Saturday, April 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

"The Great Divide" at Pillsbury House Theatre

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

Monday, April 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

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

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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

"Girl Shakes Loose" at Penumbra Theatre

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

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

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"One Man, Two Guvnors" at Yellow Tree Theatre

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

"The Secret Garden" at Artistry

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

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

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

"Wicked" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

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

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"Vietgone" at Mixed Blood Theatre

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"Lone Star Spirits" at the Jungle Theater

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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

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

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

"West Side Story" at the Ordway Center

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

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Reading of "Minneapolis/St. Paul" at the Playwrights' Center

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

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

Sunday, April 2, 2017

"Side Show" by Chameleon Theatre Circle at Ames Center

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

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

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