Friday, July 13, 2018

"Guys and Dolls" at Lyric Arts

Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in Anoka is closing their 2017-2018 season with a fun and classic musical - Guys and Dolls. Is the story dated and full of gender stereotypes? Yes. But it's also chock full of great music, including many popular songs ("A Bushel and a Peck," "Luck Be A Lady," and my favorite, "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat"). Lyric Arts has assembled a fantastic cast, and the show is well-staged in their small performance space. If you're looking for a fun '50s era show, Anoka is the place to go.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

"Carmen" by Mill City Summer Opera at Mill City Museum Ruins Courtyard

A review in brief of the final dress rehearsal of Mill City Summer Opera's Carmen, before a brief rain delay (which I hereby declare shall forevermore be referred to as a raintermission) turned into a cancellation of the performance, midway through Act II of IV:

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"Boy Crazy" by Madde Gibba at Bryant Lake Bowl

If you watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (and if you're not, you should be), head to Bryant-Lake Bowl on the next two Monday nights to see Madde Gibba's original musical comedy improv show Boy Crazy. Not unlike Rachel Bloom, Madde can turn a comic and slightly crazy (although the situation is a little more nuance than that) love story into a clever, melodic, funny, and sometimes even sweet song. The 80-minute show is like a song cycle about love and relationships in the modern world, and it's great fun.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"Jeeves in Bloom" at Theatre in the Round

To end their 66th season, the longest running theater in Minneapolis, aka Theatre in the Round, is bringing back a popular character from a few seasons ago - the quintessential English valet Jeeves. Even if you've never read the stories of British author P.G. Wodehouse, who created the character (and also wrote some of the Princess Musicals featured in Theatre Elision's latest show), you know the name Jeeves from any number of references. The original Jeeves was an all-knowing, unfailingly competent valet to a charming mess of a young Englishman named Bertie. Playwright Margaret Raether adapted Wodehouse's stories into three plays; Jeeves in Bloom is the second produced by TRP (the third is part of their upcoming 67th season). This was my first experience with Jeeves, and I found it funny and charming and very well done by the cast and team at Theatre in the Round. It's the perfect light comedic summer entertainment.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

"Ideation" at the Gremlin Theatre

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. The characters in the play Ideation are definitely paranoid, entertainingly so, but whether or not someone is out to get them is still a question mark at the end of the play. The regional premiere of Ideation by Gremlin Theatre is a taut, thrilling, engrossing, and funny 90 minutes of work colleagues going down a paranoid rabbit hole, and it'll make your head spin, in the best way. Rarely has my logical math left brain side been so engaged and excited at the theater as I tried to follow these characters through their hypotheses and arguments and conclusions. Theories and algebraic equations are written on the white board, only to be erased and written over by a new theory. By the end you don't know what to believe, and neither do the characters in the play, but it sure is fun to watch their wheels spin.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

"French Twist" by Flying Foot Forum at Park Square Theatre

To celebrate their 25th anniversary, Joe Chvala's percussive dance troupe Flying Foot Forum* has brought back their original dance musical French Twist. Now playing on Park Square Theatre's Andy Boss stage in the basement of the Historic Hamm Building in downtown St. Paul, it feels like a weird and magical dream of a barely remembered night in Paris. A series of thrilling and entertaining dances loosely tell the story (with very little dialogue) of a group of friends in a cafe called "Chez Jojo" (the proprietor played by Joe Chvala, natch). With vibrant costumes, a detailed and eclectic set design, a mix of live and recorded music (and film!), the wonderful ensemble of dancers/singers/musicians brings this dream of Paris to vivid life in what would be a perfect 90-minutes-no-intermission (if not for the early and unnecessary intermission). Escape the hot and steamy streets of St. Paul to the cool and fun world of French Twist (through July 15).

"Ken Ludwig's Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery" at Park Square Theatre

Staging a mystery play during the summer is a longstanding tradition at Park Square Theatre, and I've come to look forward to it every year. It's always fun to immerse yourself in the light yet brain-teasing summer blockbuster fare. But their production of Ken Ludwig's Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery is anything but traditional. This new play tells one of the most well known Sherlock stories in a fresh, fun, and imaginative way, with just five actors and a whirlwind, almost slapstick style. Director Theo Langason brings all the innovation and physical storytelling experience from Sandbox Theatre, of which he is an ensemble member, to bear on this wonderfully playful and endlessly delightful production. And the fantastic five-person cast is so playful and fun to watch, including a female Holmes and Watson, because why not?! At a time when so many of us need it, Baskerville provides pure escapist summer fun.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

"West Side Story" at the Guthrie Theater

I grew up watching West Side Story. I've seen the movie dozens of times, listened to the music hundreds of times, and seen it on stage a handful of times (including the Ordway's gorgeous production last year). But I've never seen a West Side Story like the one currently on stage at the big blue building on the river. The Guthrie's West Side Story, directed by Artistic Director Joseph Haj and featuring new original choreography Maija Garcia (both children of immigrants), feels like it was made for today's world. A toppled over Lady Liberty dominates the set, and the musical's themes of institutionalized racism, prejudice towards immigrants, senseless violence, and hate born out of fear have never felt so relevant. It's still that timeless story of star-crossed lovers,* set to Leonard Bernstein's familiar, beloved, and gorgeous score, but with a cast that looks, moves, and feels like America today, for better or worse.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

