Thursday, November 30, 2017

"A Gone Fishin' Christmas" at Yellow Tree Theatre

The #TCTheater holiday* season is not complete without a visit to charming downtown Osseo, adorned with red, green, blue, and white lights on all the trees lining the main street of this small town in the suburbs. Just a few blocks away, tucked in a nondescript strip mall, is the warm and welcoming Yellow Tree Theatre space, where for the 10th year in a row you can experience an original Minnesota holiday play, a silly comedy mixed with local references, and a heartfelt message of home and community underneath it all. YTT co-founder Jessica Lind Peterson has written four such plays - two installments of Miracle on Christmas Lake,** A Hunting Shack Christmas, and this year's selection, a reprise of last year's smash hit A Gone Fishin' Christmas. They've brought back most of the original cast, plus a few fun additions, and if possible it's even better than it was last year. It's a really fun feel-good show, with outrageous hilarity mixed with tender moments, plus an original song by Blake Thomas! The Wednesday performance I attended was not sold out, but tickets will get harder to come by, especially weekends, as the season continues, so make your plans now to visit the ice house before it's too late (more info here).

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"A Christmas Carol" at the Guthrie Theater

One of my favorite #TCTheater holiday* traditions is the Guthrie Theater's annual production of Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol. Now in my 15th year as a Guthrie season subscriber, I've only missed it a couple of times in that span. As I wrote last year, "I never tire of seeing it, because Charles Dickens' story of redemption, community, family, and human kindness never gets old. It's a beautiful and necessary thing to be reminded that what brings us together is greater than what drives us apart.' That it's never too late to change, to grow, to become a kinder and more generous person." This timeless story of generosity, gratitude, compassion, and kindness is something we need to cling to, perhaps now more than ever.

Monday, November 27, 2017

"And Then There Were None" at Theater in the Round

And Then There Were None is the best-selling novel by one of the world's most popular mystery writers, Agatha Christie. If one can overlook the horribly offensive original title and the song from which it came (which, to be honest, I'm not sure one can), it's a suspenseful and gripping tale of the most deadly game of Survivor. Christie herself adapted the story into a stage play, even changing the ending. I'd never seen or read it, and I love a good mystery play, so I found Theatre in the Round's production to be an entertaining and surprising afternoon at the theater.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

"Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley" at the Jungle Theater

Writing a sequel to one of the most beloved novels in English literature is a daunting and risky task. Audiences have such attachment to the original, and it could go wrong in so many ways. But playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margo Melcon have gotten it so, so right in their theatrical sequel to Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. In a sparkling new production at Jungle Theater (just a year after its premiere in Chicago), Miss Bennet: Christmas* at Pemberley is very reminiscent of Jane Austen, but also fresh and modern and new. It's a witty, smart, utterly charming new play that celebrates not just literal sisterhood, but women working together and supporting each other, both onstage and behind the scenes. I can think of nothing we need more at this moment in time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"Waitress" on tour at the Orpheum Theatre

Just in time for Thanksgiving, the Broadway musical about a woman who bakes amazing pies rolls into Minneapolis. Based on the 2007 indie movie Waitress (written and directed by Adrienne Shelly, who was tragically murdered before it was released), the musical (also written by women - book by Jessie Nelson, music and lyrics by singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, who also took a turn in the lead role for a few months) received several Tony nominations in 2016 and is still running on Broadway. This is a movie I loved so much I bought the DVD (back when people watched DVDs), and similar to a movie I love even more, Once, the creative team has done just about as good a job as possible turning it into a musical. The musical is much more comic and light-hearted, and doesn't have as much of the beautiful sadness of the film, but it's hard to do subtle emotions on a Broadway stage. I find it to be a successful adaptation with a fantastic score, modern and interesting choreography, and this touring cast really beautifully brings it to life.

Monday, November 20, 2017

"Coney Island Christmas" at Lyric Arts

Next up on the #TCTheater Holiday Tour* is Lyric Arts' lovely little gem of a play, Coney Island Christmas. Clocking in at just 80 minutes, Coney Island Christmas manages to create that warm and wistful feeling of nostalgia, while making a plea for all of us to respect each other's traditions, even (or especially) if they're different from ours. A highly entertaining cast of children and grown-ups, a heart-warming message of community, and some of the best worst carol singing you've ever heard make this a lovely addition to the holiday theater season.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus" by Green T Productions at the Historic Mounds Theatre

