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.

Monday, March 13, 2017

"Urinetown" at Lyric Arts

A wealthy businessman controls the money and the laws in a land with an extreme division between the haves and the have-nots, and he trains his beautiful and fashionable daughter to continue in his legacy by learning to manipulate great masses of people. Though it was written over 15 years ago, the hilarious and terrifying satirical musical Urinetown has never been more relevant. It's a huge warning about what happens when the earth can no longer sustain our way of life, when the poor become so poor that they refuse to take it any more. It would be a heavy and depressing piece, if the music weren't so happy and the jokes so liberally sprinkled in. In one of the better shows I've seen at Lyric Arts recently (they keep topping themselves), Urinetown is presented in all it's golden glory with a fantastic cast and really cool and grungy design. It'll leave you humming and tapping your feet, with a subtle thought in the back of your mind that we're in serious trouble if things keep going the way they have been. Just think of the happy music!

"The Gondoliers" by Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center

If you like your opera very light, and very silly, and very enthusiastically and traditionally performed by a large cast and orchestra, Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company is for you. I only "discovered" this 30+ year old company a few years ago, but since then I've learned that Gilbert and Sullivan, everyone's favorite 19th Century musical-comedy-operetta composing team, wrote many more shows that just the frequently produced H.M.S. Pinafore and Pirates of Penzance. GSVLOC's annual spring show (is it spring?) this year is The Gondoliers, or The King of Barataria. Director Lesley Hendrickson notes in the playbill that it's "probably the most joyous of the G&S operettas" and that it was "the very first theatrical performance requested by Queen Victoria at Windsor castle after the death of her beloved Prince Albert" (fans of Victoria on Masterpiece, take note). I think the queen would be pleased with this production as well.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"Grease" at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

Friends, I am here to tell you that in the southwest suburb of Chanhassen, Grease is most definitely the word of the summer. And yes, it may be 20 degrees with below zero wind chills and late winter snowstorms in this upside down weather world we now live in, but Grease is here to take you into spring, through summer, and even into early fall with a super high energy, gorgeously cast, supremely fun show. There's nothing subtle about this production that goes for big performances, big high notes, and big laughs. Grease is a guaranteed crowd-pleasing seat-filler, but the Chan doesn't just rest on the easy nostalgia of the piece. Instead, they've put in every effort to make this production the best it can possibly be.* It's very likely to sell well for them for the next seven months (who doesn't love Grease?), and it deserves to because it's pretty much the most fun you can have in a theater.

Friday, March 10, 2017

"Safe at Home" by Mixed Blood Theatre at CHS Field

NFL player Colin Kaepernick started a controversy when he chose not to stand during the National Anthem at a football game last year, saying "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." Imagine if a star starting pitcher chose to take the mound in Game 7 of the World Series and not throw a pitch to draw attention to the issue of immigration reform. Professional athletes are idolized in this country, and their words and actions speak loudly. Should they then use the opportunity to speak out on issues that matter to them, or simply play the game they're paid to play? Such is the subject of Mixed Blood Theatre's immersive, site-specific, ambulatory play Safe at Home. In nine short scenes, this story of a baseball player using his celebrity to make a statement is told in various locations in and around CHS Field, the beautiful new ballpark of the St. Paul Saints. It's an incredible one-of-a-kind theatrical experience, and I'd love to see this world premiere play created by Gabriel Greene and Alex Levy and directed by Jack Reuler performed at ballparks around the country. But in the meantime, head to St. Paul's Lowertown neighborhood to experience this engaging mix of baseball, politics, and theater.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Reading of "The Sea & The Stars" 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."

I attended the fourth of the five readings in the 2016-2017 series last night. 
I'm loving this monthly series; every play has been so interesting and wonderful in its own unique way (see also December's Wink by Jen Silverman, January's queens by Martyna Majok, and February's Eden Prairie 1971 by Mat Smart). This month's new play receiving a workshop and two-night-only reading was the post-break-up romantic comedy dramedy The Sea & The Stars by PWC core writer and board member Harrison David Rivers.

Monday, March 6, 2017

"Mere Trifles" by Theatre Unbound at SteppingStone Theatre

The month-long celebration of Women's History continues with Theatre Unbound's collection of four one-act plays written by women about women's stories. From a 100-year old play by a little known but important female playwright, to two new plays by local playwrights, to a play from the '90s by a nationally known playwright about to make her Broadway debut, the connecting thread of these plays is women making sometimes difficult decisions to better their lives and control their own destiny. Director Kate Powers leads the versatile six-person cast (Adam Gauger, Brian Joyce, Delinda "Oogie" Pushetonequa, Lynda Dahl, Nicole Goeden, and Pedro Juan Fonseca) through the stories, with short intros to each piece that provide interesting commentary but sometimes lead to awkward transitions. Below is a short summary/reflection on each piece.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

"An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth and the Minnesota Orchestra" at Orchestra Hall

Kristin Chenoweth, star of Broadway, TV, and film, performed with the Minnesota Orchestra last night and it was something to behold. We all know that she has an incredible voice, a vocal powerhouse that belies her petite 4'11 frame, and acting chops to spare. But it turns out she's also a genial and charming host and storyteller. She titled the show "An Intimate Evening with Kristin Chenoweth," and it did indeed feel like that. Entertaining and engaging the crowd with stories, introducing songs and sharing what they mean to her, flirting with the orchestra, chatting with audience members, it felt like we got the real Kristin with no pretense, not some role she was playing. It was her first time performing at Orchestra Hall and she was very humble and gracious about the honor and privilege of performing in such a place with the amazing musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, and let it be known that she would love to come back. Anytime Kristin!