"Ball: A Musical Tribute To My Lost Testicle" by The Catalysts at the Southern Theater

My favorite show from the 2016 Minnesota Fringe Festival is back! In fact, it never really went away. #TCTheater artist Max Wojtanowicz has been touring his original auto-biographical solo musical "Ball: A Musical Tribute To My Lost Testicle" around the state for the last two years. Shortly after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in January of 2016, his friend/collaborator/director Nikki Swoboda suggested he might want to write a musical about it. Unthinkable, yes, but that's what artists do, they process what's going on in the world and in their lives through their art, creating something that's both personal and universal. So that's what Max did. He journaled through the process of surgeries, chemotherapy, and recovery, and even invited Nikki and several composers into the chemo suite to start working on songs. He finished treatment in April (and is now in remission), and performed his show at Fringe that August. At the time it was so new and raw, a really emotional moving experience. Now with a few years of distance, it may not be quite as fresh, but it's just as moving. If you're in the Twin Cities, you can see it at the Southern Theater this weekend only before it continues its tour to places like the Mayo Clinic and the United Solo Theatre Festival in NYC.

Friday, June 22, 2018

"Romeo and Juliet" by Classical Actors Ensemble at St. Clement's Church

The best thing about summer in Minnesota is outdoor theater. And the lakes, of course. But I love nothing more on a lovely summer evening than to sit outside in a park or a garden somewhere while someone tells me a story. Classical Actors Ensemble continues their tradition of bringing Shakespeare to metro area parks (for free!) with Romeo and Juliet, playing at Lake of the Isles and many other parks every Thursday through Sunday through mid July. Previously I've seen CAE do Shakespeare's comedies, and found them to be so fun, playful, and almost interactive, the way Shakespeare was meant to be. This is the first time I've seen them do a tragedy for their fun summer outdoor play. But Romeo and Juliet is pretty much a rom-com, until somebody dies, so it's still fun and playful in the beginning. And while maybe the tragedy doesn't have quite the same effect when the sun is softly setting, the birds are chirping, and the wind is blowing through the leaves on the trees, it's still the best way to see Shakespeare. Click here to see all of the locations along with handy maps, and then just show up - no tickets or reservations needed (but donations happily accepted to keep this wonderfully free and accessible experience going).

Monday, June 18, 2018

"Fellow Travelers" by Minnesota Opera at the Cowles Center

I'm not much of an opera-goer, mostly because there's so much theater to see, and also because I have a hard time connecting to a story that's sung in a language I don't understand. I like my opera in English, modern (or modernized), and in a small(er) house (see also Skylark Opera). Minnesota Opera's final production in their 2017-2018 checks all of those boxes, plus it's directed by my favorite director of music-theater, Peter Rothstein. So I made a spontaneous trip to the opera yesterday (performed in the Cowles Center Goodale Theater) to see Fellow Travelers, commissioned by the Cincinnati Opera in 2016. Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Mallon, Fellow Travelers tells the story of two men who fall in love in 1950s Washington, D.C., during the Lavender Scare, something I was not previously aware of (bonus: educational!). It's an exceedingly beautiful piece - a heart-breakingly tragic love story, an examination of a dark period in our history, and commentary on the world today, all told with gorgeous music that heightens the emotions of the story. I'm rethinking my position on opera.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

"Into the Woods" by Shoot the Glass Theatre at the Crane Theater

I've seen Into the Woods twice in the last six weeks, and six times in the last seven years (not counting the recent movie adaptation). And while I would love #TCTheater to diversify its choice of shows (there are quite a few duplicates and triplicates this season), I'm not going to complain about this one. Every time I see Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's exceedingly clever fairy tale mash-up that explores what happens after the "happily ever after," I love it even more. It's instantly familiar due to the fairy tale characters we grew up with, but then it lures you into a darker story. And it's a versatile piece that works just as well set in the forests of Asia as in a German beer garden. For their production, newish theater company Shoot the Glass Theater has gone with a stripped down, bare bones, unmiked approach that works beautifully. With minimal (but charming) set pieces and simple costumes, they're able to focus on the storytelling and the music, which is what it's all about.

Friday, June 15, 2018

"The Minotaur Or: Amelia Earhart is Alive and Traveling Through the Underworld" by Sheep Theater at In the Heart of the Beast Theatre

The history and legend of Amelia Earhart and Greek mythology seems like an odd mix. In other words, perfect for Sheep Theater, a company that promises "original plays with an emphasis on classically epic stories that highlight the deranged confidence of humanity with sincerity and honesty." Like much of their work, The Minotaur Or: Amelia Earhart is Alive and Traveling Through the Underworld is a fun mish-mash of history, legend, and myth with an awkwardly long title. With a lot of ingenuity, heart, and silliness, the troupe proposes one possible fate for the long missing pioneering aviator, and makes the Underworld look like a pretty fun place to hang out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Equivocation" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Gremlin Theatre

The subtitle of Bill Cain's play Equivocation could be, It's Hard to Be the Bard. It's hard to be the bard at a time when one of England's longest reigning monarchs to date, who has kept the country relatively stable and supported your artistic career, is gone, and you're dealing with a tumultuous and changing political and religious landscape, with a choice to either support the new ruler and his lies or tell the truth. Can you imagine such a situation?! This is the fictionalized version of true events proposed in the play, in which playwright William Shakespeare (or Shagspeare) is commissioned by the newly crowned King James I to write a play of the recent failed plot to kill the king and members of Parliament, known as the Gunpowder Plot. The play mixes history, religion, theater, and politics in an immensely clever, if a bit too long and involved, way. Walking Shadow Theatre Company's staging of Equivocation, playing at Gremlin Theatre through June 24, is engaging and entertaining (or at least as engaged and entertained as this morning person can be at 10:30 pm).

