging by Artistry, and Sally's performance is one not to be missed.

Monday, May 8, 2017

"The Rink" at Daleko Arts

This was my weekend for seeing rarely produced musical theater gems. First I saw a charming production of 110 in the Shade at Theatre in the Round in Minneapolis, then I headed down to the very southern edge of the seven-county metro area to see the Kander and Ebb musical The Rink at Daleko Arts in New Prague. I found both of these musicals to be really great and I don't understand why they're not produced more, but I'm grateful for the wonderful Twin Cities (and beyond) theater community for giving me the chance to experience shows like this. On my second visit to Daleko Arts I continue to be impressed with the work that they do in the tiny Prague Theater on charming Main Street in New Prague. Part of Daleko's mission is to "help decentralize professional theatre in Minnesota," a mission that I support in theory but in practice is a bit challenging; I'd like to see all of their shows but the distance can be prohibitive. But if you live in the Southern Metro, or don't mind a road trip through some of the prettiest country in Minnesota (I may be biased because I grew up in the area), Daleko should definitely be on your radar as a destination for quality theater that includes classics, new works, and interesting unexpected choices like The Rink.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

"110 in the Shade" at Theatre in the Round

Theatre in the Round doesn't do many musicals, so I'm glad they chose the rarely produced gem 110 in the Shade this season. It originally premiered on Broadway in the '60s and ran for less than a year, and has been revived only once, for a few months in 2007 - a little surprising because the score is beautiful. Not only is this an excellent choice in musicals, but it's such a thrill to hear a lovely score such as this in TRP's small arena space with a small band and the singers not miked, so there's no amplification to get in between the music and your ears. The music sounds richer, the story feels more immediate in that intimate setting. They've assembled a strong cast; in particular the two leads have gorgeous voices and wonderful stage presence. If you appreciate beautiful musical storytelling, check out 110 in the Shade at Theatre in the Round, the longest running theater in Minneapolis.

Friday, May 5, 2017

"Redemption" by nimbus theater at the Crane Theater

nimbus theatre's latest original work, Redemption, deals with the tricky issue of reentry into civilian life after time spent in prison. Playwright Josh Cragun and director Mitchell Frazier researched the topic extensively and talked with people affected by the issue. The result is a thoughtful look at the lives of two recently released prisoners and how their release affects their family and their victims (sometime one in the same). We're facing so many problems in this country right now that our flawed prison system (nimbus quotes a few statistics in their program, including "the US holds only 4.4% of the world's population, but we have 22% of the world's prisoners" and "we incarcerate at a higher rate than any other country in the world") seems to have taken a back burner. Not at nimbus, where Redemption doesn't offer any answers, but rather calls for compassion and understanding on all sides.

"The Bluest Eye" at the Guthrie Theatre

"This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim has no right to live." This quote from Toni Morrison's 1970 debut novel The Bluest Eye, an adaptation of which is currently playing on the Guthrie thrust stage, is a brilliant metaphor for the Civil Rights movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Women's Rights movement, the Gay Rights movement, really any cry for equality and justice. All we want is for all kinds of flowers to have a chance to grow. What they do with that chance is up to them, but the promise of America (a promise that feels like it's slipping further away every day) is that every flower, every child, is given an equal chance to grow and flourish and become their best self. The protagonist of The Bluest Eye, a poor and "ugly" black girl named Pecola living in the 1940s, is not given that chance. This cast and creative team, most of whom are new to the Guthrie, bring Toni Morrison's story to heartbreakingly vivid life in an intense, engaging, at times humorous, and incredibly moving hour and 45 minutes of theater.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

"Musical Mondays" at Hell's Kitchen, May 2017

Musical Mondays at Hell's Kitchen is a monthly cabaret series featuring fabulous local talent performing songs from musical theater around a theme. The theme for this month's show, the 49th in the series, was musicals of the last ten years. My favorites in this time period include Spring Awakening, Next to Normal, The Book of Mormon, OnceHamilton, and the very recently Tony-nominated Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen. But only the last one made the cut for Musical Mondays. Which isn't surprising, perhaps my choices are too obvious, and Musical Mondays has always been great about picking the lesser known (to me anyway) songs and musicals. As always, it was a super fun night of celebrating musical theater, enjoying performances by local talent, people watching, and eating and drinking (it's always Happy Hour at Musical Mondays).

