Monday, March 19, 2018

"As One" by Skylark Opera Theatre at North Garden Theater

The new incarnation of Skylark Opera Theatre, under new Artistic Director Robert Neu, is presenting their third work of accessible, intimate opera. As someone who usually stays on the musical theater side of the music-theater spectrum, this approach seems like a good one for me, sort of bridging that gap between opera and music theater. After last year's stripped down adaptation of Carmen and an immersive Don Giovanni, they're now presenting a contemporary opera about a very timely subject. As One is a two-person 90-minute English language opera about Hannah, a transgender woman becoming herself. She is played by both a man and a woman, pre- and post-transition. It's a beautiful, heart-breaking, inspirational, ultimately hopeful story gorgeously told through music. The intimate new space that is North Garden Theater, in St. Paul's West 7th neighborhood, is the perfect location to experience this sparse-in-spectacle but rich-in-substance opera. But act fast - only three more performances remain this weekend (click here for more info and tickets).

Sunday, March 18, 2018

"Newsies" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

The Children’s Crusade: kids walk out of their jobs or schools to take to the streets and stand up for what they believe in, for a fairer and safer world. Does this describe recent current events, a historical event, or the plot of a Disney musical? Trick question - the answer is all of the above! At the same time that the children of Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of latest tragic school shooting, are leading children across the country in making their voices heard, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is presenting the regional premiere of Newsies, a new musical adaptation of the 1992 Disney movie based on the historical newsboy strike of 1899. As is happening today in real life, the kids involved the historical strike and the characters in the musical demand that the people in power listen to them in their call for justice. But the latter group does it with music and fabulous dancing. Children truly are our hope for the future, and Newsies celebrates that idea while providing a fun, entertaining, and inspirational show.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"The Great Divide II: Plays on the Politics of Truth" at Pillsbury House Theatre

Last year, just a few months into this divisive presidency, Pillsbury House Theatre presented a series of short plays commissioned from local playwrights titled The Great Divide: Plays for a Broken Nation. Utilizing art not to judge or blame, but to explore where we are at this present moment, how we got here, and how we can move forward. One year later, it feels like we're more divisive than ever (although not without a few glimmers of hope), and Pillsbury House has yet again commissioned five short plays, this time under the title The Great Divide II: Plays on the Politics of Truth. They asked the playwrights, "What does truth have to do with our us vs. them mentalities? What is the difference between fact and truth anyway, and does it matter? What happens when our firmly embedded emotions become facts?" The result is five very different and very thoughtful plays, all dealing in some (more or less obvious) way with truth.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

NYC Trip 2018: "Sweeney Todd" at the Barrow Street Theatre

Show*: 6

Title: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Location: Barrow Street Theatre

Written By: Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and Hugh Wheeler (book)

Summary: Stephen Sondheim's story of the murderous barber gets immersive treatment in this Off-Broadway production in a theater that's been turned into a pie shop.

NYC Trip 2018: "Three Tall Women" at the Golden Theatre

Show*: 5

Title: Three Tall Women

Location: Golden Theatre

Written By: Edward Albee

Summary: The Broadway premiere of Edward Albee's 1994 Pulitzer Prize winning play in which a wealthy old woman looks back on her life.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

2018 NYC Trip: "Angels in America" at the Neil Simon Theatre

Show*: 3 and 4

Title: Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes
Part 1: Millenium Approaches
Part 2: Perestroika

Location: Neil Simon Theatre

Written By: Tony Kushner

Summary: A revival (out of the National Theatre in London) of Tony Kusher's epic masterpiece centered around the AIDS crisis in NYC in the '80s, but also exploring politics, relationships, the gay culture, religion, and the very nature and purpose of life itself.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

2018 NYC Trip: "Carousel" at the Imperial Theatre

Show*: 2

Title: Carousel

Location: Imperial Theatre

Written By: Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein (book and lyrics)

Summary: A gorgeous new revival of the 1945 dark but beautiful R&H classic musical about the troubled carousel barker and the woman he loves.

