Wednesday, December 26, 2018

"Holiday Inn" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

Christmas may be over for another year, but that doesn't mean we have to stop celebrating. After all, Christmas is only one of many holidays celebrated around the world, and only one of the seven holidays celebrated in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' gorgeously fun production of the Broadway musical Holiday Inn. Based on the 1942 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire movie of the same name, the musical debuted on Broadway in 2016, and is now receiving its Minnesota premiere. This is the kind of thing that Chanhassen does best - a big splashy musical with wonderful recognizable music and fantastic dance numbers. If you didn't see it this holiday season, don't worry, it's still playing through February 23, and there are still plenty of holidays to celebrate.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

"Les Miserables" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

Fresh off of a successful Broadway revival, the music-theater phenomenon known as Les Miserables is on tour, stopping at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre for the final two weeks of the year. I'm not one of those Les Miz fanatics (like my friend Laura at Twin Cities Stages), I save the fanaticism for RENT. I saw the tour 18 years ago, but it was the #TCTheater production at Artistry (formerly known as Bloomington Civic Theatre) five years ago that production that really won me over to the beauty of the story, writing, "Les Miserables is such an inspiring story. Through a moment of kindness, a man's life is changed and he goes on to affect others' lives by passing on that kindness. But through it all he's still just a man, with doubts and regrets and struggles. In short, it's the human experience." So I was ready for this large-scale Broadway production, re-invented from the original. And I loved every minute of it (approximately 180 of them).

Monday, December 17, 2018

"Animus" by E/D at the Southern Theater

Animus is a theater piece that incorporates film (both pre-recorded as well as projected live) better than any I've seen before. In fact everything about the piece is thoughtfully created and exquisitely executed. Produced by a new company (called E/D), but not a new collaboration (Emily Michaels King and Debra Berger), it's inspired by the 1966 Ingmar Bergman film Persona and is in fact part of the Swedish filmmaker's jubilee celebration. I've not seen this film (or I think any of Bergman's work), but if it's as hauntingly beautiful and downright trippy as Animus, I now want to. Presented as part of last year's Twin Cities Horror Festival (as reported on by my friends at Minnesota Theater Love), it's been expanded to 90 fully engrossing minutes. Animus continues through December 22 only and should not be overlooked in this busy season both on and off stage.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

"Blackbird" by Dark and Stormy Productions at Grain Belt Warehouse

Don't let the Christmas lights strung across the ceiling fool you, Dark and Stormy's Blackbird is not a feel-good holiday play. Which is why it's a great choice for right now, if you need a break from the sugary sweet holiday fare (I myself have seen 11 holiday shows so far, with a few more on the schedule next week). Written in 2005, Blackbird is a brutal play about a woman confronting her abuser, 15 years after he raped and kidnapped her at the age of 12 (she may have gone willingly, but she was still a child). Yes, it's a difficult one to watch, but with painfully real performances by the two-person cast, in the intimate environment of Dark and Stormy's Northeast Minneapolis studio space, it's worth the effort.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

"The River Becomes Sea" by nimbus theatre at the Crane Theater

In nimbus theatre's latest original work, The River Becomes Sea, they explore the world of post-Civil War New Orleans through the complicated lives of one family. New Orleans is always a fascinating place, with its diverse peoples, cultures, and art, and its complicated relationship with water (see also the excellent HBO series Treme). But as playwright Josh Cragun notes in the playbill, the post-Civil War era is particularly fascinating; a time when there is new freedom for African Americans, and a backlash of fear from those who backed the failed Confederacy. Add to this the arrival of a long-lost sister, banished after a scandal, and an impending flood, and you have more than enough drama to fill 85 minutes. nimbus does that, but in an unhurried, lyrical, Southern sort of pace.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"Have Yourself a Jazzy Little Christmas" by Theatre Elision at the Lakeville Arts Center

Theatre Elision brought back their holiday* concert Have Yourself a Jazzy Little Christmas, performing at various locations last weekend. I happened to catch it at the Lakeville Arts Center, which is in the church I attended as a child. When a new church was built, the city bought the building and turned it into a performing and visual arts center, which is a pretty fantastic example of recycling. It's a great space to watch a show or listen to music, and this one was a delight. Have Yourself a Jazzy Little Christmas is like putting on your favorite Christmas albums from the '40s and '50s and curling up under a blanket in front of the fire with a cup of hot cocoa. In other words, very comforting and nostalgic for those who grew up with these songs. The show is over for this year, but make a mental note about next year, and check out what else Elision has on the calendar for this season fulfilling their niche of small cast, original or rarely done musicals.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

"City Council Christmas" at Daleko Arts

This was my fourth visit to the very southern-most #TCTheater, DalekoArts in New Prague (pronounced prayg not prahg, because this is Minnesota). I spent the first 15 years of my life in a rambler on a dead-end gravel road less than 20 miles from where Daleko is now, and my parents still live in Lakeville, so the drive to New Prague is filled with nostalgia for me. Daleko has built up a loyal audience over the last five and a half years, and it seems that their original holiday* comedies are just as popular as the ones at that other theater in the 'burbs on the opposite end of town. I'm not sure I would recommend spending two hours in the car to attend an 80-minute show (although I wouldn't dissuade you if you're so inclined), but if you find yourself in the southern metro, you should definitely check out what's happening at the Prague Theater in charming historic downtown New Prague. Which right now happens to be City Council Christmas, a hilariously quirky and fun comedy about a small town city council, which Daleko calls their "goofy, idiotic, fun, and totally ridiculous love letter to our audiences, and to the good people of New Prague and the surrounding area."

