Tuesday, December 26, 2017

"Myron Johnson's Nutcracker (not so) Suite" by James Sewell Ballet at the Cowles Center

A few weeks ago, the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers were invited to a backstage tour of the Cowles Center, new home of Myron Johnson's 30-year holiday* tradition that is Nutcracker (not so) Suite, and to have a chat with one of the show's stars (and one of my favorite #TCTheater artists) Bradley Greenwald. You can read all about that fun event here, but even more fun - I finally saw the show! I had seen it two years ago, the first year it was performed by James Sewell Ballet, but Myron changes it up every year to keep it fresh, so while I knew what to expect, it was in some ways a whole new show. In all incarnations of the show, Mama Flo is the only one who speaks, and everyone else expresses themselves beautifully through movement. But this year, since Mama is played by Bradley Greenwald, she also sings. This Nutcracker diverges quite a bit from the original, but it's festive and fun and a great way to ring out 2017 with the final four performances this week Wednesday through Saturday.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

"Christmas Storiessz V: Silent Night" by Sheep Theater at the Southern Theater

There's no better way to spend Christmas Eve Eve Eve than at an irreverent, ridiculous, super fun show by Sheep Theater. This is their fifth year presenting a series of original plays called Christmas Storiessz, about a detective in pursuit of an evil Santa. Even though I'm a fan of Sheep Theater, I've never seen Christmas Storiessz before, but no worries, there's enough exposition to catch us up to the present. But the plot isn't really what matters with this show. It's more of an excuse for Sheep to do their thing, with a little bit of holiday flair.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"Big Old Rock" at Open Eye Figure Theatre

#TCTheater artist Jay Own Eisenberg is presenting his original solo piece at Open Eye Figure Theatre, thanks to the Minnesota State Arts Board, which makes wonderfully unique and creative art such as this possible for many artists. Big Old Rock is ostensibly about geology, and one geologist in particular, but it's really about so much more than that. It's about transitions, and change, and being OK with where we are right now. It's also funny, playful, thoughtful, and surprisingly poignant. Just a few more performances remain this week; check it out to learn about rocks, and maybe some other stuff too.

Monday, December 18, 2017

"Family Dinner" and "The Mess" at HUGE Improv Theater

It's been too long since I've enjoyed some improv at HUGE Theater in Uptown. But thanks to the appeal of the annual hit Family Dinner, I made a visit last weekend. And since I was there, I also stayed for the 9:30 show (I'm afraid a 10:30 show is more than this morning person can do, sorry improv-ers). Family Dinner has Friday and Saturday performances for the next two weekends but is virtually sold out. But the other show I caught, The Mess, performs Saturday nights and is also a great option. In fact, just about every night there is something funny going on at HUGE, so check it out sometime to experience something outside of the usual #TCTheater world.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"Dot" at Park Square Theatre

Park Square Theatre is getting into the #TCTheater holiday* show game, but the new play Dot is less of the sugar plums and figgy pudding variety and more of the juicy family dramedy variety. A family gathers at Christmas, adult children and friends come home, finding they have a lot of stuff to deal with. Chief among said stuff is that family matriarch Dotty has Alzheimer's, but everyone in the family has their own stuff going on too, just like life. This is a very real, grounded story of a family with issues (what family is without issues?), a family that loves each other and tries to do what's best, even if they don't know what that is. A fantastic cast under the direction of E.G. Bailey bring this smart, funny, poignant, relatable play to life.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

"Hatchet Lady" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Red Eye Theater

On a Wednesday night with a nearly full house at the parking-challenged Red Eye Theater, I saw a bizarre and possibly brilliant creation. Walking Shadow's new bio-musical Hatchet Lady about temperance activist Carrie Nation is in some ways neither a biography nor a musical. There is music and it is somewhat about Carrie Nation, but it doesn't follow the structure of any musical I've seen. And that's a good thing. I'm at a bit of a loss how to talk about this one, but if you're looking for music-theater storytelling that is outside of the norm, you might want to try to snag a ticket to one of the few remaining performances. Going into its 3rd and final weekend, it seems to have built up quite a following based on word-of-mouth that has transcended the usual theater crowd. It's a wild 70-minute ride.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Preview of "Nutcracker (not so) Suite" by James Sewell Ballet at the Cowles Center

Myron Johnson's unique creation Nutcracker (not so) Suite has been around for 30 years, but I first became aware of it two years ago when James Sewell Ballet Company first presented it at the Cowles Center. Before that, Myron's company Ballet of the Dolls performed it at various locations around the Cities, including their home for many years, the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis. As a theater geek who loves to watch dance but doesn't usually have time to fit it into the busy theater schedule, Nutcracker (not so) Suite is theatrical enough in its storytelling to give me an excuse to go. Especially this year, with one of my absolute favorite #TCTheater artists, Bradley Greenwald, joining the show! Not the classical Nutcracker, but rather an adaptation of it set in 1960s NYC and featuring pop music and an array of dance styles, I described it as "delightfully bizarro." I'm looking forward to revisiting it again, and even better - the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers were invited on a backstage tour of the Cowles Center and a happy hour chat with Bradley. Read on for more on this fun TCTB event, with pictures! And be sure to visit the Cowles Center website for more information (discount tickets available on Goldstar).

