Friday, March 22, 2019

"Candide" by VocalEssence and Theatre Latte Da at the Cowles Center

Leonard Bernstein is one of the best 20th Century American composers (not to mention pianist and conductor, as I learned last year). His Candide is stunningly beautiful, but based on Voltaire's 18th Century satirical novel, it's a bit... weird. Twin Cities vocal ensemble VocalEssence and music-theater company Theater Latte Da have combined to solve this little problem, and bring us all of the best of Berstein's Candide. Director Peter Rothstein has a way of tweaking a piece just enough to bring out its purist truth, and he's done that here. With a short rehearsal time and just one weekend of performances of this "theatrical concert," he has staged it as a 1930s radio play, complete with sound effects. The result is something clever, charming, not too weighted down with plot complications, and musically stunning. Sadly the entire run is sold out, but I heard a rumor that they're selling standing room only tickets at the door if you want to take a chance to see this charmingly rendered and musically delicious production of a classic.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play" at the Jungle Theater

On the heels of the remount of the 2018 hit The Wolves, Jungle Theater brings us another smart, funny, touching, nuanced portrayal of teenage girls in the new play School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play by Ghanaian-American playwright Jocelyn Bioh. But this time instead of American soccer players, the girls are students at a prestigious boarding school in Ghana. Although their lives growing up in West Africa are likely very different from most of you reading this blog, their emotions, struggles, triumphs, and dreams are the same. In a very fast 70 minutes, we get a glimpse into these girls' lives as they deal with family pressure, poverty, bullying, competition, colorism, and problematic standards of beauty. Like in The Wolves, they're all fully formed complex humans that I'd like to spend more time with.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"The Cradle Will Rock" by Frank Theatre at Gremlin Theatre

"When the wind blows, the cradle will rock." This sweet and innocent lullaby takes on a whole new meaning in Frank Theatre's production of the 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock. Don't feel bad if you've never heard of it; I hadn't either, and really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I went to see it at Gremlin Theatre last weekend. For a piece that was so revolutionary at the time (the original production was shut down due to its pro-union stance and skewering of the power structure), it's still extraordinarily relevant. It feels like it could have been written in 2019. As usual, director Wendy Knox and her cast and creative team have created a manifestation of the written play that is incredibly detailed, thoughtful, consistent, and true to the message. And better yet, they do it in 90 minutes with no intermission. In the past I've had problems staying engaged for over three hours at a Frank show; no matter how good the play is, that's both a physical and a mental challenge for me. But 90 minutes seems the perfect length for this sort of thing. They fully but succinctly tell the story in an incredibly effective way, without the premise wearing thin or any redundancies. It's truly a rousing and gripping piece of theater (with music!) that will stay with you long after you leave the theater.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

"When We Were Young and Unafraid" by Persistent Theatre Productions at Fallout Urban Arts Center

"Nevertheless, she persisted" has become a manifesto for female empowerment, and it has also become a #TCTheater company. Founded in 2017, Persistent Theatre Productions is all about "lifting women through untold stories." They do that through their choice of plays (original, classics, or new plays by women) and by hiring women behind the scenes. Their newest production is When We Were Young and Unafraid, which premiered Off-Broadway five years ago. It explores the lives of women and the idea of feminism in the early '70s, a time very different from our own in some ways, but in other ways not so different. The untold story it tells is that of domestic violence, always an important story to tell and to hear. Persistent tells it with a strong cast in an intimate setting that leaves nowhere to hide from the sometimes difficult emotions.