Saturday, December 8, 2018

"A Hunting Shack Christmas" by Actors' Theater of Minnesota at Camp Bar

If you didn't get tickets to Yellow Tree Theatre's annual delightfully wacky and very Minnesotan original holiday play tradition this year (limited tickets for the original Miracle on Christmas Lake available), you're in luck! Actors' Theater of Minnesota is producing another Jessica Lind Peterson penned Minnesota Christmas comedy, A Hunting Shack Christmas, at Camp Bar in St. Paul. The play premiered at Yellow Tree in 2014, and in this production John Haynes reprises his role from that show, and also directs. In the casual space at Camp with an exuberant cast, it's great fun, with lots of local humor, and a little bit of heart too (click here for info and tickets).

"Elf the Musical" Broadway Tour at the Ordway Center

For the past four Decembers, The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts has produced Ordway Original holiday* shows - large-scale Broadway-style musicals using local talent. We had the delightfully nostalgic A Christmas Story in 2014, one of my personal favorites The Sound of Music in 2015, the sumptuous White Christmas in 2016, and the wonderful Annie last year. The last three calendar years have seen at least three Ordway Originals; perhaps 2017 was the high point, in which they also produced a gorgeous West Side Story, an explosive Jesus Christ Superstar, and a fantastic In the Heights (Lin-Manuel Miranda's first work). Coming off of that high point, and after the departure of Producing Artistic Director James Rocco, the Ordway has chosen to bring in a touring production this December, after only one Original this year (the super fun Mamma Mia!). I can't say I'm not disappointed. It's not that Elf the Musical (a non-equity tour) isn't a fine selection - bright and sweet and fun and very Christmassy - it's just that I've come to expect more from the Ordway. All that being said, I'm certain that the children who showed up opening night with elf hats on their heads and excitement in their eyes didn't know the difference, and likely some of their parents didn't either. So let's move on to the perfectly satisfactory Elf, which runs through the end of December.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

"The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley" at Jungle Theater

Last year around this time, the Jungle Theater introduced #TCTheater to the wonderfully imagined world of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in the years after the novel's conclusion, via playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margo Melcon. I called Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley "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." Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen notes that they "had so much fun we co-commissioned this companion piece." I'm happy to report that The Wickhams: Christmas* at Pemberley, now playing at the Jungle as part of a rolling world premiere, is just as delightful as the first one. Friends, I want to return to Pemberley every year, at Christmas or during the heat of summer, upstairs or downstairs, starring any (or all) Bennet sister(s). The world and characters that Lauren and Margo have created is so rich and wonderful, with endless story possibilities. These plays are everything you love about Jane Austen, but with more modern sensibilities. Sheer delight!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

"Vincent River" at the Crane Theater

I was lucky enough to catch the last performance of the blink-and-you'll-miss it run of the regional premiere of Vincent River by English playwright Philip Ridley, in fact just the second US production. The play was independently produced by multi-talented #TCTheater artist Grant Sorenson, who also directed. You might remember Grant as one of the founding members of 7th House Theater Company, or in performances at various theaters around town. He notes in the program that when he recently re-read this play that he first experienced in college, he felt that he had to make it happen in the Twin Cities. And that's why this is such a great theater town; he called a few friends, secured some donor support, found a venue, rehearsed for a few weeks, and happen it did! Written in 2000, this play about a mother grieving her (unbeknownst to her) gay son murdered in a hate crime is sadly still relevant (see also Uprising Theatre's recent production of The Laramie Project for the 20th anniversary of Matthew Shepard's murder). It's a difficult play to watch, but beautifully and smartly written, and beautifully produced by Grant and his team despite the limitations of time and budget.

Monday, December 3, 2018

"Lend Me a Tenor" at Old Log Theatre

Now playing at the oldest continuously operating theater west of the Mississippi: the madcap comedy Lend Me a Tenor. Although written in 1989 by playwright Ken Ludwig (see also the madcap Sherlock Holmes comedy Baskerville), the play is set in 1934 and harkens back to the days of classic film comedies like It Happened One Night. Old Log Theatre has taken that cue beautifully, and created a piece of theater that feels like one of those old movie comedies come to life, except in three dimensions and full color! With a sparkling eight-person cast, sharp design, and impeccable timing on this complicated farce, Lend Me a Tenor makes for a fun night at the theater. Combine it with an afternoon or evening spent shopping and/or eating in the almost too charming lake town of Excelsior (which, when I visited, featured a horse drawn buggy and softly falling snow on the beautifully lit main street), and you have a wonderful day in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. Lend Me a Tenor continues through February 16, the snow will probably continue much longer.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

"Marie and Rosetta" at Park Square Theatre

For two nights in a row, I experienced rousing gospel music as part of #TCTheater. In other words, was a good week. The night after seeing Penumbra Theatre's annual gospel rendition of the nativity story Black Nativity, I attended opening night of Park Square Theatre's regional premiere of the new play Marie and Rosetta, the true story of lesser known gospel legend Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Written by Playwrights' Center affiliated writer George Brant, Marie and Rosetta imagines the night of the first performance of Rosetta and her protege/duet partner Marie Knight. A night in 1946 Mississippi when there was no room at the inn for two black women singers, so they rehearsed and slept in a funeral home with a kindly owner. This play with music paints a beautiful picture of these two very different women, their music, and their relationship, as well as the hardships both faced in their lives and careers, and brings these two musical legends to vivid life. A "joyful noise" indeed.