Friday, March 9, 2018

NYC 2018 Trip: "The Band's Visit" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre

Show*: 1

Title: The Band's Visit

Location: Ethel Barrymore Theatre

Written By: David Yazbek (music and lyrics) and Itamar Moses (book)

Summary: A group of eight musicians from Egypt end up in a small Israeli town due to a mix-up. Nothing much happens, and everything happens.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

"School of Rock" Broadway tour at the Orpheum Theatre

#TCTheater friends, I'm coming to you from NYC, the great white way, where I'm going to see as many Broadway shows as I possibly can, and share my experiences with you right here and on Instagram. But don't feel too envious of me, if you can't come to Broadway, Broadway will come to you. The latest Broadway show to make its way across the country to Minneapolis is Andrew Lloyd Webber's smash hit musical adaptation of the 2003 Jack Black movie School of Rock (with book by Julian Fellowes, the same writer who gave us all those delightful Dowager quips), which opened in 2015 and is still running. While it's no secret that I am not typically a fan of the movie musical adaptation, this one makes more sense than some because the source material is a story about music. About our love of music, and the power of music to inspire, motivate, and bring people together. It's also an excuse for a dozen incredibly talented young quadruple threats (act, sing, dance, play an instrument) to rock out on stage, and for the audience to rock out with them. The cliched motivational teacher story comes alive due to the talent of these kids (and the grown-ups onstage with them) and ALW's catchy rock score.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

"Princess Ida" by Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company at Howard Conn Fine Arts Center

This is the fourth year in a row I've attended Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company's spring production of, you guessed it, a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Before becoming familiar with this company (that's been around for more than 30 years), I had no idea G&S wrote so many shows! I was only familiar with the more popular ones (e.g., Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore, both of which I love), and it's been fun to discover the lesser known and performed works of this unique composing team. This year they're performing Princess Ida in a steampunk style (which just makes everything more fun). And similar to Park Square Theatre's ingenious adaptation of Pirates of Penzance (now playing through March 24), GSVLOC has made some minor adjustments that make this 130 year old play a little more palatable to modern ears. The result is quite a feminist story of a university by and for women, who live without men. It's Gilbert and Sullivan, so of course it ends with a happy ending to a love story, but at least these female characters are a little more smart and independent than the usual. And as always, it's such a treat to the ears to hear an operetta performed with cast and orchestra too large to count (but north of 30). Traditional, yet modern, this Princess Ida strikes just the right tone.

"Melancholy Play" by Theatre Elision at the Crane Theater

"Melancholy is gazing through an open window with longing. Depression is behind a thick pane of glass." This line from the Sarah Ruhl/David Almond musical Melancholy Play explains why, perhaps, melancholy isn't such a bad place to be for a spell. There's nothing romantic about depression, of course, but melancholy can be a bittersweet feeling. I love music and stories with a touch of melancholy, that sort of wistful feeling. Somehow it feels more real than the everything-is-sunny kind of story. This musical-called-play explores that idea through the quirky character Tilly and her even more quirky friends. Theatre Elision has been bringing us new or rarely produced female-focused musicals for about a year now, and Melancholy Play is square in their wheelhouse and a lovely addition to their repertoire. But like all of their shows, it sadly plays for one weekend only. And since I'm a little late in getting this to you, you only have one more chance to see it - today!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

"Indecent" at the Guthrie Theater

Fresh off of Broadway, Indecent has arrived at the Guthrie Theater. Ingeniously written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel (who made her Broadway and Guthrie debuts with this play and is currently the toast of the town), the play tells the story of a play, the history of the world around it, and the interaction of the two. It's about so many things, among them the depiction of a lesbian romance on stage in the early 20th Century, the role of theater in the world, the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust, and the resulting decline of a language and a culture because of it. This new production is gorgeously designed and beautifully performed by the seven-person mostly local cast, for an incredibly moving, enlightening, thought-provoking evening of theater.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"Park and Lake" by Ten Thousand Things at Open Book