"The Hobbit" at Children's Theatre Company

Children's Theatre Company proves that you don't need eight hours, the most advanced technology for visual effects, and 765 million dollars to tell J.R.R. Tolkien's slimmest and sweetest story about the unlikeliest of heroes in literature. You can do it in just two hours with five actors, two musicians, and a whole lot of heart and imagination. The new adaptation of The Hobbit by playwright/director Greg Banks (who shockingly had never read the book before beginning this project), with music by Thomas Johnson, is a wonderful way to bring this story to new audiences, as well as delight Tolkien enthusiasts like myself with the inventive storytelling of a familiar and beloved story.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

"Roe" at Mixed Blood Theatre

I'm not sure there is a more controversial or hotly debate Supreme Court decision than the 1973 case Roe v. Wade that confirmed that the constitutional right to privacy includes a woman's right to decide whether or not to end a pregnancy. Every American has heard of this case, and every American has an opinion about it, usually a very strong one. In Lisa Loomer's brilliant new play Roe, receiving just its second production at Mixed Blood Theatre ahead of a possible Broadway premiere, she explores the life of the two women behind the case: Norma McCorvey, the originally anonymous plaintiff, and Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who successfully argued the case in front of the Supreme Court. It's a fascinating story, not just the journey to the Supreme Court, but the continuing journey since. Or rather, two intersecting journeys for these two very different but equally determined women who parted ways somewhere along the line. But this is no dry history or legal lecture, or a preachy lesson. The play is smart, funny, dynamic, and moving, telling very human and relatable stories about very real and flawed characters. The cast and creative team bring it to life flawlessly, with all elements combining in a way that makes Roe the best thing I've seen this year. It closes at the end of the month, with many performances at or near sell-out; act fast so as not to miss this important and exciting new work (click here for more info and to reserve tickets).

Friday, March 15, 2019

"The Mikado" by The Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center

This long winter is beginning to transition into a very wet spring, which means it must be time for The Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company's annual production of a Gilbert and Sullivan classic comic opera. GSVLOC has been around for 40 years, but this is just my 5th year attending their spring show. I love G&S's fast, witty, joyful operas, and GSVLOC does them well with a huge cast and orchestra. This year they've partnered with Rick Shiomi, directing his adaptation of The Mikado which removes the Japanese stereotypes and modernizes some of the songs. G&S were famous for their biting social commentary, so I'm all for updating their shows to include more relevant social commentary, remove the offensive bits that no longer play to today's audience, but keep the things we love about the original (see also Park Square Theatre's Pirates of Penzance). This Mikado welcomes in the spring "with laughing song and merry dance."

Thursday, March 14, 2019

"She Persists: The Great Divide III" at Pillsbury House Theatre

For the third year in a row, Pillsbury House Theatre is presented a collection of short plays that speak to our divided nation. The 2017 collection was subtitled Plays for a Broken Nation, 2018 was Plays on the Politics of Truth, and 2019 is an all-female collection/creation called She Persists. The series has been a really wonderful way to examine what divides us in a non-judgmental, non-threatening way, while offering a path towards hope and greater connection and conversation with each other. With most theater companies planning their seasons out a year or more in advance, it's difficult for them to immediately respond to what's happening in the world. But this series allows for that, with five brand new 10-minute plays that could not be more timely and relevant.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Minnesota Fringe's "Women's March" at Minnsky Theatre

It's not August (the 75 feet of snow outside your door should tell you that) but that doesn't mean there's no Minnesota Fringe happening! In fact, they have at least one event every month through the festival dates of August 1-11 (and maybe after). In January, I attended the first Drafts and Draughts - readings of new works by Fringe companies, accompanied by local brew. In February the Fringe lottery was held (you can download a list of companies at the Fringe website). And this month brought us a mini-Fringe Festival called "Women's March," showcasing work by female-identifying artists. A few events were cancelled due to the umpteenth snowstorm of the winter, but it didn't stop the festival entirely. I attended two shows, and found it to be a wonderful event. The concept of a mini-Fringe at different times of the year is a fun one, so I hope they continue it. In the meantime, you can click here to see the full 2019 event list, including more Drafts and Draughts, free outdoor performances, and the annual Five-Fifths fundraiser. Yay Fringe!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

