Saturday, June 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

"West Side Story" at the Guthrie Theater

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

Saturday, June 23, 2018

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

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

Friday, June 22, 2018

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

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

"Fellow Travelers" by Minnesota Opera at the Cowles Center

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

Sunday, June 17, 2018

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

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

Friday, June 15, 2018

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

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Equivocation" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Gremlin Theatre

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

Monday, June 11, 2018

"Steel Magnolias" at Lyric Arts

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

Sunday, June 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

"Chicago" Broadway tour at the Orpheum Theatre

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

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

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

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

Monday, June 4, 2018

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

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

Sunday, June 3, 2018

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

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

Saturday, June 2, 2018

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

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

Friday, June 1, 2018

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

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