Friday, November 30, 2018

"Black Nativity" at Penumbra Theatre

There truly is no better place to experience the "joyful noise" of the holiday* season than at Penumbra Theatre's annual production of Black Nativity. Despite it being a 30+ year #TCTheater holiday institution, this is only my second time seeing the show. If you've never seen it before, you need to add it to your holiday theater rotation to experience the pure joy radiating from the stage. And if you have seen it before, you know just how heart-warming and life-affirming it is. This 80-minute theater/ music/ dance/ poetry experience continues through December 23, so there's plenty of time to get to St. Paul.

Monday, November 26, 2018

"Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story" at History Theatre

This winter, History Theatre is bringing back their original play with music based on the life of local rock and roll legend Bobby Vee. You would be forgiven for not recognizing the name (especially if you didn't live through the '60s), but you would surely recognize some of his hits (e.g., "Devil or Angel," "Take Good Care of My Baby," "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes"). And that's why we have the History Theatre, to bring us edutainment about parts of our local history that we maybe don't know as much about as we should. Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story premiered in 2016, and the creators collaborated with Bobby's sons Jeff and Tommy. Bobby Vee died from complications of Alzheimer's during that first run of the show, bringing an extra poignancy to it. On second viewing, Teen Idol really feels like a Jeff and Tommy's love letter to their parents - a clean-cut Midwestern boy who for a short time was one of the biggest music stars in the world, and the woman who loved him but didn't sacrifice herself for his career. The play has been tweaked a little, with three new songs added, and by my count about two-thirds of the 24-person cast are new to the show. But it's mostly the same as last time: a play that transcends the jukebox musical to tell the story of how one star survived his rise to and fall from fame with grace and dignity intact, thanks in part to his family.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

A Night at HUGE Improv Theater: "Family Dinner," KINGS, and the Bearded Company's "Chronicles"

Who couldn't use more laughter in their life? A great place to guarantee that is HUGE Improv Theater in Uptown, with shows every night except Tuesday. 'Tis the holiday* season, which brings my (and apparently may people's) favorite improv show - the utterly delightful Family Dinner. Every Friday and Saturday through the end of the year, a group of talented improvisers (nightly cast TBA from this lovely group) put on a very funny, very real (ish) production of a typical family dinner, including eating an actual dinner. It's super popular and almost always sells out, so make your reservations in advance. And while you're there, why not stay for another show or two, like I did? Friday nights include KINGS and The Bearded Company (keep reading for more on them), while Saturdays are The Mess (whom I've seen a couple of times before) and A Christmas Carol: Unscripted (I might need to go back to see this one). The full schedule (and reservations) can be found on HUGE's website.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Prescient Harbingers: "Hype Man," "Hooded," and "Gloria" at Mixed Blood Theatre

As usual, Mixed Blood Theatre is doing something pretty remarkable right now. They're presenting three plays in rep, all written by young black men. Under the umbrella "Prescient Harbingers" (meaning: "having or showing knowledge of events before they take place;" "a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another"), these three brilliant plays explore what it means to be a black man in America, directly or indirectly (one is even subtitled Being Black for Dummies), along with commenting on race relations in America and more generally on modern life in America. Young black men are dying at an alarming rate, and these are voices we need to listen to if we ever hope to understand the problem so that we can stop it from happening. If you are a young black man, I can only imagine how validating it must feel to see these voices and these stories on stage. If you're not, I encourage you to go see one, two, or preferably all three of these plays with an open mind and an open heart. Listen, hear, laugh, cry, be disturbed, get angry, join the movement for justice and equality. But don't go see these plays just because it's good for you, good for the larger community, but also because they're extremely well-written and beautifully produced by the team at Mixed Blood Theatre, and make for one entertaining and engaging day of theater. All three plays are presented on Saturdays and Sundays through December 2 with about an hour in between, during which you can get sustenance from the lovely sandwiches, salads, and snacks provided by Birchwood (also available for pre-order here), with single plays showing Wednesday through Friday evenings. You can see all three plays for just $35 (click here for information and to make reservations), or, as always, you can take advantage of Mixed Blood's "Radical Hospitality" program - free admission for available seats two hours prior to the performance. Please carve some time out of your schedule to see this important work.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A staged reading of "Smokey Mountain Christmas Carol" at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts

Watching a reading of a new work of theater is one of my favorite things, and there are many opportunities here in #TCTheater (the Playwrights' Center has free readings of new works all year round, and theaters such as History Theatre, Theater Latte Da, and Illusion Theater have annual new works festivals). Last night I attended one such reading at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, a brand new musical based on the Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol.* It's a beautiful, transcendent, heart-warming story that holds up to the many adaptations. This adaptation is particularly exciting because it features new music written by songwriting and performing legend Dolly Parton, and she's in St. Paul to introduce and watch the show herself! Even better, the mayor of St. Paul declared yesterday Dolly Parton Day. Friends, I wish every day could be Dolly Parton Day; she is a gem, a ray of light, a true gift to the world.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