Finding myself with a free Saturday night due to the rescheduling of Leslie Odom, Jr.'s concert at Orchestra Hall, I decided to check out Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus. I'd never seen a show by Green T Productions, never been to the Historic Mounds Theatre, and the show is 90 minutes no intermission (my favorite thing) - perfect for a spontaneous Saturday night trip to the theater! Mounds Theatre is a perfect venue for this creepy tale (my friend told me it's haunted), and Green T has created an ambitious and innovative new telling of this 200-year old tale. While I didn't always get everything that was going on, it certainly held my interest and created some memorable moments.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

"LimeLight" at Minnsky Theatre

Last night, branching out from my usual theater fare, I attended my first burlesque show (not counting the musical Gypsy). Minnsky Theatre is located in nimbus theatre's old space in Northeast Minneapolis, which has been transformed into a more glam version of its former self. I felt a little like I had been transported back in time to the days of Vaudeville, with a variety of age-old entertainment on display. Combining theater, music, dance, acrobatics, burlesque, and circus acts, Minnsky puts on a good show that was thoroughly enjoyed by the large and enthusiastic audience. LimeLight closes tonight, but I encourage you to check out Minnsky sometime for some fun, and a little risque, entertainment.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"Based On / A True Story: Two New Plays" by Raw Sugar and Theatre Corrobora at Southern Theater

At the Southern Theater this weekend, you can see two new one-act plays, both very much worth seeing. They're very different plays, but what they have in common is that they're written and performed by women, telling their own personal, authentic stories. Produced by two companies whose work I want to support based on their mission ("Raw Sugar creates imaginative, adventurous productions led by feminists" and "Theatre Corrobora is a group of young artists who strive to create meaningful, challenging, and intelligent works of original theater by and about young women"), Fadeaway Girl and The Critic and the Drama Queen are both funny, thoughtful, and engaging new plays, and you should go see them (five performances this weekend only!).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Sister Act" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

Amazing things can happen when women stand together and raise their voices, something we've witnessed recently with all of the sexual harassment and assault experiences that have been coming forward. On the musical theater front, when the women standing together are some of the most talented in #TCTheater, and they're raising their voices in the joyous musical adaptation of the movie Sister Act, it's a very amazing thing. Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is bringing back their smash hit from 2015 with mostly the same cast, but while the show might be the same, the world is a much different place than it was two years ago. This beautiful story of sisterhood, friendship, community, and standing up together and raising your voices for joy, love, and faith, may be needed more now than it ever was.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" by Zenith City Horror at Camp Bar

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is one of my favorite musicals. I've seen it several times, and it's always so epic and beautiful and inspiring (you can read all of the many words I've written about it here). I can think of no better way to celebrate my 44th birthday (a day early) than with one of my heroes, who has taught and continues to teach me to be misfit myself, and hold my wig high while doing so. The best part of getting older is being more comfortable in your own skin and caring less and less about what the world thinks of it. And that's what the beautifully flawed human we call Hedwig represents. Zenith City Horror has brought their fantastic version of the show from Duluth to Camp Bar in downtown St. Paul, go see it if you need a little more Hedwig in your life (and who doesn't?!).

Monday, November 13, 2017

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" at the Children's Theatre Company

It may only be mid-November, but in #TCTheater, the Christmas season has already begun! My first holiday show* of 2017 was an oldie but a goodie - Children's Theatre Company's How the Grinch Stole Christmas. A CTC original adaptation of the Dr. Seuss class (with book and lyrics by Timothy Mason and music by Mel Marvin), The Grinch premiered in 1994 before moving on to other stages, including Broadway. I first saw it 2014, when I wrote, "it's a bright and colorful, silly and funny, sweet and heart-warming tale of redemption and love." I'm happy to report this is still true, no matter how many times you've seen it. In a less than two-hour visit to Whoville, the show will make you laugh, warm your heart, and hopefully remind you of the real reason we celebrate any holiday - family, friends, and being together.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" at Mixed Blood Theatre

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time racked up awards in both London and NYC, including winning the Tony Award for best play in 2015. Just last year the Broadway tour stopped in Minneapolis, which I saw and was impressed by the clever and inventive storytelling. Now available for regional productions, Mixed Blood Theatre is bringing us their take on the play. The West End/Broadway production was very tech-heavy, and I was curious what this story with a smaller-scale production and in a smaller house would look like. It turns out I like it even better, but I generally always like smaller cast, smaller scale, smaller house versions of plays and musicals which make the story feel more intimate and real. In this case, the 15-person Broadway cast has been reduced to just 9, with very smart casting and direction by Mixed Blood's Artistic Director Jack Reuler. There are still some pretty impressive tech effects, but also some great low-tech effects that all serve this story of a 15-year-old boy with an unspecified autism-like condition who goes on an epic journey in search of the truth. And it still has a real live puppy and real live maths!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