Monday, May 1, 2017

"Sweet Land, the Musical" at History Theatre

Every place has a story
Every person has their time
Every tale has an ending
Don't know yours
Don't know mine
Every end has a beginning
All beginnings have an end
In between come all the hours
We can barely comprehend
And we hope what came before us
Was a story born of love
Trust the earth
Trust the sun
Trust in god above

Saturday, April 29, 2017

"A Year with Frog and Toad" at Children's Theatre Company

The Tony-nominated musical A Year with Frog and Toad has returned to where it began - the Children's Theatre. It's been back a few times since its brief 2002 Broadway run and subsequent nominations, but this is my first time seeing it. Based on Arnold Lobel's children's books about the friendship between a frog and a toad and commissioned by his daughter Adrianne Lobel, whose original scenic design is used in this production, Frog and Toad is an utterly charming musical. Like many shows at CTC, it's designed with children in mind, but its sweet and simple story is so clearly and entertainingly told that it's a joy for all to behold.

"We Are the Levinsons" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at Highland Park Center Theater

The new play We Are the Levinsons is like a very special episode of a TV sitcom. I mean that as a compliment; I grew up on sitcoms (and I learned a lot from the very special episodes). Playwright Wendy Kout has experience with TV sitcoms; she created one that ran four seasons. The play is structured as a series of scenes with natural commercial breaks, often punctuated with a joke or a shocking reveal. Even the font used in the program has a Gilligan's Island-esque feel. But like those very special episodes, We Are the Levinsons deals in more than easy jokes as the characters struggle with aging, illness, messy family relationships, and identity crises. And you may find yourself shedding a few tears amongst all the laughter.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

"The Great Divide" at Pillsbury House Theatre

Tension. Authentic. Provocative. Humorous. Hope. Uncomfortable. Despair. Familiar. These were some one-word audience reactions to the performance of Pillsbury House Theatre's collection of new short plays last night, titled The Great Divide: Plays for a Broken Nation. I think we're all aware that the world is not the same as it was a year ago, or even six months ago. Theater is a great way to explore the issues that we're all grappling with, to understand them, to process them, to look for solutions. Pillsbury House jumped right into this by commissioning five local playwrights to write a ten-minute play with the title as their only prompt. The result is a diverse collection of stories and characters that are all of the above things, as well as incredibly relevant, timely, and necessary.

Monday, April 24, 2017

"La Petit Moulin" by COLLIDE Theatrical Dance Company at the Ritz Theater

In my biannual excuse to watch dance (which I love, but just don't have time for with all the theater I see), I attended opening night of COLLIDE Theatrical Dance Company's latest "original jazz dance musical" La Petit Moulin last weekend. COLLIDE's shows are always great fun - gorgeous dancing, incredible live music, short and sweet so you're outa there in under two hours. For someone who sees a ton of theater, it's a nice palate cleanser to watch a story unfold with nary a word said. Now in their 5th season, the COLLIDE team (choreographer Regina Peluso, Director Josh Campbell, and Music Director Doug Rohde), the musicians, and the dance company are experts at telling a story solely through music and dance.

Interview with Playwright/Lyricist Laurie Flanigan-Hegge about "Sweet Land the Musical"

As frequent readers of this blog know, I'm not usually a fan of movies made into musicals. But when the movie is not some Disney blockbuster, but rather a sweet and lovely independent movie made in Minnesota, I'm all for it! The 2005 movie Sweet Land, directed and written by Ali Selim based on a short story by Will Weaver, is one of my favorites because of the sweeping Minnesota landscapes, the plethora of Minnesota actors, and the simple and beautiful story of love, acceptance, and community. A (mostly) local team has been in the process of adapting the movie into a musical for years, and their hard work is finally coming to fruition when Sweet Land, the Musical opens at the History Theatre this weekend. I've seen several readings of the work in progress (you can read about that here), and I've been so pleased how the creators have held true to the beautiful heart of the movie while adding music that feels organic to the story and only serves to enhance the storytelling. One of the creators, Twin Cities theater artist Laurie Flanigan-Hegge, answered a few of my questions about Sweet Land, the Musical, the development process of a new work, and the importance of supporting women playwrights and composers.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"The Master Builder" by Theatre Novi Most at the Southern Theater

About Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's play The Master Builder, Wikipedia says, "the search for meaning or interpretation has often engaged and bewildered critics all over the world." Consider me engaged and bewildered after experiencing Theatre Novi Most's new interpretation of the play, adapted and directed by Artistic Director Vladimir Rovinsky. It's so layered with symbolism that it would take a several thousand word essay to unpack it all, which I unfortunately don't have time for, as fun and challenging as it would be. And since it closed Saturday after a very short run I'll just share a few thoughts and observations about this engaging, bewildering, and gorgeous production.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

"Girl Shakes Loose" at Penumbra Theatre

Girl Shakes Loose is the musical we need right now. It's playing at Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul through May 14 and you should definitely go see it, but I'm hoping it has continued life after this run. I don't know what the creators/producers have planned, but I would love to see it on Broadway. I think we need to see it on Broadway. Written by a black female composer/playwright team (Imani Uzuri music and lyrics, Zakiyyah Alexander book and lyrics) and incorporating the poetry of Sonia Sanchez, a poet in the Black Arts Movement,* Girl Shakes Loose is something we've never seen before. Namely, a musical about a contemporary black woman with an all black cast. Musicals with a black female lead** are few and far between (the only ones I can think of are Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and GrillThe Color Purple, Caroline or Change, Aida, Porgy and Bess) and are all set in the past. Most musicals that feature an all black cast are about overcoming hardships - racism, abuse, poverty. Which are important stories to tell but definitely do not represent the entirety of the African American experience. Girl Shakes Loose is a different narrative. It's about a young black woman living her life and figuring out who she is and where she fits in the world. It shouldn't be revolutionary in 2017 to see a musical created by black women about a contemporary black woman in America, but it is. I'm thrilled to have witnessed it and excited to watch it go out into the world from here.

Friday, April 21, 2017

"Testament of Mary" by Loudmouth Collective at Open Eye Figure Theatre

What if the inspirational and world-changing story of Jesus was told by his mother, rather than his followers? Would she be just as reverential of the man that Christians believe is the son of God who died for our sins? Or would she be grieving and angry at the loss of her child? Irish playwright Colm Tóibin explores that idea in his one-woman play The Testament of Mary. Loudmouth Collective opens their production of this powerful and thought-provoking play tonight, and like all of their work, it's short, intense, well-executed, and runs for two weekends (eight performances) only.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"One Man, Two Guvnors" at Yellow Tree Theatre

About the Guthrie's 2012 production of The Servant of Two Masters I wrote, "If you don't enjoy the feeling of laughing until your face hurts, you must avoid it at all costs." The same goes for Yellow Tree Theatre's production of One Man, Two Guvnors. The 2012 Broadway hit that gave us James Corden is a 21st adaptation of the aforementioned 18th century commedia dell'arte classic. "Commedia dell'arte" is an Italian term which roughly translates as "outrageously wacky fun," which is exactly what One Man, Two Guvnors is. Reminiscent of YTT's 2014 production of the also wacky 39 Steps, which garnered them two Ivey Awards, 1M2G brings back the Ivey-winning director of that show, Anne Byrd, along with half of the Ivey-winning comedy duo, Tristan Tifft. Under Anne's expert direction, this incredibly talented cast (which also includes three of the Four Humors) take the audience on a ridiculously fun ride of crazy antics, physical humor, audience participation, delightful '60s-style music, and much hilarity. Highly recommended for those who don't mind their face hurting from too much laughter.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"The Secret Garden" at Artistry

The Secret Garden was my favorite book as a child (beside the Little House series, with which I was and maybe still am obsessed). I remember finding it magical, and wishing for a secret garden of my own, perhaps because I connected with a serious and solitary little girl who liked the outdoors. A few weeks ago I started re-reading this beloved childhood classic that I haven't touched in 30 years in preparation for seeing Artistry's production of the 1991 musical adaptation. I haven't finished it yet (I spend too much time at the theater and not enough time reading), but that brooding and magical feeling is familiar. The book is an introspective story with few characters that doesn't scream "Broadway musical!" But the creators (book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon) have done a wonderful job of adapting it and making it something new, while still staying true to the heart of the original. It's a heart-warming tale with a hauntingly beautiful score, brought to life by Anita Ruth's always thrilling pit orchestra and this dreamy cast that is vocally one of the best I've ever seen at Artistry.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

"The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence" at Park Square Theatre

"The world is filled with people who could ruin me with love." So says a character in The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence, currently playing at Park Square Theatre. And that's really what the play is about, although it's also about technology and artificial intelligence and several famous Watsons throughout history. But "about" is a difficult word with this play; it's difficult to explain or describe. But what it is is funny, imaginative, thought-provoking, touching, and yes, curious.