"The Awakening" by Savage Umbrella at the Southern Theater

The 1899 novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin was ahead of its time. It depicts a woman who feels constrained and unsatisfied within the strict confines of the gender roles of the time, namely as wife and mother (like a precursor to Betty Draper). Only after Kate Chopin's death was The Awakening appreciated for the feminist work that it is, and it's appropriate that Savage Umbrella is bringing us their version of the story during Women's History Month, adapted by director Laura Leffler-McCabe and created with the ensemble. With a large cast utilizing physical theater techniques, live music performed by an onstage three-person band, and beautiful production design, The Awakening is a truly lovely and moving story of a woman's struggles to find her place in a world that doesn't accept her.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

"The Red Shoes" at Open Eye Figure Theatre

You may be familiar with the Hans Christian Andersen story The Red Shoes, in which a vain little girl with pretty red shoes is cursed so that her shoes will never stop dancing. But you may not recognize what the ingenious minds of Joel Sass and Kimberly Richardson have turned it into. Yes there are a few (hilarious) runaway dancing scenes, but their 80-minute show at Open Eye Figure Theatre is more 20 Century creepy noir thriller than 19th Century fairy tale. I'll let director Joel Sass describe it to you: "Equally humorous and hair-raising, our adaptation of The Red Shoes draws inspiration and influences from the vintage detective novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, case studies of amnesia and multiple personality, and black and white film noir movies of the 1940s. Like that cinematic genre, The Red Shoes evokes a highly stylized landscape of convoluted mystery, subconscious manacle, fever dreams, and existential crisis." My immediate thought at the end of the show was, "how do people think of such things?" The Red Shoes is something so curious and unique, odd and chilling, inventive and charming, it's thoroughly captivating from start to finish.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"The King and I" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

Last night I finally had the opportunity to see the one musical of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Big Five that I hadn't seen - The King and I, the Tony winner for best musical in 1951. The national tour of the 2015 Broadway revival (also a Tony winner) has landed in Minneapolis for the week, and it's a gorgeous production. Another beautiful Rodgers and Hammerstein score, played by a big and wonderful pit orchestra, luscious costumes and impressive set, and a talented cast that includes the most Asian-American actors I've seen on stage since... Mu Performing Arts and Park Square Theatre's production of Flower Drum Song (another R&H musical) last month. While it's pretty old fashioned (it's not the most feminist piece and suffers from the white savior complex), it is a classic, beautifully presented, and makes for quite the luscious feast.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Exclusive Announcement of Lyric Arts' 2017-2018 Season!

Theater friends, I'm thrilled to bring you an exclusive announcement of Lyric Arts' 2017-2018 season! The new season includes the return of a recent hit, a couple of classic musicals, the Tracy Letts play that inspired a new sitcom, the world professional premiere of a new play by a local playwright, and much more. It's sure to be a season full of laughs, tears, and great music. Thanks to my friends at Lyric Arts for allowing me to share this with you exclusively. See you in Anoka! (Dates and other details TBA - visit Lyric Arts' website or Facebook page for updated information.)

Monday, February 27, 2017

"Deathtrap" at Theatre in the Round

Who knew murder could be so fun?! In Theatre in the Round's production of the 1978 play Deathtrap, it is. This stage thriller that pays homage to classic stage thrillers while at the same time mocking them is full of jaw-dropping plot twist and plenty of humor. Twin Cities Theater Bloggers' winner for favorite comedic performance in 2016, Shanan Custer, directs the strong five-person casts and keeps the laughs and the surprises coming. Deathtrap is a fun and engaging escape from the troubles of the real world, a place where we all know murder is pretend so we can laugh at the ridiculousness of the plotting.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

"We Are Proud to Present" at the Guthrie Theater

The ending of We Are Proud to Present, now playing in the Guthrie's Dowling Studio, is unlike anything I've ever seen in theater (for many reasons which I won't spoil for you here). It left me shocked, confused, and a little traumatized, but mostly it left me incredibly moved. It's such a powerful and important piece, forcing us to look at the long-lasting effects of colonialism around the world, its parallels with slavery in America, and how difficult it is to talk about racism. But even though the show leaves on a heavy and intense note, it's also really funny and innovative and theater-y too. It fools you into thinking it's a fun look at actors in rehearsal and then sneaks in some serious issues that soon become almost more than one can bear. Fortunately the Guthrie's Level Nine initiative includes what they call Community Engagement Activities, which often means a post-show discussion with the cast or creative team or experts on the subject. Take advantage of this - it's a wonderful opportunity to decompress and process what you've just seen, and begin a conversation.