Monday, June 11, 2018

"Steel Magnolias" at Lyric Arts

If you've only ever seen the movie version of Steel Magnolias, you might be surprised when you see the play on which it was based. Unlike the movie, the entire play takes place in Truvy's beauty salon (where the motto is, "there is no such thing as natural beauty"), and the only characters we see are the six strong, funny, loving Southern women who inspired the title. Husbands, boyfriends, children, and dogs are talked but about never seen, so that the focus of the story is the women and their undying friendship. Lyric Arts' production features six wonderful actors who bring these women to life, directed by a #TCTheater actor who can break my heart and crack me up at the same time, Angela Timberman. She and her cast bring that beautiful "laughter through tears is my favorite emotion" feeling to every moment of this story. So head up to Anoka through June 24, grab some popcorn, and have a good laugh and a good cathartic cry (it was a two-tissue play for me).

Sunday, June 10, 2018

"Flashback" by Alive & Kickin at Bloomington Center for the Arts

If you think growing older is a drag, then you've never seen Alive & Kickin, a choir full of "seniors that rock." Led by the energetic and talented director/choreographer Michael Matthew Ferrell, with music director extraordinaire Jason Hansen, this choir is so much fun to watch, so full of life and the joy of music. Ranging in age from 62 to 93, these beautiful humans still have talent and gifts to share. They represent a segment of our population that is often ignored, overlooked, and discarded. But this show will remind you that it's important to listen to your elders, especially when they can rock like this! You can see them at Bloomington Center for the Arts through next weekend, and visit their website to find out how you can support them or get involved (click here for both).

"Caucasian-Aggressive Pandas and Other Mulatto Tales" by Chameleon Theatre Circle and Fearless Comedy Productions at Bloomington Center for the Arts

Duck Washington's funny, engaging, personal, and very honest sketch comedy show about being biracial in America has traveled a long road to its current home in Bloomington. Caucasian-Aggressive Pandas and Other Mulatto Tales began as a Fearless Comedy show at Bryant Lake Bowl, and then had a successful run a the 2016 Minnesota Fringe Festival. Chameleon Theatre Circle originally planned to include the show as part of their 2016-2017 season, but the Ames Center in Burnsville, their then home, refused to allow the show to be produced there for fear that some might find the word mulatto offensive. To make a long story short (you can read more about it here), Chameleon left the Ames Center because they objected to artistic censorship, and Caucasian-Aggressive Pandas is currently being presented at the Bloomington Center for the Arts (the home of Artistry) as the final show in their nomadic 2017-2018 season. That's a whole lot of preamble for what is a very funny, insightful, and necessary show about race relations in America, which can only be improved by acknowledging it and talking about it, and maybe laughing about it too in a safe space like this. Oh, the irony!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

"Chicago" Broadway tour at the Orpheum Theatre

I have to admit, when I saw Chicago on the 2017-2018 Hennepin Theatre Trust tour schedule, I was not excited. It's made the rounds many times in the last 20 years, and I'd rather see something new (like The Band's Visit, please!). But as the date rolled around, I realized I hadn't seen Chicago in six years. And since the 1996 revival is currently the second longest running musical on Broadway, it's not likely to be released for regional productions anytime soon, so the tour is my only chance to see it. I went to opening night, and I loved every minute of it. It's been a long time since I've even listed to the score, so I forgot what an all-around brilliant show this is. The clever and jazzy score by the genius team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse's iconic and positively thrilling choreography (reinterpreted by Ann Reinking for the 1996 revival, in which she also played Roxie), the ever more timely book (by Ebb and Fosse) that shines a harsh light on our culture's obsession with violence and celebrity, the incorporation of the 14-person onstage band into the story, and the seemingly endless supply of gorgeous and talented actor/dancer/singers who can not just inhabit these now familiar characters, but make them their own. If it's been a while since you, too, have seen Chicago, or you have (gasp!) never seen it, now (meaning this week only) is the time. Chicago never gets old.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

"TART: A Modern Adaptation of Moliere's Tartuffe" by The BAND Group at Bryant Lake Bowl

Working towards a world Beyond Acceptance with No Discrimination, The BAND Group debuts with a delightfully modern adaptation of Moliere's most famous comedy Tartuffe, set in a drag club. Similar to The Misanthrope a few years ago, founder-director-adapter Adrian Lopez-Balbontin has taken this 350 year old French comedy, made it look like the world today, peppered it with pop culture references, used it as commentary on current issues, and set it all to rhyme. With a talented cast of artists from across the gender spectrum whom we don't get to see onstage often enough, and a partnership with local non-profit RECLAIM! that provides mental health support for queer and trans youth, TART is as relevant as it is entertaining. Check it out at BLB (with full food and drink service before and during the show) through June 16.