Friday, April 14, 2017

"Wicked" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

OK people, you don't need me to tell you how incredible Wicked is. The 2004 multiple Tony winner is currently the 9th longest running musical on Broadway (closing in on #8 pretty quickly), and I'm not even going to try to guess how many millions of people have seen it or how many billions of dollars it has grossed. It's a smash hit blockbuster by all accounts, but one that deserves every ounce of its success. No matter how many time I've seen it (six, if you're counting), it never fails to thrill and enchant me with it's larger than life set and costumes, endlessly singable score, and most of all, its beautiful message of friendship and standing up for what's right. So I'm not going to describe the show to you (I've done that twice before, here and here), or tell why you should see it while it's in Minneapolis for a month, I'll just note a few things that struck me about seeing this particular production of the phenomenon known as Wicked at this particular time.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Penumbra Theatre at 40: Art, Race and a Nation on Stage" Exhibit at the Minnesota History Center

Penumbra Theatre is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an exhibit at the Minnesota History Center entitled "Penumbra Theatre at 40: Art, Race and a Nation on Stage." I toured the last weekend yesterday with my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers from Artfully EngagingCompendiumLife in Revue, and One Girl Two Cities, and we had a great time. This comprehensive exhibit tells about the history of Penumbra, its beginnings 40 years ago, its close relationship to one of the most important African American playwrights August Wilson, and its growth to become one of the top African American theaters in the country. On display are posters, playbills, costumes, set pieces, and props, as well as photos of past, present, and departed company members. It's an incredible collection of artifacts important to history, theater, Minnesota, and the African American experience.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"Vietgone" at Mixed Blood Theatre

Another smart and funny new play fresh from a successful Off-Broadway run has landed in Minneapolis. In addition to Josh Tobiessen's hilarious and heart-breaking Lone Star Spirits at the Jungle Theater, we also have Qui Nguyen's ambitious and genre-blending Vietgone at Mixed Blood Theatre. The playwright tells the story of his parents meeting a Vietnamese refugee camp in 1975 Arkansas in an inventive and totally unique style. Vietgone is part rap musical, part romantic comedy, part bawdy sex comedy, part war story, and all engrossing. It's in-your-face (literally, the cast often walks through the audience and might throw a finger in your face) and squirm-inducing, but is utterly effective in communicating the refugee experience and making at least this audience member rethink their views on the Vietnam War and American involvement.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"Lone Star Spirits" at the Jungle Theater

Y'all, Jungle Theater's Lone Star Spirits got me feeling all the feels! Hilarious and heart-breaking, it's one of the best plays I've seen this year. Brought to us by wife/husband director/playwright team Sarah Rasmussen and Josh Tobiessen, it features crisply drawn characters beautifully brought to life by a brilliant five-person cast, an incredibly detailed and realistic set, family drama, a poignant exploration of small town life, ghosts, country music, and accidental gunshots. I was laughing throughout the show and wiping away tears at the end, which is pretty much my favorite kind of play. Friends, you'd be wise to get on down to the Jungle between now and May 7 to experience this practically perfect 90 minutes of theater.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

"The Assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary Franz Ferdinand" by Sheep Theater at the Southern Theater

"Warn the Duke!" calls the clairvoyant little boy in the musical Ragtime. Those who paid attention in their high school history class know that he's referring to Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungarian crown, whose assassination in 1914 started World War I. It turns out the story is a little more complicated than that, and Sheep Theater's new play The Assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary Franz Ferdinand tells the story fairly historically accurately (from what Wikipedia tells me, my high school history class being a long time ago), but with modern language and humor. The result is part history lesson, part reflection on the current state of events, part tragedy, and part wacky farce. Judging by the sold out house last night, Sheep Theater (they do "original plays with an emphasis on classically epic stories that highlight the deranged confidence of humanity with sincerity and honesty"), has a loyal following, deservedly so, and might want to consider extending their runs past the usual handful of shows. This one closes tonight, sorry folks! Watch their website and Facebook page for your next opportunity to see this uniquely clever and funny company.