Friday, February 24, 2017

"King Lear" at the Guthrie Theater

King Lear is considered one of Shakespeare's best tragedies, and the title role one of the most challenging roles to play in all of theater. The Guthrie Theater returns to King Lear for the first time in 22 years, and has hired not one but two beloved veterans of the Guthrie and other Twin Cities stages to tackle the role. Nathaniel Fuller and Stephen Yoakam take turns playing the lead and you can see the schedule here, although you really can't go wrong with either one - both are incredibly talented actors. Stephen Yoakam played Lear the night I saw the show, and gave a powerful performance, as did many in the large and talented cast. Combined with the gorgeous overall design of the show, this King Lear is a stunner.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"Anna in the Tropics" at the Jungle Theater

The Jungle Theater opened the first show in their 2017 season a few weekends ago, Anna in the Tropics set in balmy Florida. While we Minnesotans are enjoying an unprecedented 60 degrees in February and may not need an imaginary tropical escape, it's still a lovely, lyrical story of a family and a culture, but not without its tragedy. The wonderful all Latino and mostly local cast really makes this family and story feel alive. At its heart it's about storytelling, and the power that storytelling has to inspire us or change our lives. This play may not affect you quite as drastically as the characters in the play are affected by the story they hear, but it is an enjoyable place to spend an evening.

Monday, February 20, 2017

"Marie Antoinette" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Red Eye Theater

It's rare that an audience audibly gasps when the actors first walk on stage at the beginning of a play, but when that play is Walking Shadow's luscious and brutal production of the new play historical Marie Antoinette, and the actors are wearing pastel colored three-foot tall wigs like cotton candy and dresses as wide as they are tall, it's an entirely appropriate reaction. But what starts as a satire of a frivolous life of cakes and dresses (like an 18th Century Keeping up with the Kardashians), turns into a desperate story of survival as the French Revolution puts an end to that lifestyle. Playwright David Adjmi uses modern language to tell this historical story, which makes it seem like it could be happening today (despite the fantastic period costumes). Queens are experiencing a bit of a pop culture rise right now (see Netflix's The Crown and PBS' Victoria), and Marie Antoinette fits right in with those two excellent works that show us another side of the monarch we think we know.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"As You Like It" by Classical Actors Ensemble at the Crane Theater

Classical Actors Ensemble is "dedicated to engaging audiences by capturing the spirit in which the plays of the English Renaissance were originally performed - with immediacy, passion, and as popular entertainment." This is something they do beautifully with their summer Shakespeare in the park; I was charmed by their fun and playful Two Gents and Midsummer in recent years, and look forward to The Comedy of Errors this summer. This is my first time seeing CAE indoors, and I'm happy to report that they retain their playful spirit in a more traditional theater setting (although with the crazy warm February weather we're having, they might as well do it outdoors!).

"The Importance of Being Earnest" by Four Humors at the Southern Theater

"Why would Four Humors do The Importance of Being Earnest? We acknowledge what is happening in the world right now, and we do not believe in running from our problems. However, we do believe taking a break from our problems is a very healthy thing. There is a theory that when we laugh, our mind is cleared and we are able to see our problems with fresh eyes. We hope this production will achieve this renewal and allow all of us to leave the Southern Theater with our heads held high, ready to tackle our challenges with renewed vigor and purpose. The act of art alone is worth fighting for. We hope you come play with us today, so we can continue our work tomorrow." I wholeheartedly agree with this statement by Four Humors, and their perfectly delightful production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest definitely meets this goal. In this classic play, subtitled "a trivial comedy for serious people," Wilde brilliantly satirizes the high society of Victorian England in this absurd comedy of mistaken identities, and the consistently funny theater troupe that is Four Humors is the perfect company to bring us a good laugh in these... unusual times.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Fiddler on the Roof" by Ten Thousand Things at Augsburg College

It never fails. Whenever I go to see a Ten Thousand Things show, the storytelling is so clear it's as if I'm truly seeing it for the first time, even if it's a piece I've seen one or many times before. In their signature bare bones theater style, they've cut out all the fluff from the beloved musical Fiddler on the Roof (and let's face it, there's a lot of fluff in this show that often feels too long) to get right to the heart of the story. Even though I've seen the show twice in recent years (at the Chanhassen and Artistry), I've never been so caught up in and felt so deeply the story of one man's struggle with holding to his traditions, while still loving his family as they begin to change and grow out of those traditions. The brilliant Steve Epp makes Tevye so real and human, and along with the other eight members of this terrific ensemble playing multiple characters, makes the world of Anatevka palpably real and somehow modern, despite still being anchored in time and space. Because 50 years after it was written, this story about a family of refugees fleeing persecution and violence in their beloved homeland to find safety in America is as timely as ever. Fiddler on the Roof continues through March 19 at various locations and it is a must see.