Monday, June 4, 2018

"Dat Black Mermaid Man Lady / The Show" at Pillsbury House Theatre

"This is why we're here." The final refrain of Pillsbury House Theatre stirring production of Dat Black Mermaid Man Lady / The Show, which one could call a play-musical-poetry-storytelling-dance-concert, is still ringing in my ears. It's a piece that defies explanation, that maybe shouldn't be explained, but rather experienced. In just about an hour we're taken on a journey into the past, into the Southern African American culture, into stories with various archetypal characters that come alive through the voices of the ensemble. Pillsbury House consistently produces new, relevant, innovative, thoughtful work, and this show is another example of that.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

"Underneath the Lintel" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

I've seen Glen Berger's funny and profound little play Underneath the Lintel twice at the Minnesota Fringe Festival, brilliantly performed by local actor Pat O'Brien. What starts out as an amusing scavenger hunt around the world turns into a much deeper search for meaning in life. It's the last thing I expected Theater Latte Da to do, a company that doesn't do musical theater, they do theater musically. There was no music in this play that I remembered, other than a mention or two of a song. But in true Latte Da fashion, they've added music to this play (with the permission of the playwright), and made it better, deeper, richer. It's still the same quirky librarian searching for meaning (here played by a woman, another twist, that works beautifully), but with original music (composed by Frank London) that enhances the storytelling and helps the audience feel it more deeply.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

"Ain't It a Grand and Glorious Feeling: Celebrating the Princess Musicals" by Theatre Elision at Mojo Coffee Gallery

Just over a year after their debut with the original musical Ragtime Women, featuring little known Ragtime gems by female composers, Theatre Elision closes their first full season with another original musical. In Ain't It a Grand and Glorious Feeling: Celebrating the Princess Musicals, book writer and Theatre Elision founder Cindy Polich weaves a modern rom-com around the songs of Jerome Kern from a handful of musicals written for NYC's Princess Theatre in the early 20th Century. We get to re-discover these lovely and clever songs from one of the most important musical theater composers of the last century, while enjoying a charming modern story set in a coffee shop, that takes place in an actual coffee shop! For less than $40, you can get a delicious meal, dessert, coffee, and see the show. It's a wonderful way to end their successful season of a repertoire of shows that fill a niche I didn't even realize was missing until Elision appeared on the #TCTheater scene: small cast, intimate, original or rarely done musicals with a focus on female cast and creative team. Typically they have super short runs, just one weekend, but Grand and Glorious is playing two weekends, so you have time to get out and experience this fun, intimate, site-specific, musically delicious little show. And after you do, you'll surely want to put their six-show second season on your calendar, featuring the return of a few favorites from the first season, another original work, and a US premiere.

Friday, June 1, 2018

"Apples in Winter" by Uprising Theatre Company at St. Peder's Lutheran Church

Uprising Theatre Company has been around for a few years now, but I saw my first Uprising show just last night. Now I'm sorry I waited so long. I completely agree with the statement on their about page: "Uprising Theatre Company really, truly believes that stories can change the world." But they don't just tell the story, and choose plays with relevant topics that need to be explored in today's world. They partner with community organizations that are actively working towards changing the world. That's pretty cool, friends. Their current production, the intimate, site-specific, intense, and heart-breaking Apples in Winter explores the issues of drug addiction, the treatment of criminals and prisoners, and the death penalty, so they've partnered with three relevant organizations: Cornerstone, Friends for a Non-Violent World, and the Twin Cities Men's Center. Each organization has a table with information in the lobby, so if you're inspired by the show, you can find out what immediate specific actions you can take. A post-show discussion follows every performance, which helps you process the show you've seen along with fellow audience members. So yeah, Uprising not only "really, truly believes that stories can change the world," they actively work towards it.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

"Bull" by Hypnic Jerk Theatre at Element Boxing Gym

"Site-specific theater in a boxing ring, now that’s cool! Brand new #tctheater company Hypnic Jerk debuts with BULL. Note: the play is not about boxing it’s about office politics.
-Cherry and Spoon Instagram

And a great metaphor it is. Director and Hypnic Jerk Theatre founder Kari Steinbach notes in the program that playwright Mike Bartlett was inspired to write Bull after watching a bullfight, but a boxing match works well too. They're staging the show in two locations on two weekends only, the first in Element Boxing Gym in St. Paul, the second at A Mill Artist Lofts in Minneapolis. I like the idea of a traveling show, making it more accessible to different communities (and people who are loathe to cross the river), but I'm glad I saw it in the first location, because it was really cool to watch a play in an actual boxing ring in an actual gym, something I've not done before. Just two more performances remain this Memorial Day Weekend, before the show moves across the river next weekend. Check it out for a short, intense, engaging, well directed and acted performance.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

"Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill" at the Jungle Theater

Continuing with their trend this season of presenting plays with music, the Jungle Theater opens Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill on this holiday weekend. This play with music premiered off Broadway in the '80s and on Broadway in 2014, winning Audra McDonald her sixth Tony. It takes place during one concert at the end of Billie Holiday's life, playing out in real time, as Billie tells stories from her past, her family, her husbands, and the racism she's dealt with in her career and as a black woman living in America in the first half of the 20th Century. Acclaimed director Marion McClinton directs Thomasina Petrus in this role that she's performed before, and was born to play. It's a perfect marriage of actor to role, with wonderful music and impeccable design that really makes you feel like you're watching the tragic end to this brilliant musician.