"Noises Off" at the Guthrie Theater

A Christmas Carol is not the only thing playing in that big beautiful blue building on the river. Across the lobby from the 44th annual production of A Christmas Carol, the Guthrie is presenting a hilarious comedy that will make your face hurt from laughing so much. Noises Off is the perfect madcap comedy, perfectly executed by the cast, crew, and creative team at the Guthrie. The play within a play format allows the audience to peak inside the world of the theater and see what it might be like in rehearsal, backstage during a performance, and at the end of a long and troubled tour. It's a complete mess as things continue to go wrong for the fictional company, but the real-life company pulls it all off beautifully; this is impeccably organized chaos thanks to first-time Guthrie director Meredith McDonough and her team. If your thoughts about theater are, as one of the characters in the play says: "I don't go to the theater to listen to other people's problems, I go to be taken out of myself and hopefully not put back in again," this is the perfect play for that.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

"Miracle on Christmas Lake" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Gather round, children, this is one of my favorite stories in #TCTheater. Not that long ago, in a land not too far away, a couple moved home to Minnesota from NYC to start a theater company. Shortly after doing so, the rights to the holiday* show they were planning were pulled a few weeks before rehearsal was set to begin. Luckily, one of them was a playwright, so she wrote a play. That play was a comedy about a couple that moved to a small town in Minnesota from NYC to run a theater company, when the rights to their holiday play were pulled the night before opening. They say write what you know, and Jessica Lind Peterson did just that, to great success. She mixed her and Yellow Tree Theatre co-founder Jason Peterson's story together with Minnesota humor, soap operas, Little House on the Prairie, a handful of quirky characters, and a bearded dragon, put it all in a crock pot to simmer, and something delicious was born. Now, ten years later, Yellow Tree's holiday show is a huge hit every year and anchors their season to be able to produce some extraordinary and diverse work year-round. There have been two installments of Miracle on Christmas Lake, as well as two stand-alone plays A Hunting Shack Christmas (which you can see this December at Camp Bar produced by Actors Theater of Minnesota) and A Gone Fishin' Christmas. For their 11th season they're returning to where it all began, the original Miracle on Christmas Lake with most of the original cast. This was my 6th time seeing some iteration of the Christmas Lake franchise, and I love the silly, ridiculous, sweet, wonderful mess even more each time I see it. The show continues through the end of December, but as I mentioned it's always hugely popular, so get your tickets soon!

Monday, November 12, 2018

"Present" at Illusion Theater

Prior to his one-man autobiographical musical show, T. Mychael Rambo was introduced as "a gift to all of us." So true. I've been a fan of his since I can't even remember when. He's performed just about everywhere in #TCTheater, and he always brings his big beautiful voice and plenty of charisma. It's fitting that he titled his show Present, now playing at Illusion Theater, because watching it is a present (meaning gift), as he reminds us to be present (aware, mindful) in the present (now). Only one week remains of the limited three-week engagement, so act fast to see this joyful and life-filled performance.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

"The Great Gatsby" by Collide Theatrical Dance Company at the Ritz Theater

In the past five seasons, Collide Theatrical Dance Company has brought us original stories from various historical eras, as well as adaptations of classics like Romeo and Juliet. Their new show is an adaptation of the most well-known novel by Minnesota's own F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. What makes Collide unique is that they tell their stories entirely through movement and music, with few or no words. Their "original Broadway-style jazz dance musicals" are a collision of music, dance, and theater. In other words, an excuse for this busy theater blogger to watch pretty people dance prettily, while telling a theatrical story. Combining perfectly chosen pop songs performed by a live band and singers with thrilling dances performed by the talented company of dancers, they're able to convey all of the emotion of the story (with plot summary printed in the program if you care about the plot). The Great Gatsby is a great example of this as they tell the story of these beautifully tragic and tragically beautiful people.

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

Nothing turns me into the Grinch faster than having to deal with traffic, parking, and crowds, all three of which were present when I went to see Children's Theatre Company's production of the musical adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic that they premiered in 1994. I stepped inside the theater just as the lights went down and had to find my way to my 3rd row center seat in the dark, only to find it occupied by an adorable little girl who was already enraptured by the show. I found a seat, but needless to say I was in full Grinch mode and it took me a little while to shake it off and get into the show. But the biggest testament to CTC's How the Grinch Stole Christmas is that by the end of the show, the Grinch was completely gone from my heart, and I had a grin on my face and tears in my eyes. I'm certain the Grinch will return to me several times this season, as it does to all of us when dealing with holiday* cards, shopping, cooking, families, traffic, and all of the other stresses of the season. Hopefully at such times I'll remember what the Grinch discovers - that the true meaning of any holiday is the people we spend it with, and a spirit of generosity and kindness to all, even the Grinches in our life.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

"The 4 Seasons" by the Moving Company at the Lab Theater

The Moving Company (which grew out of the ashes of the Tony-winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune) is back this fall with a very Moving Company kind of show. Which is to say original, profound, silly, thoughtful, delightful, sweet, surprising, and a little odd. Conceived by co-Artistic Directors Steven Epp, Nathan Keepers, and Dominique Serrand, The 4 Seasons was inspired by the idea of the four seasons, including Vivaldi's famous composition Four Seasons and Piazzolla's less famous composition Four Seasons. They also drew inspiration from Chekhov, and this quote from the Russian playwright about his work could also describe MoCo's work, and this piece in particular: "What happens onstage should be just as complicated and just as simple as things are in real life. People are sitting at a table having dinner, that's all, but at the same time their happiness is being created, or their lives are being torn apart."