"West Side Story" at the Ordway Center

I might have watched the 1961 movie adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story a few too many times as a dreamy teenager. So much so that I know every word, every note, every iconic dance step by heart. I'm happy to report that the Ordway's new production doesn't disappoint this West Side Story mega-fan. In fact, It's positively thrilling to see this musical I love so much live on stage with some of my favorite local talent. The cast (which also includes some national talent) is phenomenal, Leonard Bernstein's stunning score sounds beautiful as played by the nearly 20-piece orchestra directed by Raymond Berg, and the dancing, oh the dancing! Jerome Robins' iconic and ground-breaking choreography is easily identifiable here, and this cast just nails it (choreography by Diane Laurenson, who has frequently paired with director Bob Richards on WSS). This West Side Story is so gorgeous, I wish I could see it every night of its two-week run!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Reading of "Minneapolis/St. Paul" 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."

The Ruth Easton Series concludes at the Playwrights' Center tonight, and I was fortunate to attend all five new play readings in the season. The final reading is a full circle moment for this theater blogger - the very first reading I attended at PWC was a reading of core writer Lee Blessing's Minneapolis/St. Paul, which the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers were invited to attend and discuss with the playwright. It's hard to believe that was less than a year ago, and since then I've attended as many readings as I am able to. As Lee himself said in an interview, "There's no more useful tool a playwright has to improve a play than the chance to watch it presented to an audience of willing victims." Consider me a very willing victim for this sort of experiment. It's been so much fun to experience these five plays in development 
(see also December's Wink by Jen Silverman, January's queens by Martyna Majok, February's Eden Prairie 1971 by Mat Smart, and January's The Sea at the Stars by Harrison David Rivers). If you've never been to a reading at the Playwrights' Center, I highly encourage you to pay them a visit and be a part of the great work they're doing in their 45th season.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

"Side Show" by Chameleon Theatre Circle at Ames Center

The 1997 Broadway musical Side Show is a bit of a cult hit among musical theater nerds, although it closed after just 91 performances in its original run. I saw it at Park Square Theatre, but it was 15 years ago so I remember next to nothing about it, other than it's based on the true story of conjoined twins and vaudeville stars Daisy and Violet Hilton. I was eager to see it again, so it was the perfect opportunity for my first visit to Chameleon Theatre Circle way down south in Burnsville. It's a fascinating and tragic story of fame and abuse, but the musical's creators Bill Russell (book and lyrics) and Henry Krieger (music) have turned it into one of true sisterhood, perseverance, and acceptance of oneself. I very much enjoyed Chameleon's production, which brings out all the weirdness as well as the heart of the story.

"Ghost Train" by Wayward Theatre and Mission Theatre at the Minnesota Transportation Museum

Wayward Theatre Company, the company that recently brought us an "innovatively imagined and well executed" Tartuffe at the James J. Hill House, is now partnering with Mission Theatre Company to bring us the deliciously fun and spooky Ghost Train in another one of 19th century railroad millionaire James J. Hill's buildings. The Jackson Street Roundhouse was once a maintenance facility for the Great Northern Railway, and now houses the Minnesota Transportation Museum. Filled with old trains and displays about the long ago era of train travel, it's perhaps the coolest space in which I've ever experienced theater. Or maybe that's just my inner Sheldon Cooper talking. But there's no doubt that surrounded by all of this historic equipment and memorabilia, it's quite easy to be transported back to the 1920s by this comedy/melodrama/thriller play and its terrific cast and detailed design.

