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.

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.

Monday, October 30, 2017

"Suddenly Last Summer" at Theatre in the Round

It may be the beginning of the cold, dark, drab winter season here in Minnesota, but on stage at Theatre in the Round, it's still beautiful and lush late summer, with colorful flowers and chirping birds. But it's still pretty dark, this being Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer, a one-act play written in 1958. Like all of Williams' plays, it's beautifully tragic, or tragically beautiful. Flawed people, dysfunctional families, and a sense of despair. Oh, how I love it! Tennessee Williams is one of my favorite playwrights, but this was my first experience with this play. It was my second experience with Tennessee Williams at TRP (see also Summer and Smoke), and once again they have put on an excellent production of a sad, beautiful, disturbing Tennessee Williams play.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"Playlabs" at The Playwrights' Center

It's late October in Minnesota, and that must mean it's time for... Playlabs at the Playwrights' Center (you thought I was going to say Halloween, didn't you). In this week-long festival, three of PWC's core writers have the opportunity to work with a group of actors, a director, a dramaturg, and sometimes a designer on a new work. With just a few days of rehearsals, the plays receive two public readings, often with much rewriting between the two. This year I attended the final readings of all three plays, and was once again blown away by the creativity, thoughtfulness, and innovation of playwrights, as well as the talents of actors (many from the #TCTheater scene) in bringing these plays to life, even while standing in one place reading from a script.

Friday, October 27, 2017

"Ghost Quartet" by Theatre Elision at North Garden Theater

Just in time for Halloween, Theatre Elision brings us Ghost Quartet, by Dave Malloy, the composer/lyricist of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 (which recently closed too soon on Broadway). In their third show as a new company, Theatre Elision brings us their usual small cast and musically beautiful production, but very much in the style of Great Comet. Meaning, an intimate in-the-round setting (which Great Comet replicated on Broadway by having audience sit on stage), a fun and playful style, and with audience participation (and vodka!). It's a fantastic show that fits in well with Elision's niche of small cast, feminist, one-act, original or rarely produced musicals. And it's a perfect show for this Halloweekend!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

"Church and State" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre at Highland Park Center Theatre

"God is a concept by which we measure our pain," John Lennon sang. Or to put it another way, in the movie Corrina, Corrina when a little girl tells her dad that her mother is in heaven with the angels, he says, "heaven, the angels, and all that, it's just something people made up so they won't feel sad anymore." And the child responds, "well, what's wrong with that?" The answer, of course, is that what's wrong with that is when people try to force their religious beliefs on others, and are intolerant of any other beliefs. But here in America, we have something called the separation of church and state which ensures this can't happen. Don't we? It's getting a little hard to tell these days. But in Jason Odell Williams' new play Church and State, making its #TCTheater debut at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, at least one politician still believes that, and isn't afraid to say so. Church and State is funny, smart, thought-provoking, sobering, and short, and MJTC has put together an excellent cast that makes this an entertaining, if a bit depressing, evening of theater.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

"The Weir" by Wayward Theatre at Urban Growler Brewing

Sitting in a pub, drinking beer, listening to one of my favorite songs by my favorite musician Glen Hansard ("Revelate," which more accurately is by The Frames), about to watch an Irish play - this pretty much describes my ideal Tuesday night. I love Irish culture, I love beer, and I love site-specific theater. Irish playwright Conor McPherson's play The Weir is pretty much just five people sitting in a pub trading stories, and the cozy space at Urban Growler Brewing (the first woman-owned microbrewery in Minnesota!) was chosen wisely by Wayward Theatre (which has also brought us Tartuffe at the James J. Hill House and Ghost Train at the Minnesota Transportation Museum). Head to Urban Growler (off 280 and University in St. Paul), grab a beverage from the tap room (or even a pre-show dinner, from the smell of it they have great food too), head back to the pub/theater space, and settle in for some good craic.