Thursday, November 8, 2018

"The Book of Mormon" at the Orpheum Theatre

NOTE: this is my fourth time seeing and writing about the 2011 Tony-winning best musical The Book of Mormon, still playing on Broadway, and still touring the country. It's currently making its 4th stop at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre, for just two weeks. I love it so much, and it fills me with such joy. What follows is adapted from my review from 2016, with a few notes about the amazing current cast.

If theater is my religionThe Book of Mormon is my most sacred text. Not the actual book of course, rather the wildly irreverent musical written by the creators of South Park (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) along with EGOT winner Robert Lopez. It is a nearly perfect musical, and definitely one of most joyous musicals I've ever seen. One of the brilliant things about The Book of Mormon is that it allows us to laugh at institutionalized religion (and let's face it, there are plenty of ridiculous things to laugh at) while still espousing the value of faith in oneself and one's friends and community, and "working together to make this our paradise planet!" It truly is a feel-good musical that has the hugest heart, despite its unbelievably foul mouth. Back when it premiered in 2011, The Book of Mormon was what Hamilton is today - a smash hit musical that swept the Tonys and was an impossible ticket to get. Fortunately seven years later tickets are a little easier to come by; tickets are still available (including rush and lottery, click here for details). If you're a fan of musical theater (who isn't offended by profanity and poking fun at religion), The Book of Mormon is definitely a must-see. And since it's still running on Broadway and touring the country, it likely won't be available for regional productions for many years, so this tour may be your only chance to see it for a while. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

"Words Do Move" by Sandbox Theatre at the Crane Theater

Words Do Move. Or in this case, words, music, movement, images, and the combination thereof move. Sandbox Theatre's latest ensemble-created work is a series of poems, stories, songs, and dances about relationships, identity, grief, joy, and life. It is, indeed, moving, as the five-person ensemble and one-person band share their stories and their souls with the audience. Words Do Move is unique and lovely and just over an hour long, all good things, and plays through November 17 at the Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis.

Monday, November 5, 2018

"The Laramie Project" and "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" by Uprising Theatre Company at Howard Conn Fine Arts Center

Twenty years ago last month in a small college town in Wyoming, a young gay man was brutally beaten and tied to a fence post, left to die. The name Matthew Shepard has become synonymous with gay rights and in particular with the national hate crime legislation that bears his name, passed into law 11 years after his murder. Unfortunately Matthew's story is not unique, but for some reason it capture the nation, and he became a symbol for a larger movement toward equality and justice. Much has changed for the better in the last 20 years, including the hate crime legislation and the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act. But hate crimes still happen, against members of the LGBTQ community, against Jews, against people of color, against immigrants. As demonstrated by this sad fact, along with the current White House resident's threat against the very existence of our transgender citizens, the good work being done in Matthew's name is far from over. This Tuesday offers a great opportunity to continue that work by voting for equality, for compassion, for humanity, for the environment, for justice. Thanks to Uprising Theatre Company for sharing the spirit of Matthew Shepard by presenting The Laramie Cycle at this moment in time.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

"Maple and Vine" by The BAND Group at Center for Performing Arts

The 2011 play Maple and Vine explores what might happen if we really could return to the "good old days," the era that the Cleavers and Ozzie and Harriet make look so perfectly pleasant and innocent on TV. With all the recent talk of returning to a time when the world, and America, was supposedly greater than now, The BAND Group chose a great time to present this play. With minimal staging in an intimate space, the audience is almost uncomfortably close to this fake '50s world as its true ugliness is slowly revealed. As they always do, The BAND Group is partnering with community organizations, the Citizens League and the League of Women Voters, who both have materials and representatives at the show. Reminding us to use our voting power, as the play reminds us of the things at stake.

Friday, November 2, 2018

"All is Calm" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Dear #TCTheater friends, I just wanted to share with you a few thoughts about Theater Latte Da's annual holiday* show All is Calm, even though their handful of Minneapolis shows this weekends are sold out, and they're heading to Off-Broadway next week (congrats!). I saw it for the sixth time this week, and I've already written many words about how much I love it (you can read them all here). In just over an hour, this cast of ten men, all beautiful vocalists and actors, tells the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914. Created by Latte Da's Artistic Director Peter Rothstein, the show takes us from the soldier's excitement at going off to war and having adventures, to the realization that war is truly awful, to that one day of peace they found in the trenches, when both sides put down their weapons and celebrated their common humanity.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"Ghost Quartet" by Theatre Elision at North Garden Theater

In their second full season, new-ish #TCTheater company Theatre Elision, which specializes in small cast female-focused rarely done or original one-act musicals, is bringing back Dave Malloy's Ghost Quartet from their first season. And judging by the audience reaction, they might be stuck doing this show every fall. First of all, this ghostly song cycle by the creator of Broadway's Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is a gorgeous, unique, interesting, creepy score. And secondly, Elision's production is really cool - immersive, participatory (the audience gets to play percussion!), performed by an excellent (and partly new this year) cast of singer/ actor/ musicians, and includes the serving of whiskey! It's a unique theater experience, musically haunting and beautiful, and an overall creepy cool vibe. This is my second* time seeing it, and I could definitely see it every year. It's playing through this Saturday only, with limited seating in the new North Garden Theater in St. Paul's West 7th neighborhood, so act fast! (Click here for info and tickets.)