"Mamma Mia!" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

I fell head over heels for the Ordway Original production of Mamma Mia! last summer, calling it "fantastically fun and surprisingly moving, performed by a mostly local and all fabulous cast." So when I heard that Chanhassen Dinner Theatres had chosen it as their summer 2019 production, I thought, so soon? why? The answer is that it's an inherently fun and feel-good show show, and while the Ordway production still holds a special place in my heart, it only ran for two weeks and the Chan reaches a much larger out-state audience. There's room for two big, beautiful, fantastically fun Mamma Mia!s in this town. What I love most about this show is that it's very female-forward. Yes there are male characters, but it's truly about the women's stories. Better yet, it's about women loving and supporting each other, not competing with each other. The true love story at the heart of this piece is the love between parent and child, the love of lifelong female friendships. I can't think of any better message to celebrate this summer.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

"Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical" at Old Log Theatre

I love Rosemary Clooney. But I really don't know much about her outside of White Christmas, my favorite Christmas movie. I've seen it dozens of times, each time newly obsessed with Rosemary's performance, voice, hair, costumes. Or rather, I didn't know much about her, but I do now, thanks to Old Log Theatre's regional premiere of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical. Bio-musicals are all the rage right now (see also Beautiful, On Your Feet, and The Cher Show), and IMO there's not a better choice for a bio-musical than the velvet voiced crooner Rosemary Clooney (except maybe for Karen Carpenter - will someone please wright a bio-musical about her?!). Bio-musicals can sometimes seem forced or showy, but Tenderly is not. It's an intimate look at the life of the woman behind the voice we know and love. With just a three-person cast and three-person band, we really get to know Rosie (as her friends called her, and after this show you will feel like her friend) at one of the lowest times of her life - her 1968 hospitalization for addiction and mental illness. But we also get to experience the high points of her career, and how she persevered through the hard times and reinvented herself. Tenderly plays through June 8 at the charming Old Log Theatre in even more charming Excelsior, so perhaps as spring comes (and it will), a trip Out West to visit this lovely and historic lake town and the oldest theater west of the Mississippi (or so I hear) would ge a good way to celebrate.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

British author Roald Dahl's 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of our most beloved, magical, and somewhat twisted children's books. The 1971 film adaptation starring Gene Wilder is iconic (the 2005 Johnny Depp version less so). Perhaps due to the success of the musical adaptation of one of Roald Dahl's other beloved novels, Matilda (receiving its regional premiere at Children's Theatre Company this spring), Charlie was also adapted into a musical. It premiered on Broadway in 2017, where it ran for under a year and didn't make much of a splash, so I went to the Broadway tour last night with not very high expectations. Which is often the best way to see a show, and be pleasantly surprised at what is a charming and delightful musical. There were a lot of children in attendance (about whom I was a bit worried in some of the more gruesome moments of the show), and all seemed to be enjoying the magic and wonder of the story. In fact I'd love to see CTC produce this Roald Dahl story once it becomes available for regional productions (perhaps the more successful West End version). In the meantime, you have two weeks to visit the Chocolate Factory on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis (click here for more info, including student/educator rush tickets, and "Kids Night on Hennepin").

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

"The Government Inspector" at Theatre in the Round

Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of the brilliantly ridiculous Russian satirical comedy The Government Inspector premiered at the Guthrie in 2008, featuring his usual dry wit and clever humor, and starring a bunch of beloved Guthrie actors and one Broadway star. I don't remember too much about it, other than the hilarity, and that yes, Hunter Foster (aka Seymour) did sing. While perhaps some of the jokes don't land as well in 2019, the idea of a narcissistic, greedy, corrupt politician finally getting what's coming to him is particularly appealing at this moment in time. Theatre in the Round's production, which closes this weekend, brings all the absurdity to life in a very entertaining way, with almost constant laughter from the nearly sold-out crowd.

