Saturday, March 31, 2018

"Dance 'Til You Drop" at History Theatre, a Co-Production with COLLIDE Theatrical Dance Company

What do you get when you combine COLLIDE Theatrical Dance Company, known for creating original dance musicals, with the History Theatre, dedicated to creating new work based on or inspired by true events in Minnesota history? You get Dance 'Til You Drop, a dance musical about a Minnesota dance team who competed and set a record in a dance marathon in the 1930s. Let's call it an original historical dance musical! Like all COLLIDE productions, it features exquisite storytelling through dance, and like all History Theatre shows, it's an informative and compelling look at history and how it relates to today. It's fun, inspirational, nostalgic, and over in a quick two hours that will leave you wanting more.

Friday, March 30, 2018

"Familiar" at the Guthrie Theater

By all appearances, Danai Gurira is on top of the world right now. She stars in the current biggest movie in the world, Black Panther; is a cast member of one of the most popular shows on TV, The Walking Dead; recently had her Broadway premiere as a playwright with Eclipsed, the first Broadway play with an all-female and African American cast and creative team; and now her play Familiar is premiering in Minnesota, where it is set and where she spent some of her formative years (she was born in Iowa, raised in her parents' native Zimbabwe, and returned to the Midwest to attend Macalester College). Phew! How can one person be so accomplished and talented? I don't know Danai, but I'm guessing the answer is many years of hard work and dedication. All of this is reason enough to see Familiar at the Guthrie, with all of the attending buzz, but the reason to love it is that it's a really wonderful play with a brilliant cast. As the title implies, it's about families, one specific Zimbabwean-Minnesotan family in particular, that will feel familiar to anyone with a family.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Exclusive Announcement of Lyrics Arts' 2018-2019 Season!

For the second year in a row, I am honored to bring you an exclusive announcement of Lyric Arts' upcoming season! I've been a fan of the Anoka theater for years, and am excited for another thrilling season of theater in the 'burbs (including what I believe is the regional premiere of Idina Menzel's latest musical, If/Then).

Without further ado, here is what you can see at Lyric Arts next season (visit Lyric Arts' website or Facebook page for updated information.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

"Measure for Measure" by Theatre Unbound at Gremlin Theater

Theatre Unbound, aka The Women's Theatre, is tackling one of Shakespeare's "problem plays," so called because it falls in between the categories of comedy (in which everyone ends up happily married) and tragedy (in which everyone ends up dead, or almost everyone). They specifically chose this play for this moment because, as director Kate Powers notes in the playbill, "Measure for Measure is a potent reminder that #metoo is a centuries' old problem, that men extracting or pressuring women for sex as a transactional exchange has long been among us. Shakespeare is exploring corruption of authority, the intersection, or bypass of, justice with mercy, and sexual misdeeds that continue to infect our society and oppress those who are not invited to share in governance." Their production is powerful and well-acted, if a bit long. I wish they would have trimmed it a bit to better hone in on the important issues, but that may just be due to my growing intolerance for sitting for three hours (Angels in America notwithstanding). Still, it's a timely production of a 400-year-old play that's surprisingly relevant.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Leslie Odom Jr. with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall

photo credit: Nathan Johnson
Last weekend, Aaron Burr arrived in Minneapolis. Or rather, the man responsible for creating empathy for the historical figure formerly known only as the guy who killed Alexander Hamilton, thanks to his Tony-winning performance in the musical masterpiece Hamilton (which I was fortunate enough to witness). But Leslie Odom, Jr. is so much more than Aaron Burr, as those of us lucky enough to be in the room where it happened (aka Orchestra Hall), experienced.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

"Luna Gale" by Underdog Theatre at the Southern Theater

Exciting new theater company Underdog Theatre, founded by rising #TCTheater star Kory LaQuess Pullam, is presenting their third work, the first one that's not an original play written by Kory. And it's a tough one. Luna Gale is a sobering look at the system that's supposed to help young people in trouble, and the ways that it fails them. It's a heart-breaking story, but not without a glimmer of hope, thanks to the caring people who work within this broken system. And this really wonderful cast makes you feel every emotion of the story, which is sometimes unpleasant, but very effective in creating empathy for these humans and the difficult situation they find themselves in. Underdog's mission is to "create art for the underserved, underrepresented, and unheard," which is beautifully accomplished here.

Friday, March 23, 2018

"She Loves Me" at Lyric Arts

The 1963 Bock and Harnick creation She Loves Me is a delicious musical that stands the test of time. Based on a 1937 Hungarian play, the basic story has been told in multiple iterations, including the 1940 Jimmy Stewart movie The Shop Around the Corner, and the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan remake You've Got Mail. But She Loves Me tells it in musical form, which IMO is always the better way to go. I saw it 13 years ago at the Guthrie and remember being completely enamored of it. My next experience with it was the live-stream of the 2016 Broadway revival, also quite yummy. And perhaps because of the success of that revival, there are three planned #TCTheater productions of She Loves Me within the space of year. First up is Lyric Arts in Anoka, to be followed by Daleko in New Prague in May, and as part of Artistry's recently announced 2018-2019 season. I may need to see all of these versions, because I found Lyric's production to be be just dreamy and extremely well done (with just one complaint that I'll get to later). Friends, if you like classic, clever, musically delicious, timeless musicals, head to Anoka before April 15. They have a loyal fan base and tend to sell out musicals, so you might want to get your tickets sooner rather than later (more info here).

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"Rocket Man" by Theatre Pro Rata at the Crane Theater

Friends, this one gave me all the feels. Theatre Pro Rata's production of Steven Dietz's play Rocket Man checked all the boxes for me. It's a little odd and unpredictable, and explores the ideas of family, science, faith, regrets, time, and life itself. And the truly wonderful and natural five-person cast, under director Stuart Gates, along with the deceptively simple design, bring it to life beautifully. But it's one of those plays I'm not quite sure how to write about. I don't want to spoil what happens, because half the fun of the play is figuring that out as it goes along. I'll try to give you a taste of it, and then if you're curious, you can go see the rest for yourself.

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.