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 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).