Saturday, June 24, 2017

"Sunday in the Park with George" at the Guthrie Theater

Of late, the Guthrie Theater has had a tradition of producing a classic crowd-pleasing musical every summer (most recently: South Pacific, The Music Man, and My Fair Lady). But inexplicably, they have never produced a musical by the great Stephen Sondheim on the main stage. Perhaps it's because Sondheim is not easy, to do or to watch; not as readily familiar and accessible as the classics of the '50s. But Sondheim is the Shakespeare of musicals, and it's about time the Guthrie remedied this gross oversight. They do so in splendid fashion this summer with their stunning production of what is perhaps the musical theater master's greatest masterpiece, Sunday in the Park with George, directed masterfully by Artistic Director Joseph Haj. Sondheim and frequent collaborate James Lapine first joined forces on this piece that won them a Pulitzer Prize, getting their inspiration from the 19th century painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat, one of the leaders of the Impressionist movement. Artists being inspired by the work of another artist who lived a century earlier to create art about art. It's pretty meta, and no surprise that it's a favorite among musical theater artists. The Guthrie has assembled a sparkling cast and created a gorgeous design that brings this work of art about art itself to brilliant life.

Monday, June 19, 2017

"Ghost the Musical" at Old Log Theatre

Old Log Theatre's contribution to the summer blockbuster musical is Ghost the Musical, based on the popular 1990 movie. It premiered on Broadway in 2012 and ran for only a few months, and when I saw the tour the following year I was not impressed. At the time I wrote, "At its core, Ghost is a small intimate love story, but Ghost the Musical is a big splashy techno-heavy 'show,' in which the beauty of that story gets lost. The story would be better served with less tricks, a smaller cast, fewer showy songs, and a greater focus on what we really care about - the relationship between Molly and Sam." I'm thrilled to report that Old Log has done just that. The score, which is quite good, the story, and the relationships between the characters are more the focus of the show, with lower tech effects that serve the story rather than drawing attention away from it. If you're looking for a satisfying summer musical experience, head out to Old Log Theatre, one of the oldest theaters in Minnesota, in lovely Excelsior on Lake Minnetonka.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"Milly and Tillie" at Open Eye Figure Theatre

A 2013 Ivey Award winner for Overall Excellence returns this summer! Open Eye Figure Theatre's delightfully silly Milly and Tillie is playing at their charmingly intimate space in South Minneapolis through June 25, and then moves to Artistry in Bloomington July 8 through August 13. Like the silliest public television show for kids brought to full and vivid life, sisters Milly and Tillie Silly will delight their guests, the audience, for just under an hour, at which point you will be sad to say good-bye to them. The website says "recommended especially for grade school children and toddlers as well as parents and grandparents!!" I am none of the above, and I still enjoyed watching the Silly sisters, and only slightly less, I enjoyed watching the tiny humans who were completely enraptured by them.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"Don Giovanni" by Skylark Opera Theatre and Angels & Demons Entertainment at the Women's Club of Minneapolis

For five years, I spent one or two nights at Concordia University's E.M. Pearson Theatre watching opera/operetta/musical theater as part of Skylark Opera's Annual Summer Festival. Last year, the festival was abruptly cancelled as the company went through financial and leadership challenges. I'm happy to report that Skylark is back, rebranded as Skylark Opera Theatre, now with their second show under new Artistic Director Robert Neu. The Summer Festival has not returned, but Skylark's commitment to presenting accessible opera in English hasn't changed. Their second production (after The Tragedy of Carmen earlier this year) is a site-specific production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, with new English translation by Robert Neu and Gabriel Preisser, who also plays the title character. It bears more than a little resemblance to last summer's site-specific Mozart (The Marriage of Figaro in the James J. Hill House) by Robert Neu's other company, Angels and Demons Entertainment, a co-producer of this show. Like Marriage of Figaro, this Don Giovanni is an intimate, immersive experience that one doesn't usually get with opera.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

"An American in Paris" Broadway Tour at the Ordway Center

The 2015 four-time Tony-winning Broadway musical An American in Paris is currently touring the country, stopping at St. Paul's Ordway Center for the Performing Arts for just one week. Based on the classic 1951 movie of the same name, this is a movie-to-musical adaptation that makes sense. The film itself (which I admittedly have never seen) was inspired by music, George Gershwin's "jazz-inspired symphonic poem" An American in Paris, and is filled with several other of Gerswhin's songs (with lyrics by Ira Gershwin) and dancing. Lots of dancing. The stage version (with book by Craig Lucas and direction/choreography by Christopher Wheeldon) has slightly adapted the story, added and removed Gerswhin songs, and thereby turned the movie into a thoroughly enjoyable dance musical. I've heard that the reason to see this show is the dancing, but I found a few more reasons to see it. Read on to find out.

