Thursday, January 18, 2018

"The Last Five Years" at Artistry

If you're a musical theater nerd, I don't need to tell you what an ingenious piece Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years is. A simple story of a relationship told from both sides, one chronologically forwards, one chronologically backwards. Premiering in Chicago and Off-Broadway in the early aughts, L5Y received a bit of a resurgence recently due to the recent movie adaptation; Artistry's nearly sold-out show is the fourth local production I've seen in (sorry) the last five years. And I have to say, I enjoy it a little more each time I see it. In fact I very much enjoyed this production, partly because of my familiarity with the complexities of the piece, and partly because it's really well done. The Black Box space is small enough to provide the intimacy the piece needs, with just a sparse two-person band, and a truly fantastic young cast in Aly Westberg O'Keeffe and Ryan London Levin. The run is nearly sold out, so call the box office if you want to get into this one (continuing through February 11, more info here).

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"Ishmael" at Jungle Theater

"I wanted to bring you a rollicking tale for a long winter's night."
- Sarah Rasmussen, Artistic Director

"This is a memory play. About a great adventure and the great wounds it leaves behind."
- Leo Geter, Writer and Director

Ishmael, a new adaptation of Herman Melville's Great American Novel Moby Dick, began as a Minnesota Fringe Festival show in 2015. Somehow I missed it (I only saw 44 shows that year), and I'm also not familiar with the source material (my first experience with it was Theater Coup d'Etat's epic adaptation a few months ago). But even if you did see the Fringe show, or have read the book, you haven't experience Moby Dick quite like this. Since the original production, writer/director Leo Geter (who pulled all of the dialogue directly from the book) has added music, and the result is an inventive and unique piece of music-theater storytelling.

Monday, January 15, 2018

"A Steady Rain" at Gremlin Theatre

For their second show in their new space (which has hosted several other theater companies in the past six months), Gremlin Theatre is presenting the intense two-hander A Steady Rain. Buckle up, friends, this is a tough one. But so beautifully done. In what's basically a treatise on toxic masculinity and the damage it can do, playwright Keith Huff has created two complex characters in a brilliantly written play that's impeccably executed by the team at Gremlin. Two incredible acting performances, tight and clear direction, simple yet powerful design that heightens the storytelling, all in an intimate space that makes it feel all too real. This is the kind of show that's tough to shake. The rest of the day, and even into the next, I found myself back in that room inside that brutal story. It may only be mid-January, but no doubt A Steady Rain will be one of the most memorable plays of the year.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The History Theatre's of New Works Festival "Raw Stages" 2018

I love the History Theatre for their dedication to producing new works of theater about true events and people in Minnesota history, which is never more in evidence than during their "Raw Stages" festival, which was held this weekend. This annual festival gives playwrights a chance to see how their work sits in front of an audience, and gives audiences a chance to experience a new work in development and provide feedback. But perhaps the best part of "Raw Stages" is that it's quite common to see a play that was workshopped come back for a full production in the next season or two. Two works from last year's festival will be produced at the History Theatre next spring: Playwrights' Center core writer Harrison David Rivers teamed up with Somali immigrant Ahmed Ismail Yusuf to write Ahmed's story in A Crack in the Sky, coming in February; and the writers of the smash hit musical Glensheen, Jeffrey Hatcher and Chan Poling, have written a fantastic follow-up in Lord Gordon Gordon, coming in May. These and many other great plays had their debuts at "Raw Stages."

A Reading of the New Musical "Delgadina" at Strike Theater

Last week was a great week for readings. First, I saw the second play in the Playwrights' Center Ruth Easton Series (continuing the first Monday/Tuesday of the month through April), then I saw three readings in the History Theatre's "Raw Stages" series (the last one is today at 2), and finally, I concluded my the week of readings with a new musical written by Max Wojtanowicz (book and lyrics) and Michael Gruber (music and additional lyrics). Based on a Chilean folk tale, Delgadina is ostensibly a musical for young people, but this not-so-young person with no particular interest in "children's entertainment" found it utterly delightful. There are two more readings of this great new work, Sunday and Monday at 7 pm at Strike Theater in Northeast Minneapolis. I highly recommend checking it out if you're interested in new works of music-theater being created right here in #TCTheater (free, no reservations necessary, more information here).