Friends, I love Ten Thousand Things. Seeing a Ten Thousand Things show (in their trademark bare-bones All the Lights On style) never fails to make me happy, and often also moves or inspires or thrills me. Their newest creation Park and Lake, an original piece written by playwright in residence Kira Obolensky and the ensemble, is no exception to that. It's a light-hearted, funny, optimistic fairy tale of a story about a community of people working together to make their lives better. It's as sweet and hopeful as it is ridiculous and silly. Under the co-direction of soon to be retired Artistic Director Michelle Hensley and ensemble member Luverne Seifert, with uniquely comic performances by this wonderful cast, Park and Lake is a delightful place to visit for a few hours. In fact I wish I could move there for an extended stay with these charming oddballs!

Monday, February 26, 2018

"Collected Stories" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at the Highland Park Center Theatre

I recently commented that I love two-people-sitting-in-a-room-talking kind of plays. Collected Stories is one of those plays. But rather than one long conversation, it's a series of conversations over six years in an ever changing teacher/student relationship. Written 20 years ago by Donald Margulies, the play does not feel dated (except in character wardrobes and phone references), but rather is a smart and thoughtful exploration of what it means to be a mentor, a mentee, and a writer of stories, yours or others. I found Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's production, playing now through March 18, to be entertaining, engaging, and thought-provoking.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

"Peter and Alice" by Candid Theatre Company at Fallout Arts Initiative

Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland are two of the most iconic characters in children's literature. Both were inspired by real people, Peter Llewelyn Davis and Alice Liddell, who were children befriended by the authors J.M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll. One would think they'd have a lot in common, and a lot to talk about, both living their lives under the shadow of this iconic image of childhood. History tells us they actually did meet, and playwright John Logan imagines what their conversation was like in the play Peter and Alice. Reality, memories, and imagination all mix together to tell a moving story of the joy and pain of growing up. Candid Theatre Company's wonderful and intimate production of Peter and Alice is playing at Fallout Arts Initiative in South Minneapolis through March 4.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

"The Royale" at Yellow Tree Theatre

I've learned more about boxing from #TCTheater this month that I ever knew before! But of course, like Illusion Theater's world premiere of Dancing with Giants (closing this weekend), Yellow Tree Theatre's regional premiere of The Royale is about much more than boxing. While Dancing with Giants explored pre-WWII international politics through the story of boxers, including African American heavyweight champion Joe Louis, The Royale takes us back a few decades earlier to explore race relations right here in America through the story of Jack Johnson, the first ever African American heavyweight champion (that's way more boxing words than I ever thought I'd write). The play is sparse in length (not much more than an hour) and words, and almost feels like a dance musical in its rhythmic dialogue and graceful movement. It's a powerful and dynamic experience that flies by in no time.

Monday, February 19, 2018

"Two Mile Hollow" by Theater Mu and Mixed Blood Theatre

My 280-character (or less) review of Theater Mu and Mixed Blood Theatre's first ever collaboration:
Friends, run don't walk to see #twomilehollow (co-production from @theatermu and @mixed_blood). I can't decide whom I love most in this cast of comic geniuses! But behind all the wackiness and humor is some seriously smart commentary on race and class in America.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

"You Can't Take It With You" at Lyric Arts

You can't take it with you. Meaning money, meaning when you die. What's the point of racking up piles of money at the expense of living? It's more important to rack up experiences and time spent doing the things you love with the people you love. At least that's the moral of the story in the classic play You Can't Take It With You, now playing at Lyric Arts Main Street Stage in Anoka. This 80-year-old play may be a little dated and old-fashioned, and I don't really see the urgency of doing this play at this moment in time. And of course, it's a privileged class of people who can contemplate giving up their high-paying job to spend more time on their hobbies. That being said, this is still a charming, funny, and uplifting play, a good way to spend an evening and a good reminder to not overlook the important things in life.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"Pirates of Penzance" at Park Square Theatre