The Ruth Easton New Play Series at Playwrights' Center

Since I "discovered" it a few years ago, the Playwrights' Center has become one of my favorite places to experience theater, specifically - new works of theater still in the development process. PWC supports something like 2000 playwrights a year in various different ways. Their "Ruth Easton New Play Series" runs the first (or sometimes second) Monday and Tuesday of the month, December through April. This series "gives selected Core Writers 20 hours with collaborators to workshop their script—to write, rewrite, experiment, and shape their work. For playwrights, this means great leaps forward for their plays. For audiences, this means a thrilling and intimate night of theater." I attend every one I can, because the plays are always interesting and the casts are always dreamy. It's really fun to be part of the first audience to experience a new play, and I highly encourage you to check it out if you haven't yet. Warning: attending readings at PWC can get addictive, but the good news is it's free! Below is some info about the current reading, which continues TONIGHT, upcoming readings (reservations recommended, but if you show up they'll usually be able to get you in), and past readings in the series.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

"My Antonia" at Illusion Theater

I missed Illusion Theater's original 2010 Ivey-winning production of their adaption of Willa Cather's 1918 pioneer novel My Ántonia, written by Allison Moore with original music by Roberta Carlson. But I've seen it every chance I could since, including my third time this weekend, as it returns home after a tour through Nebraska. Willa Cather is an important writer in American literature (see the notes in the program for more on that), and this is a beautifully sparse adaptation of her most beloved novel. The 90-minute runtime, a small ensemble of six actors playing all of the characters, and minimal set design really allow the beautifully descriptive language of the novel to come through as the main storyteller. Descriptive both of place (the Nebraska prairie) and of the emotions of the people who lived there. It's really a perfect adaptation, in that it captures the wistful and nostalgic tone of the novel as Willa describes the people and place she loved so much. If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and get to Illusion Theater's 8th floor space in the Hennepin Center for the Arts (attached to the Cowles Center) in downtown Minneapolis before this run closes on March 24.

Friday, March 1, 2019

"Iphigenia and Other Daughters" by Theatre Unbound at Gremlin Theatre

Playwright Ellen McLaughlin's play Iphigenia and Other Daughters, an adaptation of several ancient Greek plays about the tragic lives of the children of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, premiered in the mid-'90s. But looking at the production history, there's been a spike in productions in the last few years, mostly at colleges. Perhaps we've recently become more hungry for these stories of women who take revenge on those who've wronged them. Theatre Unbound is bringing us the regional premiere of this modern retelling of an ancient women's story. In just a brisk 75 minutes, thanks to strong performances from the mostly female cast, we really get to know and empathize with these women.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

"As You Like It" at the Guthrie Theater

As You Like It is one of Shakespeare's most fun romantic comedies because of the inclusion of music (song lyrics written into the script) and his usual happy ending that includes not just one, but four blissfully wedded couples. I first saw this play at the Guthrie in 2005 (near the end of my 2nd of 16 and counting seasons as a subscriber), when they used a trippy hippie '60s theme. Their new production is not that; the wardrobe is modern, and the songs are more folk/Americana (original music by Broken Chord). But it's still super fun, charming, with a fantastically talented and diverse cast, and just an all around pleasant evening.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

"Line of Sight" by Uprising Theatre Company at Off-Leash Art Box

"Uprising Theatre Company really, truly believes that stories can change the world." So do I. And what I love about Uprising is that they partner with local non-profits on every show that they do, increasing the power and possibility of their storytelling to change the world. Their current show Line of Sight, a new play written by founder and Artistic Director Shannon TL Kearns, deals with gun violence in schools, so they've partnered with Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. But the play is as much about the bullying of trans kids as it is about gun violence. Line of Sight is a fantastical story, but grounded in reality, about both of these problems that threaten the health and safety of our young people, performed by an appealing young cast.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

