Friday, November 30, 2018

"Black Nativity" at Penumbra Theatre

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

Monday, November 26, 2018

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

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

Saturday, November 24, 2018

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2018

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2018

"Noises Off" at the Guthrie Theater

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

Thursday, November 15, 2018

"Miracle on Christmas Lake" at Yellow Tree Theatre

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

Monday, November 12, 2018

"Present" at Illusion Theater

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2018

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

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

Thursday, November 8, 2018

"The Book of Mormon" at the Orpheum Theatre

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

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

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

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

Monday, November 5, 2018

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

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

Saturday, November 3, 2018

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

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

Friday, November 2, 2018

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

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