Park Square Theatre's new production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic comic operetta The Pirates of Penzance, re-imagined by director Doug Scholz-Carlson, music director Denise Prosek, and this dreamy nine-person cast, is indeed a divine emollient. But it's not just pure escapist silliness. G&S, in addition to writing hilariously clever and gorgeously melodic pieces, also included more than a little social and political commentary in their work. Amidst all the humor and fun lies some insightful questioning of the society and politics of Victorian England. So it is entirely appropriate, then, that this 2018 production has been updated to include some current social and political commentary, and some of the dated concepts of the piece have been modernized. The result is a supremely entertaining musical that's refreshingly modern, while still respectful of the source, and even providing some historical context around the 1879 NYC premiere. I've been in love with The Pirates of Penzance since first seeing it at the Guthrie 14 years ago, then discovering the glorious Kevin Kline-ness of the early '80s Broadway production and movie. I've now found whole new ways to love it.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"My Mother Has 4 Noses" at the Jungle Theater

Jonatha Brooke took care of her aging mother, suffering from dementia, for the last two years of her life. And because she's a singer/songwriter, she wrote some songs about it. And then she wrote some stories about it. And prompted by an idea from her mother, herself an artist, she wove these stories and songs into a one-woman show called My Mother Has 4 Noses. First performed off-Broadway in 2014, just two years after her mother's death, Jonatha now brings it to the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis. Everyone who has ever had a mother should go see this show. It's a funny, painful, moving, beautiful story of love, brilliantly and very personally told by the woman who lived it. Theater doesn't get much more real than this.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"The Humans" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

The aptly titled Tony Award-winning Broadway play The Humans is currently touring the country, stopping at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre for one week only. It's one of those plays where nothing really happens in the 90-ish intermissionless minutes, with the story playing out in real time. But in the nothing really happening, volumes are spoken about humanity. Playwright Stephen Karem (whose Sons of the Prophet was produced at Park Square Theatre two years ago) has written a play that sounds so realistic, with characters talking over each other just like in real life (which means sometimes you miss a line or two, just like in real life). It's truly a play about what it means to be human, with all the challenges and joy that entails.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"A Crack in the Sky" at History Theatre

The world premiere new play A Crack in the Sky, now playing at St. Paul's History Theatre, teams up Ahmed Ismail Yusef, author of the book Somalis in Minnesota, with Playwrights' Center core writer Harrison David Rivers* to tell Ahmed's very personal and very relatable story of being a Somali immigrant in America. The play was workshopped and read last year as part of History Theatre's Raw Stages series, and has now come beautifully to full life in this production. It's a play that's funny and playful, short and sweet, and tells a very human story of a man striving to make a better life for himself and his family, while pursuing his love of knowledge and storytelling.

Monday, February 12, 2018

"Assassins" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Someone tell the story
Someone sing the song
Every now and then the country
Goes a little wrong
Every now and then a mad man's
Bound to come along
Doesn't stop the story
Story's pretty strong
Doesn't change the song.

Once again, Theater Latte Da brings us exactly the show we need, right when we need it most (see also Ragtime on the cusp of the election, and last fall's hopeful Man of La Mancha). This time it's Stephen Sondheim's darkly funny and deeply disturbing look at historical presidential assassinations and attempts, and the individuals who perpetrated these horrific crimes. Assassins is not an easy show to watch. It draws you in with the fun carnival atmosphere and the wildly comedic characters, as well as the incredible staging and performances in TLD's production, helmed by #TCTheater's best music-theater director Peter Rothstein. But it will leave you with an unpleasant feeling deep in your gut at the true horror of the crimes the assassins committed, and the world that created them, the world we all live in.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

"Make Believe Neighborhood" at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre

I, like millions of children in America and across the world, grew up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which aired on PBS from 1968 through 2001. But I don't think I realized at the time what an exceptionally good and kind human Fred Rogers was, a strong advocate for children's education and development, and for kindness towards all. All I knew as a kid is that Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was a comforting place to spend a half hour, and I especially loved the Neighborhood of Make Believe (where I first experienced opera). In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, located in the Phillips neighborhood of south Minneapolis, is premiering an original multi-media play called Make Believe Neighborhood that pays homage to the work of Fred Rogers, as well as to the good work being done in their own neighborhood. I spent much of the two hours with tears behind my eyes, so moved by the kindness of my childhood favorite, and by the inspirational people working to create and strengthen community in Phillips. In a world of increasing violence, negativity, and divisiveness, spending a little time in this Make Believe Neighborhood, and learning how one neighborhood is making Mister Rogers' vision a reality, is a balm to the soul.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

"Dancing with Giants" at Illusion Theater

I'll admit it. Before I was a theater geek, I was a TV geek. I grew up watching TV, and my best friends were characters on TV shows. I'm still a TV geek, and I still consider TV characters* my friends. So when I heard that an actor from two of my favorite current shows was doing a play in Minneapolis, I didn't even care what or where the play was. I was going to see Rebecca Bunch's mother / Deanna (who's Deanna?) no matter what. As it turns out, Tovah Feldshuh has some ties to the #TCTheater community, having studied and worked at the University of Minnesota and the Guthrie back in the day. Her brother, playwright/director David Feldshuh, has an even deeper connection, specifically with Illusion Theater, which is premiering his new play Dancing with Giants. I'm happy to report that not only is Tovah a delight live on stage, but this is also an entertaining, educational, funny, and sobering play. It's obviously a labor of love for the Feldshuh family, and Minneapolis/St. Paul theater-goers are lucky to be able to experience it first.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Ruth Easton New Play Series at Playwrights' Center

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

Monday, January 29, 2018

"Noises Off" at Artistry

For the first time that I can remember, Artistry is staging a musical in their smaller black box space, and a play in their larger traditional theater space. It makes perfect sense when the musical is the intimate two-hander The Last Five Years, better served by a smaller space and smaller elements of production, and the play is the hilarious back-stage farce Noises Off, which requires a huge rotating set. The switch pays off, with a nearly sold out run of L5Y, and a rollicking good time in Noises Off. The utterly delightful cast, directed by Artistic Director Benjamin McGovern, plays up the ridiculousness of the script to maximum effect. And all of the theater insideriness will make me wonder what's really going on backstage when a play starts late.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

"The Wiz" at the Children's Theatre, a co-production with Penumbra Theatre

"Combining CTC's critical literacy work and Penumbra's racial justice work allows us to forge something together that neither could do alone." These words in the playbill of The Wiz, the first collaboration between these two acclaimed #TCTheater companies, brought tears to my eyes before the show even started. Especially after wading through a sea of children of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds. In an increasingly divided world, Penumbra (one of the longest-running and most acclaimed African American theater companies in the nation) and Children's Theatre (ditto for children's theater) give me hope, as individual companies and especially in this collaboration in which an all-black cast tells a story of a young black woman who discovers her own power through the help of friends. They give me hope that maybe we can overcome our seemingly insurmountable differences and join together in song and awesome dance to solve our problems. It's possible, right? Can't you feel a brand new day? Indeed I can.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

"Cardboard Piano" at Park Square Theatre

Forgiveness. Redemption. Healing. Can you always repair something that you broke if you try hard enough? Or will some things remain forever broken? Can we do bad things, I mean really bad things, and somehow wash our souls clean to become "good" again? Can you forgive someone who's responsible for the greatest hurt of your life? And if not, how do you ever recover from that hurt?

These are some of the ideas and questions brought to mind by the beautiful and devastating new play Cardboard Piano at Park Square Theatre. You know a love story between two young women in Uganda on the eve of the new millennium will not end happily, and this one sure doesn't. It left me feeling absolutely broken. But perhaps hopeful that healing can be possible if we listen to each other and try to understand.