Monday, May 21, 2018

"The Room with Closets" by Sparkle Theatrical at the Southern Theater

Immediately after seeing Sparkle Theatricals' original new work The Room with Closets, I posted on my Insta story: "I'm not sure what just happened, but it was exquisite. I feel like I was in a dream." This is one of those theater experiences that is so mesmerizing, that so fully and specifically creates a world through words, movement, music, and visuals, that it absolutely casts a spell over the audience. A spell that's hard to shake when you step out of the theater and back into harsh reality, like waking up from a dream that you don't fully understand but that created such lovely feelings you want to go back to it. It's also the kind of show that's really hard to describe; words fail. I'll do my best, but I encourage you to go see it for yourself. It's a beautifully unique piece, and the creators (theatrical director Jon Ferguson, choreographer Alejandra Iannone, technical director Rick Ausland, and this beautiful six-person ensemble) obviously put a lot of thought and care into every detail. See it at the gorgeous Southern Theater (a space that enhances every performance there) through this week only!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

"Kind of Funny But Also A Little Sad" at Strike Theater

A few weeks ago I brought you my adventures at HUGE Theater, your home for comedy in Uptown. Today I bring you a report from Strike Theater, your home for comedy in Northeast Minneapolis, a neighborhood closer to (my) home and easier to get to and park in (unless it happens to be Art-A-Whirl, then it's almost as miserable as Uptown). Strike has been open for a few years as a Fringe venue but just opened as a full-time comedy venue last fall. Founded by Allison Broeren, Mike Fotis, and Joe Bozic (whom you might know from the Minnesota Fringe Festival), they are "dedicated to Twin Cities sketch comedy, storytelling, and spoken word," and they offer an array of comedy performances and classes. Last night I attended the final performance (sorry) of Kind of Funny But Also A Little Sad, but check out their show calendar and class schedule for what's next at Strike.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

"The Good Person of Szechwan" by Ten Thousand Things at St. Paul's ELCA

Michelle Hensley, retiring Artistic Director and Founder of Ten Thousand Things, is a gift. A gift to theater, a gift to Minnesota, a gift to the world. She taught us a new way to do theater, a new way to experience theater, one that considers who the audience can and should be, which is everyone. Read her book All the Lights On if you want to know more about it, or go see her beautiful swan song The Good Person of Szechwan (continuing through June 3), which is also the first play that TTT ever did nearly 30 years ago when Michelle started it in California. We've been lucky enough to have TTT as a vital part of the #TCTheater community for 25 years, a tradition that will continue after Michelle's retirement under the leadership of new Artistic Director Marcela Lorca. One can only hope that all of the artists and audience members she's worked with and influenced in those years will continue on this tradition of inclusive, accessible, imaginative theater that is unlike anything else.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"An Enemy of the People" at the Guthrie Theater

Whistle blowers. Leaking confidential information to the press. A scientist who isn't believed. A politician covering the scientific truth with an invented truth of his own. An Enemy of the People feels like a ripped from the headlines play, but in reality it's a 130-year-old Norwegian play, although with a new adaptation that has been updated for the Guthrie's production, allowing for the inclusion of timely phrases like "alternative facts." But the core of the story is the same: science vs. politics, truth vs. fabrication. In a gripping 90 minutes, the story unfolds and the scientist's life unravels, all while trying to do "the right thing." A fantastic cast of local and national talent, a gorgeous crisp, clean, Scandinavian design, and timely and relevant themes make for another great night at the Guthrie.

Monday, May 14, 2018

"She Loves Me" at DalekoArts

The second of three #TCTheater productions within a year of the delicious and timeless 1963 musical She Loves Me is now playing on the far Southern edge of the seven-county metro area, at DalekoArts in New Prague. Based on a 1937 Hungarian play, the basic story has been told in multiple iterations, including the 1940 Jimmy Stewart movie The Shop Around the Corner, and the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan remake You've Got Mail. But She Loves Me tells it in musical form, which IMO is always the better way to go. The current popularity of the show is perhaps due to the successful 2016 Broadway revival (broadcast live via BroadwayHD), but whatever the reason I'm glad of it. I have fallen in love with this sweet and funny show, first through Lyric Arts' production earlier this spring, then through listening to the 2016 cast recording, and now through DalekoArts' charming production. They employ a smaller cast and band on a much smaller stage (I'm not sure there are any tinier stages in #TCTheater than Daleko's), and blissfully no body mics, which only makes the experience more sweet and intimate. She Loves Me plays for one more weekend only; if you're in the Southern Metro you should definitely check out what's going on in New Prague.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

"Taking Shakespeare" at Gremlin Theatre

I wish I had had a professor like the one in Taking Shakespeare, maybe I'd have a better appreciation for the Bard. As it is I struggle the first time I see a Shakespeare play, as does the student in the play. But by the end he seems to really get it, and like in any good teacher/student relationship, the teacher also learns from the student. In Gremlin Theatre's staging of the new(ish) play by John Murrell, directed by Artistic Director Peter Christian Hansen, we get to watch this relationship play out in the hands of two talented actors (a beloved veteran and an exciting newcomer). It's an exploration of not just Shakespeare, but the changing phases of life, and whatever one's passion happens to be.