Monday, October 23, 2017

"Wedding Band" at Penumbra Theatre

I love a good tragic love story, and it doesn't get much more tragic than an interracial couple in 1918 South Carolina. But Penumbra's gorgeous production of the 1966 play Wedding Band by Alice Childress (whose Trouble in Mind was seen at the Guthrie last year) is not just a beautiful, complicated, and ultimately tragic love story. It's also (not unlike Trouble in Mind) a still timely work that speaks to the issues of race, racism, and privilege in ways that feel entirely relevant. With a super talented cast directed by Penumbra's founder Lou Bellamy (who recently passed the Artistic Director baton to his daughter Sarah) and gorgeous design, Wedding Band is a show not to be missed, and my favorite of my five-show weekend.

"Speechless" by The Moving Company at The Lab Theater

"Words are heavy. They're like stones. If birds could talk they couldn't fly.*" This quote from my favorite TV show Northern Exposure perfectly expresses my feelings about words (anyone who's met me knows I save the bulk of my words for this blog). Words are hard. Sometimes words aren't enough to express our thoughts and feelings (as Evan Hanson sings, "words fail"). And words are open to interpretation, sometimes they come out differently than how we intended them. The Moving Company (one of my favorite #TCTheater companies in the last six years, since seeing Come Hell and High Water in 2011) has taken that idea of the inadequacy of words and extended it into a 75-minute wordless (but not entirely silent) exploration of... well... a bunch of stuff. Created by the five-person ensemble under the direction of Dominique Serrand and using movement, music, and a little how'd-they-do-that theater magic, Speechless is poignant, heart-breaking, funny, and mesmerizing.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

"Flavio Betrayed" at Lyric Arts

A funny thing happened on the way to Anoka, or rather, in Anoka - the world premiere* of the new play Flavio Betrayed by resident director Scott Ford, based on the commedia dell'arte style popular in 16th-18th Century Italy. He has assembled a fantastic cast that plays the exaggerated and highly stylized physicality to the hilt, extending even into some pre-show bantering with the crowd. It all makes for a perfectly silly evening of theater. In the real world, there may be tragedy tomorrow (and yesterday and next week), but there is only comedy tonight at Lyric Arts!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

"Hamlet" at Park Square Theatre

The Guthrie is currently staging a fantastic production of Romeo and Juliet, and now, across the river, Park Square Theatre brings us an equally fantastic production of Shakespeare's other most popular and produced play, Hamlet. The two make a nice pairing; both are youthful and modern with fantastically talented and energetic casts. This Hamlet, adapted, directed, and designed by Joel Sass, features a condensed cast of just nine, some gender-swapping (which provides more roles for women in male-heavy Shakespeare plays), and what I would call a breakout performance by Kory LaQuess Pullam in the title role, except that he's been breaking out for a couple of years in #TCTheater. Last year the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers chose him as our favorite new artists/one to watch (a choice he's continually reaffirmed this year), and the StarTribune recently called him "the fastest rising prince of Twin Cities theater." If you're not yet aware of Kory's work, as an actor on various stages around town, as a playwright and artistic director of Underdog Theatre, or as a founder and improviser with Blackout Improv, you will be now. He leads a talented ensemble in an interesting and inventive new production of one of Shakespeare's best.

Friday, October 20, 2017

"The Music Man" at Artistry

The Music Man is a classic of the American musical theater canon, and one that's held up fairly well with no uncomfortable racism and relatively little sexism (why does it still have to be a "boys' band?"). And Meredith Wilson's score is a winner, ranging from what might be the first musical theater rap song to gorgeous romantic duets. Artistry excels at these sorts of musical theater classics, so it's no surprise that their new production is a charmer. This also seems to be the sort of show that appeals to their core audience, judging by the fact that the entire run is already sold out. I would say that if you're looking for a good old-fashioned heart-warming, foot-stamping, enjoyable musical, head down to Bloomington. Except that you're pretty much out of luck for this run (call the box office to see if they've got anything left). Make plans to enjoy the rest of their 2017-2018 (which began with a bang in the form of an inventive and super-cool Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which I'm guessing did not appeal to their core audience quite as much). I'm most looking forward to the final show of this season, the much more infrequently produced Sondheim masterpiece Follies.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"Electra" by Ten Thousand Things at Open Book