"The Tempest" by Theatre Coup d'Etat at SpringHouse Ministry Center

Wikipedia tells me that The Tempest is "now considered to be one of Shakespeare's greatest works," but I'd never seen it (everything I know about theater I learned from watching #TCTheater). Until this week. Theatre Coup d'Etat brings us a stripped down, one act, in-the-round, intimate production in the non-traditional theater space that is SpringHouse Ministry Center, where they've often performed. I found that I like the play, that ends neither with everyone dead nor everyone married, like most Shakespeare plays seem to (although one couple is betrothed). Furthermore, the moral of the story seems to be forgiveness and peace, which is quite a refreshing story to experience these days. In the hands of this wonderful cast 13-person cast, this clear adaptation with great use of space, physicality, and music is the perfect introduction to The Tempest.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp: Acoustically Speaking" at the Ordway

Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp in Acoustically Speaking
(photo courtesy of the Ordway)
When someone asks me what my favorite musical is, my usual answer is: there are many musicals that I love, but only one whose lyrics are permanently tattooed on my body. That would be RENT: "no day but today." It's hard to say exactly why RENT has meant so much to me over the last 22 years. Growing up in suburban Minnesota, I didn't know much about Broadway, except for what I saw on the Tony Awards show. When RENT swept the Tonys in 1996 and went on to become a cultural phenomenon that year (think: Hamilton), I was in my early 20s, living on my own for the first time, trying to figure out this thing called life, much like the characters in the musical. For that and many other reasons, I really connected with it, and I fell in love with RENT - my first musical theater love.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

"Playlabs" at The Playwrights' Center

It's late October, and you know what that means - it's time for The Playwrights' Center's annual Playlabs Festival! Playlabs is a sort of concentrated version of what PWC does year-round, which is support playwrights in developing new works of theater. During this one week, three plays and playwrights receive workshop and rehearsal time, a director, a cast, and sometimes a designer or two. Each play has two readings that are free and open to the public; an important part of the new play development process is seeing how it reads in front of an audience. And that's where you come in, #TCTheater friends. We're at the halfway point, each play has had one reading, the team is back in the lab continuing to tweak things, and the final readings occur this Friday and Saturday (along with a Fellows Showcase on Sunday). You can still register for all three readings here, or show up and get on the waitlist. It's such a thrill to be a part of the process, and a privilege to be able to experience some amazing plays in the early stages, as brought to life by a top notch #TCTheater cast. Read on for descriptions of all three plays, and a few thoughts on the one(s) I've seen so far.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"Preferred by Discreet Women Everywhere" by Freshwater Theatre at the Crane Theater

This fall, Freshwater Theatre is featuring new work by women artists, and they couldn't have picked a better time. In rep with a short play festival called "The Feminine Surcharge," they're presenting a collection of three short plays set in a women's bathroom. A place where many of us spend a considerable amount of time. While my visits to the restroom are usually less dramatic than these, it certainly is a place for drama, for strangers coming together, for friends having intimate conversations, for women hiding from undesirable people or events outside the bathroom door (true confession: I've been known to spend a longer time than necessary in the bathroom when events are awkward or boring or uncomfortable). Ruth Virkus' three plays under the title Preferred by Discreet Women Everywhere explore these ideas. The result is funny and real and poignant, and feminist. An all-female cast and creative team shouldn't be as rare and novel as it is, but you can witness it now through October 28 at the Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis.

Monday, October 22, 2018

"The Last Schwartz" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at the Highland Park Center Theatre

Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company brings us another modern (well, late '90s) Jewish family trying to maintain their cultural identity while living in the melting pot of America. Four siblings gather at the family home in upstate New York for their father's Jahrzeit (one-year anniversary of death), and disagree about just about everything. At times funny, at times heart-breaking, The Last Schwartz is an intense 90 minutes spent with a family that puts the fun in dysfunctional. Or as one character puts it when another laments "why can't you be a normal family?" - "this is a normal family."