Friday, May 11, 2018

"Marisol" by Theatre Coup D'Etat at SpringHouse Ministry Center

Theatre Coup D'Etat has done it again. They've brought us an interesting piece in an intimate setting with innovative staging and a talented and diverse cast. A piece that pushes boundaries and makes the audience think. I never know what to expect from Coup D'Etat, as I didn't with Marisol, currently playing at SpringHouse Ministry Center, but it's always worth my time. For this play written by Puerto Rican playwright José Rivera they've enlisted Puerto Rican #TCTheater artist Ricardo Vázquez, which is the smartest choice they made with this piece, because it lends an authenticity and an understanding of the culture and traditions from which this play was born. It's a wild ride, one that's at times confusing or difficult to watch, but so chock full of meaning and symbolism that I can't even begin to unpack it all. The production is very thoughtful and detailed, and not one I will soon forget.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"Under this Roof" by Full Circle Theater at the Guthrie Theater

Currently staging just their third production, Full Circle Theater is new to the #TCTheater scene, but the founding members are certainly not new to the community. Co-Artistic Directors Rick Shiomi and Martha B. Johnson, along with Core Artists Lara Trujillo, James A. Williams, and Stephanie Lein Walseth have combined their experience and talents "to produce heartfelt, groundbreaking theater that artfully addresses issues of diversity and social justice for 21st century audiences." The new play Under this Roof, written by veteran actor of local and national stages Barbara Kingsley, fits well with this mission. It's a simple story of friendship and family, with moments of lyrical beauty mixed with the mundane stuff of everyday life. Directed by Full Circle artist James A. Williams and featuring a solid four-person cast, it's a realistic and ultimately hopeful look at the challenges that life throws at us.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

"Five-Fifths of The Matrix" by Five Minnesota Fringe Festival Companies at ARIA

The first Minnesota Fringe Festival event of 2018 is here! The first one I attend anyway (the lottery happened a few months ago, choosing the lucky companies that get to perform in the festival). The annual "Five-Fifths" fundraiser is when they take an iconic movie, split it up into five parts, hand it over to five Fringe companies, then put the five parts back together again. To say that the end result bears little resemblance to the original goes without saying. But it's great fun, and really gives you a taste of what Fringe is - a display of a wide array of creativity. Mark your calendar for August 2-12, and in the meantime find out how you can get involved (by volunteering, donating, or attending other pre-festival events) at the Fringe website.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"High Fidelity" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at Electric Fetus

High Fidelity, the Broadway flop musical adaptation of the 2000 film (it ran for 32 performances only), is the perfect choice for Minneapolis Musical Theatre, whose motto is "Rare musicals. Well done." They have a knack for bringing out the best in a show and staging it in a way that works. So they're staging High Fidelity, which mostly takes place in a record store, in an actual record store! And an iconic Minneapolis record store at that - Electric Fetus. Maybe this show didn't/wouldn't play well in a traditional theater space, but in this intimate site-specific space that makes you feel like you're part of the story, it's a unique theatrical thrill. With a fantastic and hard-working 14-person cast, a rockin' band, and great use of the space, it's a sure-fire hit. With only six more performances and limited space, act fast so as not to miss out on the fun! (Click here for more info and tickets here.)

Monday, May 7, 2018

"Sub/prime" by Media Blitz at Mixed Blood Theatre

In a note in the program for his new play Sub/prime, NYC playwright Beck Lee states that local director Peter Moore told him after a reading, "You haven't found the humanity in these people yet. They are not honest, vulnerable people... they're stick figures." I shudder to think what the early version of this play was like, because these four Minnesota tourists on vacation in NYC are the most miserable horrible people I have ever seen on stage. I kept waiting for some sort of redemption, where someone learns a lesson, or gets there comeuppance, or something. But it never came. Part of me thinks this play is one big prank on Minnesotans; that the playwright hates Minnesotans and tourists and this is his big joke to show how horrible we are. Either way I was not laughing; I've rarely been so offended at the theater.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

"Lord Gordon Gordon" at History Theatre

The creators of History Theatre's smash hit new original musical Glensheen return for their second collaboration with the theater dedicated to creating new work mining the area's rich history - the fun and farcical (yet somewhat factual) Lord Gordon Gordon. I didn't love it as much as I did Glensheen (maybe because I'm not obsessed with this story like I am the story of the wealthy heiress serial killer arsonist), but it has that same sense of fun and wit combined with great original music that one comes to expect from a Hatcher/Poling show. With an excellent cast, plenty of Minnesota and Canada jokes, and clever theatrical tricks, it makes for a fun evening at the theater, laughing about the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction antics of a con man and his marks right here in Minnesota almost 150 years ago.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

"Prescription: Murder" by Ghoulish Delights at the Phoenix Theater

Lieutenant Columbo, as personified by Peter Falk, is one of the best TV detectives of all time. The original series ran for seven season in the 1970s, two more in the late '80s, with specials continuing through 2003. Columbo, with his trench coat and cigar and "just one more thing," is a TV icon. But did you know that this detective series actually started as a play (as most good things do)? The creators of the TV show, William Link and Richard Levinson, first wrote a play about the disheveled detective who always gets his man, a play that was then turned into a TV movie that became the pilot for the long-running series. And the rest is history. Now, thanks to Ghoulish Delights, you have a chance to revisit that history and see Columbo's origins on stage at the Phoenix Theater in Uptown: a must see for Columbo fans and fans of retro thrillers.