Friday, March 31, 2017

"To Begin With" at the Historic Wesley Center

"Marley is dead, to begin with." So begins Charles Dickens' classic story A Christmas Carol. It's also the source of the title of local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's new play about the author, To Begin With, now playing at the Historic Wesley Center in downtown Minneapolis. In it, we learn a little about the man, his writing process, and specifically his book The Life of Our Lord, an adaptation of the Christian gospels. He wrote this book for his children and never intended for it to be published, which it wasn't until 64 years after his death. Jeffrey Hatcher imagines the motivation behind this, and as portrayed by Dicken's great-great-grandson Gerald Charles Dickens, paints a lively portrait of an intelligent and witty man dedicated to faith, family, and his work.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

"Matilda" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

Matilda is a wildly successful musical (both in England where it originated and here in the States) based on the 1988 children's book of the same name. But I had no familiarity with either the source or the musical when I arrived at the Orpheum Theatre yesterday, which is often the best way to experience theater. I found Matilda to be charming yet dark, with some breathtaking physical and acrobatic scenes. And the children of the cast are so good, I almost suspect they're just short adults and not really people who have lived on this planet less for than a dozen years. There were lots of kids in the audience too, and while it's a pretty late night on a school night, and perhaps a bit dark for the young ones, it's a wonderfully thrilling musical for any age.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"Twisted Apples: Stories from Winesburg, Ohio" at Nautilus Music-Theater

I first experienced Nautilus Music-Theater's lovely new piece of music-theater Twisted Apples: Stories from Winesburg, Ohio about five and a half years ago, when they presented one of the three acts at the 2011 Minnesota Fringe Festival. It was actually the first time I saw Nautilus' work, and I was immediately hooked. I saw another piece of the work at the 2012 Fringe Fest, and have been waiting for the full three-act work ever since. The wait is over! Nautilus specializes in developing new works of music-theater (a term that I've stolen because it can be used to describe anything on the spectrum of play with music/musical/opera without forcing it into a box). To that end, they hold classes and workshops for composers and playwrights, and present readings of new works roughly the second Monday and Tuesday of every month in their "Rough Cuts" series (watch their Facebook page for details, usually announced a week or two prior). Every once in a while they mount a full production of one of these new works in their tiny studio space in Lowertown St. Paul, and now, finally, it's Twisted Apples' turn to have its moment. But hopefully not its last; it's a gorgeous piece that I hope will live on and continue to be performed beyond this nine-show small space run that closes this weekend.

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Citizen: An American Lyric" by Frank Theatre at Intermedia Arts

Frank Theatre describes their latest production as follows:
A searing representation of the current American zeitgeist, CITIZEN: AN AMERICAN LYRIC [by Claudia Rankine] is a boundary-bending work of poetry/prose/criticism, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs. A 6-member "ensemble piece... floats between dream and reality, narration and performance, and challenges its audience's perceptions," as it examines the ways racism pervades daily life in America, from highly visible news accounts to the daily microaggressions that render certain citizens invisible in our culture.
That's a pretty apt description for this piece that is more than theater, it's a lesson for how to be in this world. But it doesn't feel like a lesson, it doesn't feel preachy, rather it lays bare the flaws in our society in the way that we deal with race, historically and currently. Only four more performances remain this weekend, and if you're interested in a powerful, disturbing, and transfixing piece of theater that goes beyond mere performance, I recommend that you reserve your tickets now (the show I attended was sold out).

Sunday, March 26, 2017

"Goodbye Cruel World" by Theatre Pro Rata at the Crane Theater

Theatre Pro Rata's Goodbye Cruel World closes today so if you haven't seen it already, I'm afraid you're out of luck. (Sorry about that, blame NYC.) But for the record, it's a fun and wacky ride ably driven by six actors playing multiple characters, often in the same scene. A modern adaptation of Russian playwright Nikolai Erdman's The Suicide, which was banned by the government and not produced until after his death, it's a farcical look at a man down on his luck who offhandedly wonders if he would be better off dead, only to be taken seriously by his wife, neighbors, and eventually the whole town. Everyone from the church to the intelligentsia, a post man to an artist, wants Semyon to promote their cause in his suicide note. His neighbor decides to turn it into a lottery, but in the end Semyon realizes he doesn't want to die, much to everyone's disappointment. Read on for some highlights of the show.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"Macbeth" at Park Square Theatre

Macbeth. There I said it. In addition to being one of Shakespeare's darkest, bloodiest, and most violent plays, Macbeth has also inspired a silly theater superstition in which it's bad luck to say the name in a theater. But it's certainly not bad luck to produce it, also being one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. Wikipedia tells me that "it dramatizes the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake." Which is something we still see examples of today. While it's not as bloody good fun as I remember the Guthrie's 2010 production being (one of my favorites of that year), Park Square Theatre's Macbeth is intense, intimate, and striking.