Sunday, October 21, 2018

"I Come from Arizona" at the Children's Theatre Company

Two world premiere new works of theater are premiering at the Children's Theatre Company this fall (which is actually not that unusual for this company that focuses on new work). The main stage production of Last Stop on Market Street closed today (to make way for everyone's favorite furry green grump, another CTC original), but downstairs on the smaller Cargill stage, I Come from Arizona continues through the end of November. This very timely play (adapted by playwright Carolos Murillo from his play Augusta and Noble) speaks directly to the issues of the day, issues that children in the audience may be experiencing first-hand. Gabi is the child of undocumented immigrants, and has far more worries than any 14-year-old should. This production makes what for some of us may be abstract immigration policy ideas seem very real, and very human.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

"God of Carnage" at Lyric Arts

In 2009, God of Carnage won the Tony Award for best play. It closed in 2010, and the Guthrie produced it the following year, when I called it "a tightly wound, intense, darkly hilarious four-person play about what happens when our baser natures come to the surface." I still have vivid memories of it (which is noteworthy, considering I've seen over a thousand plays since them). It's a treat to revisit this smart, sharp comedy again in a well done production at Lyric Arts. The strong four-person ensemble is a great team, director Scott Ford has paced the 90-minute four-way conversation well, and the design tells us immediately where we are and who we're dealing with. To my knowledge, no #TCTheater has done this play since the Guthrie in 2011, so kudos to the little community theater in the 'burbs for tackling this prickly and sometimes unpleasant (in a good way) play and doing it so well.

Friday, October 19, 2018

"Scapin" by Ten Thousand Things

This spring, Michelle Hensley left the company she founded 25+ years ago, Ten Thousand Things, through which she nurtured a new kind of theater. The kind of theater that thinks first about the audience, makes the storytelling accessible to everyone, and brings theater to people who may never have experienced it before. I think we were all a little worried about the future of TTT without their esteemed leader, but never fear. Michelle has taught us well, and left the company in great hands - those of new Artistic Director Marcela Lorca, as well as adapter/director of the first post-MH show, Randy Reyes. This fun and wacky adaptation of the Moliere comedy Scapin is very TTT, and an absolute delight. Long live Ten Thousand Things!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"How to Contract Lycanthropy" by Rev. Matt's Monster Science at the Shoreview Library

If you've never seen Rev. Matt's Monster Science at the Minnesota Fringe Festival, or the Twin Cities Horror Festival, or the Phoenix, or your local library, this is a brief PSA to tell you why you should. Rev. Matt (aka Matthew Kessen) performed last night at my local library to an enthusiastic crowd of nerds, and a good time was had by all.

Friday, October 12, 2018

"The Great Society" at History Theatre

I'm not sure I've ever seen a play that feels (and is) as much of a direct sequel as History Theatre's production of Robert Schenkkan's The Great Society, a sequel to All the Way that History Theatre produced just a year ago. This play continues right were the last one left off, with Lyndon B. Joynson's second term as president (or really, his first full term after taking over for JFK halfway through his term). History Theatre reunites most of the cast and creative team from last year, including director Ron Peluso and Pearce Bunting as LBJ, a performance even more powerful than last year. What also continues from the last play is "political machinations, the Civil Rights movement, and the ugly opposition to freedom and equality for all," with a bonus - the rapid escalation of the Vietnam War. The rhetoric used by everyone on stage is disconcerting in a "the more things change, the more they stay the same" kind of way, as is the divisiveness of a country torn in two by politics. The Great Society is long, dense, and kind of depressing, but it's also extremely rewarding, and important to examine our history to give insight into the issues of today.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

"Elephant and Piggie's 'We Are In a Play!'" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

Lakeshore Players Theatre just opened their shiny new theater space in White Bear Lake this spring, and now they're starting a new "Kids and Family Series." To be honest, this isn't something I'd normally be interested in; I don't have children and haven't worked with children in over 20 years. But the cast of their first production, Elephant and Piggie's "We Are In a Play!", is one I couldn't pass up. My super talented cousin is making her #TCTheater debut, so of course I had to see it! In addition to her fantastic performance, I found the one-hour musical to be delightfully clever, and the kids in the audience were completely enraptured. It's never too early to introduce the little people in your life to theater, and this show is a great start. But note there are only a handful more performances and seating is limited in the intimate black box space, so make your plans soon (click here for info and tickets).

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

"Rough Cuts" at Nautilus Music-Theater: "Heartless" and "Heroine"

Nautilus Music-Theater, which focuses on new or reimagined works of music-theater (a term I love because it covers the wide range from "play with music" to "opera," without having to put a label on it), kicks off their 25th season of their "Rough Cuts" series this week. Typically held on the second Monday and Tuesday of the month, "Rough Cuts" presents readings of new works in various stages of development. This allows the creators to see their work in front of an audience, an important part of the theater development process. For a suggested donation of $5, you can be part of the process, and enjoy free milk and cookies! I always want to go to "Rough Cuts," but am usually too busy, so I took advantage of a quieter week to visit the Lowertown St. Paul studio (next door to Black Dog Cafe, for those who want something stronger with their cookies). They perform again tonight - this and any other "Rough Cuts" is highly recommended for those interested in the development of new works of music-theater.