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Ruth Easton New Play Series at Playwrights' Center

In 2017 I attended 9 readings of new works at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, by far the most readings I have attended in one year since I just "discovered" them in 2016 when the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers were invited to a reading. Since them I've become a little obsessed with PWC. For over 40 years they've supported thousands of playwrights in the development of their work, a vitally important function in not just the local theater community, but nationally and even globally. Attending a reading of a work of theater in development, brought to life by some of the most talented actors in town (and the country) is such a thrill for this theater geek. An important part in that development is the audience, which is where we come in, friends. Playwrights like to know how an audience responds to their play, so PWC hosts free readings all of the time. You can find information on their events page about everything going on there, but one thing you can plan on is that through the Ruth Easton Series there will be free readings of a new play (or musical) by a core writer the first Monday and Tuesday of every month from December to April. It's a wonderful sampler of the work being done at the Playwrights' Center and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in new locally created works of theater.

"Musical Mondays" at LUSH, January 2018

New location, same great entertainment. The monthly cabaret series formerly known as "Musical Mondays at Hell's Kitchen" has moved locations and is now "Musical Mondays at LUSH." The Northeast Minneapolis location is a nice space, slightly smaller, but with free street parking! This Monday, hosts and founders Max Wojtanowicz and Sheena Janson hosted the 4th Musical Mondays at LUSH (and the 55th overall!), with the theme of Bock and Harnick. While those names may not be familiar (they weren't to me), their work likely is, their most well known musicals being Fiddler on the Roof and She Loves Me (of which there are two productions coming up in #TCTheater this spring, if you go a little north or south - Lyric Arts in Anoka and DalekoArts in New Prague). Truth be told I knew very few of these songs, so it was a fun musical theater education.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

"Rhinoceros" at Theatre in the Round

What a year it's been, friends! How fitting that my first #TCTheater show of 2018 is the same as one I saw in January last year, and it's just as timely and relevant as it was then (even though it was written nearly 60 years ago). My first experience with Eugene Ionesco's absurdist masterpiece Rhinoceros was 7th House Theatre's "pop up production" last year, which they intentionally premiered the night of the inauguration of the 45th president. Now a year has passed, and this absurd, funny, yet deadly serious little play, now playing at Theatre in the Round, resonates in whole new ways. Written in response to the rise of Fascism in pre-WWII Europe, Rhinoceros reminds us to be wary of large lumbering beasts running through our town and destroying everything we've worked so hard to build. Theatre in the Round's production makes great use of their in-the-round space and a wonderfully committed cast to entertain while also disturbing. As I wrote last year, "It would be terrifying if it weren't so funny. It would be funny if it weren't so terrifying."

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Most Popular Posts of 2017

Another thing I like to do at the end of the year is look back and see what came out on top on Cherry and Spoon, in terms of page views. Here are my top 15 most viewed posts. For the first time since I've been keeping track, something (barely) eclipsed my annual Minnesota Fringe Festival must-see list as the number one viewed post - the exclusive announcement of Lyric Arts's 2017-2018 season! Thanks to Lyric Arts for the opportunity, and thanks to all of the theaters, theater artists, and theater-goers who have read, shared, and commented on Cherry and Spoon this past year.

1 Exclusive Announcement of Lyric Arts' 2017-2018 Season
2 2017 Minnesota Fringe Festival Must-Sees
3 In the Heights (Ordway Center)
4 Grease (Chanhassen Dinner Theatres)
5 Chess (Chameleon Theatre Circle)
6 Hatchet Lady (Walking Shadow Theatre Company)
7 Sunday in the Park with George (Guthrie Theater)
8 Jesus Christ Superstar (Ordway Center)
9 How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Children's Theatre)
10 Girl Shakes Loose (Penumbra Theatre)
11 A Gone Fishin' Christmas (Yellow Tree Theatre)
12 Romeo and Juliet (Guthrie Theater)
13 Sweet Land, the Musical (History Theatre)
14 Raw Stages New Works Festival (History Theatre)
15The Awakening (Savage Umbrella)

Monday, January 1, 2018

My 2017 #TCTheater Favorites

Well here we are again friends, the end of another excellent year of #TCTheater. 2017 marks the first year that I didn't increase my theater intake from the previous year (perhaps I've reached the saturation point of how much theater one mortal can see in a year). I saw the same number of shows this year as last year - about 200 plus about 50 Fringe shows (you can read my favorites of those here), not counting my two Chicago theater trips (to see Hamilton twice) and my fabulous week in NYC (Hello Dolly! Dear Evan HansonCome From Away!). My 200 #TCTheater shows were distributed in approximately a 1:2 ratio of 70-ish musicals to 130-ish plays, so I thought I'd share my top 10% of each in each category, along with a few other noteworthy trends of the year. Know that I could easily have added another 20 shows that I loved to these lists, because there is so much brilliant theater being made in St. Paul and Minneapolis. But these are the shows I loved so much I wanted to see them again (and in a few cases I did). They're listed in alphabetical order, with a quote from my original review that explains why it made the list (click on the title to read the original post).