"Roller Derby Queen" by SOS Theater at Gremlin Theatre

A new #TCTheater company is debuting a new play by a first time playwright in a new St. Paul theater space that just opened this summer. What's more exciting than that?! The good news is that Roller Derby Queen is a great play - smart, funny, and well-written, with quirky but real characters played by a dreamy cast, clearly directed in this intimate space. I'm not entirely sure what SOS Theater is about yet, but based on the first offering of this "new production company dedicated to producing evocative works that present fresh and entertaining perspectives of this ludicrous thing called life," I'm intrigued, and hope to see more.

"Ludlow" by nimbus theatre at the Crane Theater

What I love most about nimbus theatre (other than the fact that they perform at the Crane in Northeast, a 15 minute drive from my house) is that they usually perform new works, often historical, always interesting and thoughtful. Their latest creation is Ludlow, about the Colorado Coalfield War of 1913-1914, the deadliest labor dispute in US History, resulting in the deaths of dozens or even hundreds of people. Playwright Josh Cragun and director Liz Neerland, Co-Artistic Directors of nimbus, have created an ambitious new work with a large and talented ensemble that not only brings the lives of the victims and survivors to life, but also speaks to current issues of unions, immigration, and the haves vs. the have-nots.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Moby Dick" by Theatre Coup d'Etat at Fallout Arts Initiative Co-op Studio 3

"Call me Ishmael." Even thought I've never read Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick, one of the most well known and well respected American novels, this line that opens the book was familiar to me. And so it was a certain kind of thrill to hear the line spoken Monday night in a small art studio space in South Minneapolis, my first experience with this epic tale. Theatre Coup d'Etat's Artistic Director James Napoleon Stone adapted the novel into a two and a half hour play and directs this production, with a terrific 13-person cast, a cool found space, interesting movement, and lovely musical accompaniment. The result is an epic yet intimate telling of this classic American story.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

"The Privateer" by Transatlantic Love Affair at Illusion Theater

Introducing opening night of Transatlantic Love Affair's newest creation The Privateer, TLA company member and first-time director Derek Lee Miller humbly said, you don't want to hear me lecture about pirates for an hour and a half. As someone who quite enjoyed listening to him lecture about bananas for an hour this summer, I most certainly do want to listen to Derek Lee Miller lecture about pirates! Because it would be sure to be fascinating and educational and delightfully nerdy. But even better than a lecture, this excellent company tells a story about pirates through movement, words, and music. TLA fans are sure to love this new, exciting, dangerous tale. And if you haven't seen TLA before, what are you waiting for?!

"Independence" by Chameleon Theatre Circle at Bloomington Civic Theatre

Having parted ways with the Ames Center in Burnsville, Chameleon Theatre Circle is spending their 20th season at various locations north of the Minnesota River. Which, as a Northeast suburbs dweller, makes me happy. Because they've got a great line-up this season, including the rarely produced musical Chess, coming to the new Gremlin space in St. Paul next month, and the cult favorite Little Shop of Horrors at the Sabes JCC next spring. But first, they're opening their season with the family drama Independence, by Playwrights' Center core writer Lee Blessing. Playing in Artistry's Black Box theater (opposite the sold out Music Man), it's an intense, intimate, and well done look at a family dealing with mental illness, unwanted pregnancies, separation, and years of pain.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"Finding Neverland" on tour at the Orpheum Theatre

Based on the 2004 movie Finding Neverland, which was in turn based on the 1998 play The Man Who Would be Peter Pan, the 2015 Broadway musical Finding Neverland, now playing at the Orpheum Theatre, is not what one would call an original musical. Although based on the life J.M. Barrie, the author and playwright who created Peter Pan, the characters and plotlines are not particularly original either, with cliched relationships and predictable plot turns. But don't worry, there's a but. Even if it's not the most original musical you'll see, it's still quite delightful in execution. I had never heard the score before, and found parts of it quite lovely. The design is magical, the movement and choreography is innovative and interesting, and this touring cast (including children and a dog) is wonderful. As long as you're not expecting anything too deep or original, Finding Neverland is sure to delight, at least in some moments, and has an inspiring message about the power of imagination, which is what theater is all about.