"The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin" at History Theatre

I just got back from my annual trip to NYC, "center of the universe," where I saw six Broadway shows in five days (read my mini-reviews here). While I was there, I also took a walking tour of the Lower East Side through the Tenement Museum, which I highly recommended if you're in the city. The tour was fascinating and served to reinforce the idea that the history of the Lower East Side, the history of New York City, the history of America is an ever-changing story of immigrants. Immigrants who have come to this country in search of better opportunities and better lives for their families. Unfortunately, our history also includes an ever-changing story of prejudice and discrimination against immigrants. Today, it's Muslim and Mexican immigrants that face the brunt of it. But the idea of keeping immigrants out due to fear is not a new one; in 1882 the first legislation against the immigration of a specific race was passed - the Chinese Exclusion Act. Local playwright Jessica Huang's new play The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin tells the true story of one Minnesota family affected by this legislation. In keeping with the History Theatre's commitment to tell the untold stories of all Minnesotans, it's a beautiful and affecting look at the very timely and relevant issue of immigration through the very specific story of one family.

Monday, March 20, 2017

NYC 2017 Trip: "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Coment of 1812" at the Imperial Theatre

Show*: 6

Title: Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Coment of 1812

Location: Imperial Theatre

Written By: Dave Malloy

Summary: A musical adaptation of Tolstoy's novel War and Peace that is neither about war nor peace, but rather focuses on the love triangle between Andrey, Natasha, and Anatole, told in an immersive style.

NYC 2017 Trip: "Sweat" at Studio 54

Show*: 5

Title: Sweat

Location: Studio 54

Written By: Lynn Nottage

Summary: A new play about a community dealing with the closing of a steel plant in Reading, Pennsylvania in 2000.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

NYC 2017 Trip: "Come From Away" at the Schoenfeld Theatre

Show*: 4

Title: Come From Away

Location: Schoenfeld Theatre

Written By: Irene Sankoff and David Hein

Summary: An incredibly moving new musical telling the untold stories and singing the unsung heroes of 9/11 in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes carrying 7000 people (and a few animals) were diverted.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

NYC 2017 Trip: "Dear Evan Hansen" at the Music Box

Show*: 3

Title: Dear Evan Hansen

Location: The Music Box

Written By: Steven Levenson (book), Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics)

Summary: A brilliant new, original, and thoroughly modern musical about grief, loneliness, the pain of growing up, and finding connection in the social media age.

Friday, March 17, 2017

NYC 2017 Trip: "Hello, Dolly!" at the Shubert Theatre

Show*: 2

Title: Hello, Dolly!

Location: Shubert Theatre

Written By: Michael Steward (book), Jerry Herman (music and lyrics)

Summary: A yummy new revival of the 1964 classic musical based on Thornton Wilder's play The Matchmaker, about an ambitious woman in NYC at the turn of the last century who "meddles" in everyone's life, and is also looking for some happiness for herself.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

NYC 2017 Trip: "War Paint" at the Nederlander Theatre

Show*: 1

Title: War Paint

Location: Nederlander Theatre

Written By: Doug Wright (book), Scott Frankel (music), Michael Korie (lyrics)

Summary: A new musical from the Grey Gardens team about Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein, two pioneers of the make-up and skin care industry who were among the very few women who owned their own company with their own name on it in the mid 20th Century.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"Six Degrees of Separation" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Theater Latte Da "we do theater musically" is closing out their brilliant 2016-2017 season (which also included an exquisite Ragtime, the return of favorites A Christmas Carole Petersen and All is Calm, and a delightfully playful Peter and the Starcatcher) with Six Degrees of Separation. If you're thinking - wait, that's not a musical - you're right. But Latte Da has added music sparingly and organically to make the storytelling better and clearer. There's so much depth in this piece that I haven't yet been able to unpack it all. It reminds me of Mad Men - the highest form of the art we call television. Watching Mad Men, I always felt like everything meant something - every prop, every costume detail, every camera angle, every word, every pause. I may not have known what it meant, but I could tell that every detail was intentional. That's how I feel about Theater Latte Da and director Peter Rothstein in general, and this production in particular. Every detail of design, direction, acting, means something. I might not know what it all means, at least not upon first viewing, but I appreciate the amount of thoughtfulness that goes into every choice.