Monday, April 30, 2018

"Into the Woods" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

Lakeshore Players Theatre has been the community theater in White Bear Lake for 65 years. Even though I'm kept very busy by professional #TCTheater, I'm a little ashamed to admit I've never attended an LPT show despite living in the Northeast metro. This spring, they're opening a brand new performing arts facility just off of Highway 61 in downtown White Bear Lake, which speaks a lot to their audience and donor support, as well as to their commitment to continuing and furthering their legacy. This new building, combined with the fact that their first show in the new space is one of my favorite Sondheim musicals, convinced me to make the short drive to finally check them out. I was impressed not only with the new facility, but also with the quality of their production of Into the Woods. Sondheim isn't easy for professional theaters, much less community theaters, but there were zero cringe-worthy moments and they really pulled off this tricky show remarkably well.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

"Off Book" and "The Mess" at HUGE Improv Theater

"Life is better when you're laughing." Or at least that was the sidewalk chalk wisdom I saw on my morning run today. But there definitely is truth to it, and if you're in need of more laughter in your life, there's no better place to go for consistent laughs any night of the week than HUGE Improv Theater, a home for improv in Uptown Minneapolis. HUGE hosts a variety of improv troupes, with shows almost every night. Most shows are about $10 per ticket, and if you go on a Friday or Saturday night, you can see multiple shows at a discounted price. A small price to play for a lot of laughter.

"Follies" at Artistry

Artistry's production of Stephen Sondheim's 1971 musical Follies, the final show of their 2017-2018 season, opened two weeks ago, but the Great April Blizzard of '18 caused them to cancel several shows on their opening weekend. I finally had the opportunity to see it this weekend, and it was worth the wait! Having seen the 2011 Broadway revival, I knew what a gorgeous, but complicated, musical Follies is (does Sondheim write any other kind?). During my two-week delay in seeing the show I've been listening to the 2011 recording, so I was primed and ready for this show, and I loved every minute of it. Music Director Anita Ruth's 21-piece pit orchestra, Director Benjamin McGovern's large and talented cast (which includes three Equity actors, perhaps the most I've seen in a single show at Artistry), plus the dazzling design do justice to Sondheim and book writer James Goldman's complicated and beautiful musical. Congratulations to Artistry for tackling tricky Sondheim and pulling it off beautifully!

Friday, April 27, 2018

"This Bitter Earth" at Penumbra Theatre

Playwright Harrison David Rivers is having a moment here in #TCTheater. This spring he's had two world premieres (History Theatre's A Crack in the Sky and Theater Latte Da's Five Points, with music and lyrics by Ethan D. Pakchar and Douglas Lyons), and his play the bandaged place was the final reading in the Playwrights' Center's (where he's a core writer) Ruth Easton series earlier this month. And now, the jewel in the crown of Harrison David Rivers' 2018 #TCTheater productions is Penumbra Theatre's regional premiere of This Bitter Earth (which premiered at San Francisco's New Conservatory Theatre Center last fall). This brilliant play artfully combines the political (referencing several of the killings of young black man in recent years, interracial relationships, and gay rights) with the personal (an achingly beautiful love story). The talented two-person cast and creative team have created a visually and emotionally stunning production that engages the mind, the conscience, and the heart.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

"Still Dance the Stars" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Last night in the cozy intimate space of Yellow Tree Theatre, in a strip mall in Osseo, I saw a world premiere new play that's unlike anything I've seen before. As someone who sees a lot of theater (and I mean a lot), that's a rare occurrence. While playwright Jayme McGhan's Still Dance the Stars reminds me a little of the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Next to Normal, in that it deals with parents grieving the loss of a child in different (and sometimes hallucinatory) ways, the storytelling is completely unique, combining very real and natural dialogue, fantastical dream sequences in which stuffed animals come to life, dance, and music to tell a heart-wrenching and heart-warming story of grief, love, and family. It's a great choice of play for Yellow Tree, my favorite theater in the 'burbs, and the cast and creative team do a beautiful job of bringing the play to life with all of its humor, grace, silliness, and beauty.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Broadway Tour of "Jersey Boys" at the Orpheum Theatre

Jersey Boys is my musical theater guilty pleasure, and the exception that proves the rule about jukebox musicals. Meaning, I'm not usually a fan of taking popular hit songs and creating a musical around them; I much prefer new original musical theater. Except for Jersey Boys, which I can't help but love and see every time it comes to town (four and counting). After running for over 11 years, the Tony-winning musical closed on Broadway last year, but is still touring the country, stopping at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre this week. The reason I love it is not just because of the fantastically catchy music of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the sharp choreography, and the retro fashions. But because all of this is put together very smartly in the true story of the group, dealing with the good and the bad of fame and living in the music industry. If you've seen Jersey Boys at some point in the last 12 years, you know what I'm talking about. If not, it's not too late to check out this smart, funny, and musically delicious jukebox musical that gives you a peek inside some of the best known American pop songs of the last century (click here for more info and tickets).