Monday, December 11, 2017

"It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" at the St. Paul Hotel

#TCTheater friends, there's a well kept secret in town. At least I've never heard of it in the theater world, but my parents have heard of it from their favorite radio station (and the one I grew up listening to) WCCO. Every holiday* season at the beautiful St. Paul Hotel, there is a charming performance of It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play accompanied by a three-course meal. My mom has been wanting to go to it for several years, but it has a loyal following and is a tough ticket to get. We finally got in this year, and I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed it. Now in their 12th season with the same cast, this company puts on an entertaining show filled with nostalgia and the warmth of the holidays, with a lovely meal (see menu to the left, vegetarian options also available). Performances continue through December 24 and are sold out except for a few dates. Or you can listen to a live broadcast of the show on WCCO on December 17 at 7 pm, with a re-broadcast on December 24 at 5 pm.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

"North Pole 1973" at Strike Theater

There's a new theater in Northeast Minneapolis known as Strike Theater, "dedicated to building a community for sketch comedy, storytelling, and spoken word." It's been open for Fringe shows for the last two years, but just opened as a home for comedy performances and classes this fall. Founded by Allison Broeren, Mike Fotis, and Joe Bozic (whom you might know from the Minnesota Fringe Festival), it's sure to become the place to go when you're in need of a good laugh (or to learn how to elicit said laugh). And it certainly was that last night, when I attended their first ever holiday* show, North Pole 1973.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

"Annie" at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts

"The future is female." If the main stage at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts is any judge of it, this statement is true, and gives one hope for the future. The story of one 11-year-old girl who changes hearts and minds with optimism and determination is an inspiring one, as is the boundless energy and talent of the young females on stage who bring this story to life. Watching Annie last night, I couldn't help but feel nostalgic for the Great Depression, when at least the president cared about the people and developed (with Annie's help of course) a New Deal that would help lift the country out of poverty. A stark contrast to today's reality, when the current resident of the White House seems to care only for the rich, and those in need get served newly crappy deals nearly every day. Maybe we need to send Annie to the Washington to get Democrats and Republicans singing together about the hopeful future of America! In the meantime, head to the Ordway to see this swell production of an American musical theater classic and get your dose of optimism about our female future.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"Blithe Spirit" at the Guthrie Theater

If you're looking for a fun, light-hearted, escapist night at the theater (and really, who isn't in need of that?!), look no further than the Guthrie's sublimely entertaining production of Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit. Featuring Guthrie favorites and newcomers in this perfect concoction of a cast, breath-takingly gorgeous design, and the witty words of one of 20th Century England's favorite writers of comedy, Blithe Spirit will keep you warm with laughter on a cold winter's night, and make you forget about the seemingly endless despair happening outside of the theater walls (this is why I prefer to say in the theater as much as possible). Blithe Spirit continues through January 18 and is a hilarious duet partner to that other ghost story across the hall.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"Chess" by Chameleon Theatre Circle at Gremlin Theatre

Before last year, I had never heard of the musical Chess. Although I consider myself a musical theater nerd, I rarely listen to musicals I've never seen, so it makes sense I didn't know about this rarely produced 1980s musical written by Tim Rice and the Bs of ABBA. But thanks to Second Fiddle, which stages one-night-only readings of rare musicals, I recently became aware of its charms. Chameleon Theatre Circle's new production of Chess as part of their 20th season (bringing back a favorite from their 2nd season) is the first full production I've seen. And I have to say, I kinda love it. It's fabulously cheesy and very '80s, but it put a smile on my face, which I needed on a wintery Monday. The cast is really strong, with no weak link among them, and performs this intricate score well along with the terrific onstage band. You can't do Chess halfway, you have to go at it full force, and they do, and it's kinda awesome!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"Miracle on Christmas Lake" by Actors' Theater of Minnesota at Camp Bar

I'm a big fan of Yellow Tree Theatre in general and their four original and very Minnesotan Christmas* plays in particular (see also: A Gone Fishin' Christmas, no seriously go see it, playing now through the end of the year). So I jumped at the chance to see another theater company, Actors Theater of Minnesota, perform the play that started it all - A Miracle on Christmas Lake. Written by Yellow Tree co-founder Jessica Lind Peterson, it's inspired by the real life predicament they faced when they lost the rights to the show they were planning to do and had to come up with something in a short amount of time. This wacky, sweet, ridiculous little play chock full of Minnesota references and stereotypes was the result, and it's great fun to see another company's take on it in the intimate space of Camp Bar.

Monday, December 4, 2017

"Coco's Diary" at the History Theatre

For their contribution to the #TCTheater holiday* season, History Theatre is bringing back their original play from five years ago, Coco's Diary, now with Christmas music and decorations! But it isn't really about Christmas of course, it's about a year in the life of a real live 13-year-old girl in 1927, living in what is now the Governor's Mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. Adapted by Artistic Director Ron Peluso and Bob Beverage (the latter also choosing a selection of period tunes), Coco's Diary is, like Coco herself, quite charming. This play with music gives the audience a glimpse into the life of the wealthy on Summit Avenue in 1927, and reminds us that being 13 is the same no matter when or where you live.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

"The Terror Fantastic" by 20% Theatre Company at the Crane Theater

The new play The Terror Fantastic, about a young gay woman grappling with anxiety and depression, is indeed both terrifying and fantastical. In 20% Theatre Company's production, now playing at the Crane Theater, mental illness is represented by an ever-present monster, the only escape from which is into a fantasy world.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

"A Doll's House" by Orchard Theater Collective at the James J. Hill House

If you're looking for an anti-holiday show in this busy #TCTheater holiday* month, a little bitter to balance out the sometimes overwhelming sweet of the season, look no further than Ibsen's masterpiece A Doll's House. Orchard Theater Collective is making their debut with this piece, and they wisely partnered with #TCTheater favorite Craig Johnson, who adapted the play into a crisp 95 minutes and directs this talented young cast. Taking place in Norway during Christmas of 1879, what's remarkable is how ahead of his time Ibsen was in revealing the difficulties that women faced (and still face) living under the strict and unfair rules of society, and how much this play still resonates today.