Monday, October 8, 2018

"Mary Poppins" at Artistry

Artistry's Mary Poppins may be just the thing you need right now. That is, an escape from reality into the magical world of everyone's favorite nanny, filled with talking dogs, moving statues, high-flying kites, and fantastic dance numbers. Watching the show is, indeed, a jolly holiday as Artistry's large and talented cast brings the beloved movie to life with unstoppable energy. This is my third time seeing the 2004 stage adaptation of the 1964 classic movie and P.L. Travers' series of books, with book by Julian Fellowes (creator of Downton Abbey) and about a half dozen new songs added. I still think it's a bit long and bloated, with several scenes, songs, and characters that could be cut to make the runtime more child (and me) friendly than the current nearly 3 hours (which of course is no fault of Artistry, they have to work with the piece as written). But on the whole it's a heart-warming and smile-inducing show filled with moments of magic and delight for any age.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

"Two Degrees" by Prime Productions at Guthrie Theater

In just their second production, new #TCTheater company Prime Productions (whose mission is "to explore, illuminate and support women over fifty and their stories through the creative voice of performance," hooray!) brings us the regional premiere of the new play Two Degrees by Tira Palmquist. If their goal is to provide interesting and complex roles for women of a certain age that aren't that of merely the wife, mother, or best friend, then this play is a resounding success. Norah Long is one of our best actors, period, and it's wonderful to see her tackle the role of a smart, mature, vibrant, messy woman (think Shonda Rhimes heroines, but on stage). The play is a nice balance of stories global (i.e., the dangers of climate change, from whence comes the title) and personal.

Friday, October 5, 2018

"Understood" by Trademark Theater at Soma Studios

"People by and large are idiots." Wow, does this ever ring true, especially on a day when some of my fellow Minnesotans showed up and cheered for the current White House resident despite all the ugly things he's said and done. How can people do that?! It's completely incomprehensible to me; they are completely incomprehensible to me. This feeling is at the core of the new play Understood by Tyler Mills, which Trademark Theater is intentionally producing running up to next month's midterm election. Director Tyler Michaels notes in the program, "This play swirls around these two ideas: A broken couple and a broken country." In this thoughtful and thought-provoking two-hander, a married couple is looking to be understood by each other, the one that is supposed to know and love them best, and also by a stranger whose beliefs are inexplicable to them.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

"Frankenstein - Playing with Fire" at the Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie Theater is opening their 56th season (my 16th as a subscriber) with a play they commissioned 30 years ago. Minnesota playwright Barbara Field (who also provided the adaptation for the Guthrie's first A Christmas Carol, that they used for over 30 years) adapted Mary Shelly's famed novel Frankenstein as Frankenstein - Playing with Fire, premiering in 1988. About her work she says, "the animating spirit of this play is a hunger for science and knowledge that motivates the questions these two old men ask each other." One big long conversation between two people about science, philosophy, life, and death is a play that's right up my alley (bonus: mathematical equations!), especially when so beautifully designed and acted as this.

Monday, October 1, 2018

"Spinster Stories" Hosted by Heather Meyer at Strike Theater

I was at the dentist today for a quick repair of a chipped filling. While waiting for the novocaine to take effect, the hygienist was making small talk. She went through the usual topics - travel, work, weekend plans. Then she got to this topic. "Do you have children?" "No." "Are you married, significant other?" "No." "So it's just you then, huh?" Yes, it's just me. But it's not really just me. I was reassured last night that there are many "spinsters" like me who are single for a variety of reasons, and contrary to popular belief we're not all lonely damaged people. We can be just as happy and well-adjusted and fulfilled as "the marrieds," maybe even moreso. Six such people shared their experiences at Strike Theater in Northeast Minneapolis in an evening of storytelling called "Spinster Stories." Sadly, this was the final of two shows and there are no more scheduled (at the moment). But check out Strike's schedule for more storytelling, sketch comedy, and improv performances, including their one-year anniversary celebration this weekend!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

"The Visit" by Frank Theatre at the Minnesota Transportation Museum

To open their 30th season, intrepid nomadic #TCTheater company Frank Theatre is bringing us The Visit in the Minnesota Transportation Museum. This is actually the second play I've seen in this unique and super cool venue (see also Wayward and Mission's co-production of Ghost Train). Both plays are set (at least partly) in a train station, so the museum is a perfect location. Filled with vintage train equipment and displays (which you can wander through before the show and at intermission), the museum is fascinating but also kind of dark and creepy and cold, and smells a little like a garage. Which is the perfect atmosphere for Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt's absurd "tragicomic" play. This is a very Frank play, with a huge and talented cast and great commitment to the highly stylized design and tone of the play.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

"The Agitators" at Park Square Theatre

When planning their 2018-2019 season, Park Square Theatre couldn't have known how timely and relevant The Agitators would be. But then again, the lives and work of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass will never not be relevant and urgent until their dream of an America that is equal and just for all is realized. And we have not yet reached that day. That's why football players take the knee during the National Anthem, and why women take to the streets in pink hats. It's the legacy of these two self-described (at least in the words of the play) agitators, people who stir things up and get people talking, because that's where change begins. Their legacy is also our right to vote, which these two (among many) fought so hard to secure for all Americans. With what feels like the most important mid-term election in history approaching, it's a perfect time for this play to remind us just why the vote is so important that these two agitators devoted their entire lives to it. Playwrights' Center core writer Mat Smart's smart (pardon the pun), funny, engaging, and inspiring play couldn't come at a better time.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

"The Miracle Worker" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Yellow Tree Theatre opens their 11th season in their cozy little space in a strip mall in suburban Osseo with an inspirational true story about two remarkable women. We all know the story of the first deaf-blind person to earn a college degree, Helen Keller, and her teacher Anne Sullivan, an orphan with vision problems of her own. But seeing The Miracle Worker on stage brings this story to life in a way that books or movies cannot, and Yellow Tree's beautiful staging in their intimate space is moving and immediate.