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"Natasha and the Coat" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at Highland Park Center Theatre

For the final show of their 23rd season, Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company is bringing us the world premiere of a new play. LA-based playwright (and Playwrights' Center affiliated writer) Deborah Stein's Natasha and the Coat is an engaging look at a Hasidic Jewish family in the neighborhood of Williamsburg in early 21st Century Brooklyn, as well as the garment industry in that neighborhood. It touches on themes of immigration, gentrification, and how to maintain one's culture and traditions while still functioning in modern American society. While it could use a little tightening up (it's lacking in momentum in parts, and feels too long at 2.5+ hours), the likable and believable cast make it worthwhile.

Monday, April 23, 2018

"Thomas Tallis" by Orchard Theater Collective at Calvary Baptist Church

The long, complicated, sordid tale of the English monarchy is the source of much drama and many many plays. Wars, illegitimate heirs, beheadings, oh my! The play Thomas Tallis looks at it from another side, through the life of a man who was a surprising constant through some of the most tumultuous changes in the monarchy in the 16th Century, from Henry VIII through Elizabeth I. As composer for the Church of England, Tallis worked under four different monarchs with differing religious and musical tastes, and somehow survived to the ripe old age of 80 with his head still attached to his body. Jessica Swale's sparse play doesn't get into too many details about the composer or those he worked for, but it does paint a portrait of the artist, the era, and the importance of music. New young theater company Orchard Theater Collective has chosen this play as their second work, staging a lovely and haunting production in Calvary Baptist Church.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

"The Lorax" at Children's Theatre Company in Partnership with the Old Globe and the Old Vic

Unless. What a powerful word. So many scary things might happen. Unless. Unless what, you ask? "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." The best thing to happen lately in this dark and scary world is people caring a whole awful lot about things, and taking to the streets and the polls to make them better. That's the heart of Dr. Seuss's story The Lorax, which specifically is talking about the environment, nature, the wilderness around us. The Old Vic Theatre in London has turned this beautiful story into a charming, playful, and poignantly relevant musical that is now receiving its US premiere at Minneapolis' Children's Theatre Company (in conjunction with San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, where it will play this summer). It gave me all the feels, and had me walking down the street on this first truly spring-like day in wonder. Such is the power of theater, of stories, of people who care a whole awful lot.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"My Barking Dog" by Market Garden Theatre at the Crane Theater Studio

Eric Coble's play The Velocity of Autumn ran for just a month on Broadway four years ago, and I was lucky enough to see it. I really don't understand why it was such a short run, except that maybe the intimate family story plays better on smaller stages. Seeing it again at Old Log a few years ago  confirmed my opinion that it's a beautifully written play, smart and funny and poignant and relatable. I have now seen my second Eric Coble play, thanks to the small theater company Market Garden Theatre producing My Barking Dog in the Crane's intimate (and not yet completed) studio space. This play is also beautifully written, although much different than The Velocity of Autumn. My Barking Dog starts off as a real and relatable story of two individuals, and then veers off into the fantastical, but it's a journey I was happy to take because of the beautiful, odd, surprising script and the strong performances by the two-person cast.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" at the Guthrie Theater

The 1967 movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is a classic, but I don't think I've ever seen it. Or if I have, I don't remember it. But because this movie has become such an integral part of our culture, even people who haven't seen the movie know the premise: a young woman introduces her black fiance to her white family, who, despite being liberals who believe in racial equality, have trouble accepting the relationship. A stage adaptation of the movie was written just a few years ago (by Todd Kriedler) and is currently showing on the Guthrie mainstage. Why tell this story 50 years later? In a world in which black men are arrested for sitting at Starbucks, it's still an important and unfortunately relevant story. But it does feel a little too easy for the mostly older white audience to laugh at these people's reaction in a past we may think we've overcome, but which we obviously haven't.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"The Imaginary Invalid" by Combustible Company at Gremlin Theatre

Their opening night was cancelled in the Great April Blizzard of '18, but a little (or a lot) of snow didn't stop Combustible Company from delivering a funny, clever, relevant, and really well-done version of Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid. When I finally made it to Gremlin Theatre two days later than planned, I found myself thoroughly entertained for two and a half hours by this delightfully odd mixture of humor, music, social commentary, bright costumes, and pharmaceutical ads. The play may be over 300 years old, but this clever new adaptation (by Oded Gross and Tracy Young) brings out all the relevance to 2018 in this story of a hypochondriac struggling with health care issues, as so many are today. The modern references make the play feel fresh and current, while still keeping a tie to the original, and the consistently fantastic cast plays up the comedy to a hilt, without losing sight of the humanity of the characters. (Playing through April 28, click here for info and tickets.)