To begin her final season as Artistic Director of Ten Thousand Things, the company she founded over 25 years ago, recent Ivey Lifetime Achievement Award winner Michelle Hensley has chosen the Greek classic Electra. This 2000+ year old story of betrayal and revenge is clearly and succinctly told in not much more than an hour, and like all TTT shows, feels both fantastical and grounded in reality. With guest director/adapter Rebecca Novick out of San Francisco, seven of the top #TCTheater actors, a warm and wonderful Peter Vitale musical soundtrack, and very little in the way of usual theater magic (except that created by the skills of the performers), this tragedy is a joy to watch.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

"Sam's Son" by Bucket Brigade at Art House North

A new original musical is just about my favorite thing in the world, so the new musical Sam's Son by Bucket Brigade, a company that specializes in new work whose work I've enjoyed in the past, was on my must-see list in this busy #TCTheater October. Performed in the intimate, immersive space that is Art House North, I was not disappointed and found it to be a highly entertaining evening (complete with free intermission treats - root beer and a pretzel). While the plot points may be a bit cliche and predictable, the story is well told by the talented cast, with a fantastic original score tinged with gospel, bluegrass, and old-timey feel while still sounding like a modern musical. It's such a treat to see new work that is locally created (written by Bucket Brigade co-founders Vanessa and Jeremiah Gamble, and developed in part through Nautilus' "Rough Cuts" program) and showcases local talent in an intimate setting.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

"All the Way" at the History Theatre

The night after seeing the historical political drama Watch on the Rhine at the Guthrie, I saw the historical political drama All the Way at the History Theatre. That was a couple of pretty heavy (and long) nights, and left me feeling dismayed at just how much history repeats itself. With Watch on the Rhine, it's the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe, genocide, and an impending world war. With All the Way, it's political machinations, the Civil Rights movement, and the ugly opposition to freedom and equality for all. Covering Lyndon B. Johnson's short and eventful first presidential term, from Kennedy's assassination that thrust him into the presidency to his re-election (or rather, first election) one year later, All the Way has a lot of history and historical figures to pack into three (yes, three) hours. While I wish that playwright Robert Schenkkan had consolidated characters and compressed speeches a bit to create a more concise and driving story (the days of me being able to sit comfortably through a three-hour play are long gone), it's a gripping story, well told by director Ron Peluso and an excellent cast.

Friday, October 13, 2017

"Watch on the Rhine" at the Guthrie Theater

"Shame on us. Thousands of years and we cannot yet make a world." This line comes near the end of Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, now playing on the Guthrie's proscenium stage, and is one of the most devastating moments in this gorgeous play. Written in 1941, it's part war story, part multi-generational family dramedy, part romance, and part social commentary that still rings true 75 years later. It eerily shows us how history repeats itself, and how frustrating that is. Frustrating that Europe hadn't even recovered from what was then called The Great War before it embarked on another one. Frustrating that after witnessing the horrors of the Holocaust we allow genocide to continue to happen all around the world. Frustrating that we've seen the evils of fascism but it still exists. When will we learn? I'm sorry if this sounds hugely depressing, and this show is that to a certain extent. But it's also hopeful in its focus on a family that bands together, despite their differences, to stand up for what's right. So that maybe one day we will get it right, we will figure out how to make a world where all children eat a good breakfast every day, where no one is persecuted for their religion or gender identity, where women don't have to fear for their safety walking down the street or going to work. Watch on the Rhine shows us, while keeping us enthralled with its gripping storytelling, that we all have to keep watch.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"Nature" by TigerLion Arts at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

"This one thing I know for sure, we must all return to Nature." So says Henry David Thoreau in TigerLion Arts' outdoor walking play Nature, and I couldn't agree more. That's one of many reasons why I love this unique theater piece so very much and saw it last weekend for the fourth year in a row. It's truly one of my favorite theater things. Nature checks off all of my theater boxes: it's funny, whimsical, poignant, musical, physical (for performers and audience), immersive (but not interactive), historical, spiritual, inspiring, silly, 90 minutes no intermission, and performed in the best location ever - the great outdoors. It fills my heart with joy and my mind with challenging thoughts about the interaction between civilization and nature. The 2017 tour (which included a trip to Concord MA for the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Thoreau's birth) has concluded, but follow TigerLion Arts on Facebook and/or Twitter for information on future performances and an upcoming documentary. As long as TigerLion Arts keeps performing Nature and there exists Nature in which to perform it, I will follow them on this beautiful journey.