Monday, June 12, 2017

"Persuasion" by Aethem Theater Company at the Wellstone Center

"Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands." These words were written by Jane Austen 200 years ago, spoken by Anne Elliot, the heroine of Persuasion, but they're just as true today. OK maybe we've evened things out a little bit in the last 200 years, but women's stories told by women are still in the minority. Fortunately, Jane Austen was able to tell her story despite the obstacles, a story of strong women who are determined to decide their own fate despite living within the confines of early 19th Century English society. One of the less common iterations of this story, her final novel Persuasion, has received a new adaptation by local theater artist Kayla Hambek for Aethem Theatre Company, and it's just delightful. Full of the Jane Austen charm, the familiar story of a strong, determined, principled woman who won't settle for less than her heart's desire, brought to life by a large wonderful cast with creative use of movement to convey emotions - it's a must-see for Janeites.

"Moonlight and Magnolias" at Lyric Arts

Although it became and still remains the highest grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation), Gone with the Wind had an infamously difficult beginning. Producer David O. Selznick bought the rights to the popular book shortly after it was published in 1936, and spent years obsessing over every detail of the production, hiring and firing directors and screenwriters along the way. The play Moonlight and Magnolias, which premiered at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in 2004, imagines one week in this years-long process in which Selznick locks himself in his office along with screenwriter Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming to rewrite the script after filming has already begun. The play is part hilarious look at Hollywood and what makes it tick, part recap of the popular movie, and part exploration of the balance between making a movie you can stand behind and giving the people what they want. Lyric Arts' production is fast and funny, with a strong four-person cast that works and plays well together.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"Fly By Night" at Jungle Theater

A new original folk-rock musical? It's like Fly By Night was created (by Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick, and Kim Rosenstock) and brought to the Jungle (by director Sarah Rasmussen) just for me. The rare bird that is the new original musical is my favorite thing in the world, and folk-rock/folk/Americana is my favorite genre of music. I was primed and ready to love this show, and love it I did. Charming and funny yet poignant, with a fantastic score played by greats from the local music scene, and a cast that couldn't be better - what's not to love? Well maybe a few things - a bit of the ending I didn't love, and a confusing timeline issue.* But other than that I loved everything about this show that is right up my alley, and I hope to get back to see it before it closes on July 23.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

"Romeo and Juliet" by Mission Theatre Company at the Crane Theater

As of this week, I've seen Romeo and Juliet nine times in some form or other (not counting West Side Story, its most successful adaptation). Not because I particularly love Romeo and Juliet (although I still remember a few lines I memorized in high school English class many years ago). But because it's done a lot (the Guthrie is opening their season with it this fall). So why do it again? Why see it again? Romeo and Juliet still fall in love at first sight. Romeo still kills Tybalt. Romeo and Juliet still react to his banishment with despair rather than just running away together. And the friar's stupid messenger still fails to deliver the message, resulting in the senseless death of both of these teenagers. But there's a reason it's done so often and has inspired so many adaptations (the latest being James Corden and Emily Blunt's musical version). It's a story of love, crazy stupid irrational love, in the face of hate and violence. Mission Theatre Company promises a Romeo and Juliet like you've never seen before. And they deliver, with an energetic and physical adaptation that builds from romantic comedy to tragedy over two intense hours with no intermission.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

"RENT" 20th Anniversary Tour at the Opheum Theatre

If you've read my "About Me" page or seen that recent article in the Pioneer Press (or my left forearm) you know that RENT is not just my favorite musical, but one that will forever hold a special place in my heart. I can't explain why. Part of it is timing; I was in my early 20s when it premiered in 1996, just like the characters, living on my own for the first time and trying to figure out this thing called life (which I'm still trying to figure out). But more than that I just connected to the story, the emotions, and the message of the piece. A beautiful message of life, love, community, and light in the face of the darkness that surrounds us, one made even more poignant by the death of its creator Jonathan Larson the night before RENT's first performance off Broadway. I never tire of seeing it and never pass up an opportunity to see it - I've seen every tour that has come through the Twin Cities since the first national tour in 1997, I've seen it once on Broadway and once off, and I've had the pleasure of seeing two local productions. Now RENT is on the road again with the 20th anniversary tour, a production filled with as much life, heart, and energy as ever. And it's stopping in Minneapolis for just one week only. Whether it's your first, or 15th, or 100th time seeing it, RENT is a joyful, moving, inspirational experience.