Friday, January 26, 2018

"The Maids" by Dark and Stormy Productions at Grain Belt Warehouse

My blogger friend: "Imagine if someone saw this play who didn't know Jean Genet was this great
existential playwright."
Me: (Raises hand.)

Such was the conversation after opening night of Dark and Stormy's The Maids, when I said, "I have no idea what just happened." Friends, I'm not a theater person (Maureen). I've never studied or created theater, I come at this theater blogging thing strictly from the audience perspective. Hence the playwright and this play were unfamiliar to me before last night. All I knew is that it was about two maids who planned to kill their employer. Whether or not they succeeded in that I really can't tell you, but I don't think that's the point. I'm actually not sure what the point is, but this play is fascinating, if perplexing, and worth seeing for the performances of this three-person female cast alone.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

"Our House: The Capitol Play Project" by Wonderlust Productions at the Minnesota State Capitol

I've never experienced anything quite like Wonderlust Productions' Our House: The Capitol Play Project. I've been to site-specific productions before, but none that have been written specifically about that site, telling the true stories of the people who daily inhabit that site, with a cast largely made up of those people. The site in this case is our house, the people's house, the Capitol of the great state of Minnesota, and the people whose stories are told are not the famous and/or infamous politicians one usually associates with the government, but everyone who works there, performing the unglamorous day-to-day hard work of keeping the state running. After following the actors (and "real people!") around our house for two and a half hours (a building I have not stepped foot in since a barely remembered school field trip over 30 years ago), I felt both better and worse about the system that governs our lives. Our House is unabashedly sincere and optimistic about the people who work in government, but it's also harshly realistic about the inefficiencies and corruption within the system. It's a shame this is such a short run (just six sold-out* performances), and I really hope they bring it back. More impactful than any high school civics class could be, it should be required viewing for every citizen.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

"Superior Donuts" at Lyric Arts

"Loving #SuperiorDonuts @LyricArtsAnoka! Smart, funny, relevant play by #TracyLetts and great cast! And it's nice to see some diversity on the stage and in the audience. #intermissiontweets."
Twitter @cherryandspoon

Sometimes 280 characters is all you need. But I've got a few more here, so I'll expand on last night's intermission tweet. Lyric Arts' production of Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts, which premiered at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater ten years ago, is one of the best things I've seen there. I almost always enjoy my trip to Anoka to see theater at Lyric, but my biggest complaint has been the lack of diversity on the stage at this theater in the 'burbs that only recently transitioned out of being a community theater. This play is a great step in the right direction, a new-ish play by a current acclaimed American playwright. And this cast is fantastic, really bringing out the heart and humor of the piece. Friends, if you've not been to Lyric lately, now is the time to head up Highway 10 to the old movie theater on Main Street (it's not as far as you think).

Friday, January 19, 2018

"Ruthless!" by Theatre Elision at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center

My favorite new #TCTheater company of 2017 is starting off 2018 with a fantastic little show that's just about everything one could want from a dark comedy musical. Theatre Elision's Ruthless! includes clever and hilarious writing by Joel Paley, a great score by Marvin Laird, lots of spoofy musical theater references, and a terrific cast of six local women that performs the heck out of the piece, even in this staged reading format. The downside is it's playing for one weekend only with just three performances left (Friday and Saturday nights plus a Sunday matinee) so act fast! If you're a fan of dark comedy, musical theater jokes, and/or talented women, you don't want to miss Ruthless! (Click here for more info.)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

"The Last Five Years" at Artistry

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"Ishmael" at Jungle Theater

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

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

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

"A Steady Rain" at Gremlin Theatre

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

Sunday, January 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"Musical Mondays" at LUSH, January 2018

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

Sunday, January 7, 2018

"Rhinoceros" at Theatre in the Round

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

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Most Popular Posts of 2017

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

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

Monday, January 1, 2018

My 2017 #TCTheater Favorites

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