Monday, June 5, 2017

"Baltimore Waltz" by Theatre Coup d'Etat at SpringHouse Ministry Center

On a hot, sticky. busy, loud, crowded afternoon in Uptown (which is quickly becoming my least favorite neighborhood in which to see theater due to the never-ending traffic, construction, and parking difficulties), I found a cool, sweet, pleasing oasis in the SpringHouse Ministry Center. Theatre Coup D'Etat's production of the one-act 1990 Off-Broadway play The Baltimore Waltz is a funny, charming, poignant little waltz of a play. Playwright Paula Vogel wrote the play in response to her brother's death, and that sense of nostalgia, grief, and the ephemeral joy of life permeates every scene. The appealing three-person cast in the intimate setting sweep the audience up with them in this fantastical journey of the imagination.

"Arcadia" by The Chameleon Theatre Circle at the Ames Center

22 years, 5 months, and 5 days ago, I was a math major studying abroad in Salzburg, traveling around Europe during the winter break. While in London, my friend suggested we go see this play called Arcadia (she was a fan of the playwright Tom Stoppard because of his play Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead, which was made into a movie in 1990). We did, and I immediately and absolutely fell in love with it, so much so that the next day I bought the script from a bookstore (to date the only script that I own). I've only seen it twice since then - once at my alma mater a few years after I graduated, and once at Theatre in the Round 14 years ago. I re-read the play a few months ago in anticipation of Chameleon Theatre Circle's production this month, and was once again entranced by Stoppard's brilliantly clever mix of math, landscaping, poetry, romance, academics, and comedy. Last night, I was thrilled to watch it come alive before me in Chameleon's excellent production with a really wonderful cast, elegant design, and clear direction. It's quite a treat to revisit a play I fell in love with 22 years ago, and discover I love it even more now.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"Pike St." at Pillsbury House Theatre

Pillsbury House Theatre is hosting New York based theater artist Nilaja Sun's acclaimed one-woman show Pike St. for three weeks, and my Minnesota theater friends - this is an opportunity you don't want to miss. A native of the Lower East Side, Nilaja brings all the beauty, diversity, community, and difficulties of her neighborhood to life in a show so all-engrossing, it's a shock to the system to be returned to reality after 90 minutes. She tells one specific story of a family in a hurricane, playing all of the different characters, but it's so much more than one family's story. It's about returning war vets, the joys and frustrations of living in a close community, the joys and frustrations of caring for a child with special needs, family, love, loyalty, and New York City - "the greatest city in the world.*" Pike St., which Nilaja also wrote, is a remarkable piece, and hers is a remarkable performance. Reserve your ticket now, it's the best $5-25 you'll spend today.

Friday, June 2, 2017

"365 Days/365 Plays" by Full Circle Theater at Penumbra Theatre

About 15 years ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks gave herself a challenge - write a play every day for a year. New #TCTheater company Full Circle Theater (they've been around a couple years but this is just their second production) has chosen to produce a "remix" of 46 of these plays in just over two hours. The result is a mishmash of stories, characters, and conversations, seemingly unrelated, but with some common threads to be found. Full Circle is intentionally multiracial, with a mission "to produce heartfelt, groundbreaking theater that artfully addresses issues of human nature and social justice for 21st century audiences." A wonderful goal, and 365 Days/365 Plays is an interesting, perplexing, thought-provoking step towards it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"The Boy and Robin Hood" by Trademark Theater at the Ritz Theater

A third new theater company is making its #TCTheater debut this month, following a charming new original musical Ragtime Women by Theatre Elision and Little Wars, a powerful story of women in their prime brought to us by Prime Productions. Now we have Trademark Theater, comprised of the Tylers Michaels (founder and artistic director) and Mills (artistic associate and resident playwright), with Emily Michaels King on marketing and graphic design. Their mission is to "expand the breadth of original theatrical works born in Minnesota by creating, developing, and producing dynamic stage productions." Their first creation is a new adaptation of an old story - Robin Hood. And it most definitely is original and dynamic. I saw a reading of it as part of Illusion Theater's "Fresh Ink" series last year (under the title The Gest of Robin Hood) and was impressed with the storytelling and original music (written by David Darrow). But now, with the added elements of movement, costumes, set, lighting, and all of the theater magic, plus a super talented and energetic young cast, it's something truly exciting.

Friday, May 26, 2017

"Up: the Man in the Flying Chair" by Theatre Pro Rata at Park Square Theatre

For their third show in partnership with Park Square Theatre, Theatre Pro Rata is presenting the sweet, funny, and heart-warming Up: The Man in the Flying Chair in the intimate thrust stage in the basement of the theater. It's one of those shows that just makes me happy. The seemingly diverse elements of a fascinating real person, a family dramedy, a perky pregnant teen and her con artist aunt, and the magical appearance of tightrope walker Philippe Petit all combine for a unique and engaging play. Brought to life by this wonderful cast, it made me feel all the feels.

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.