"Into the Woods" by Ten Thousand Things at North Garden Theater

Into the Woods is one of Stephen Sondheim's most popular and frequently performed musicals. In the eight years I've been blogging about #TCTheater, I've now seen (and written about) seven different local productions. So I'm not going to write about the brilliance of this fairy tale mash-up (with book by James Lapine) that turns the idea of "happily ever after" on its head; you can read my thoughts about that here. Instead, I'll share with you what makes this production special, namely, because Ten Thousand Things does theater like no one else. It's my first time seeing them do Sondheim, which is exciting because TTT has a knack for breaking down the most complex shows (and Sondheim is nothing if not complex) and laying bare the truest heart of the piece. And since they're a weaver of fairy tales, traditional and otherwise, Into the Woods is a perfect match for TTT. This production (which continues through March 24 at various locations, including free performances at prisons, homeless shelters, community centers, and other places where people don't normally experience theater and therefore need it the most) is sheer perfection and perhaps my favorite thing they've done. But I say that about pretty much every TTT show I see.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

"Love Comics" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at Bryant-Lake Bowl

Confession: I've never read comic books (unless you count the graphic novel Fun Home, because theater). I didn't even know there was such a thing as love comics, which apparently were love stories in comic book form, popular in the mid last century. But I know about it now, thanks to Minneapolis Musical Theatre. The musical Love Comics plays loving and playful homage to the tradition of romance comics. Big emotions, melodrama, love lost and found, and fun '50s era costumes. It's a clever and cute little show playing on Bryant-Lake Bowl's cute little stage through March 2.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

"Actually" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at the Highland Park Center Theatre

I don't think there's ever been a time in our culture in which we've been so aware of the issue of consent. It wasn't a thing when I was growing up. But thanks to the #metoo movement, there's much more discussion and awareness of consent in the last several years, so naturally it has made its way into theater too. In Anna Ziegler's new play Actually, receiving its regional premiere at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, two college students find their lives upended by their (mis)understanding of consent. Featuring two of #TCTheater's best young actors, Actually is a powerful and incredibly timely play that will hopefully get audiences thinking and talking about this important issue.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

"Falsettos" Broadway Tour at the Ordway Center

#TCTheater friends, do yourselves a favor and dig out of the snow to go see the tour of Lincoln Center Theater's recent revival of the gorgeous musical Falsettos, playing at the Ordway Center through Sunday only. I first experienced this unique gem of a musical through the filmed version of the Lincoln Center production, which played in movie theaters a few years ago. I've been listening to the cast recording ever since (Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, and more), but nothing compares to seeing it live. It's absolutely stunning and this touring cast is perfection. It's a true love story in every sense of the word, including the messy, unpredictable, and sad parts. I was enraptured for the entirety of the nearly three-hour runtime (and you know I usually can't bear shows that long!), and left in tears with my heart overflowing. If you're a fan of music-theater, you don't want to miss this show. Keep reading and I'll tell you why.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"Sense and Sensiblity" at Lyric Arts

The new adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, which premiered in 2014 and played at the Guthrie in 2016, has made its way to Lyric Arts' Main Street Stage. As I wrote in 2016, playwright and actor Kate Hamill has adapted the beloved novel "with theatricality, wit, and purpose" (she also adapted Little Women, which premiered at the Jungle last fall, and Pride and Prejudice, just announced as part of Park Square Theatre's 2019-2020 season). Now is a great time for these women's stories written by women to be adapted for today's audience by a young female playwright; audiences are hungry for it. Lyric's production is a delightful and charming version of this sisterhood story.

Friday, February 15, 2019

"Benevolence" at Penumbra Theatre

Five years after producing The Ballad of Emmett Till, Penumbra Theatre returns to the 1955 horrific murder that became a catalyst in the Civil Rights movement with the second installment in playwright Ifa Bayeza's trilogy - Benevolence. While Ballad was about Emmett himself - his life, family, and community as well as his tragic death, Benevolence explores the lives of two couples involved in his story. The first act focuses on the white woman who accused Emmett of assaulting her, and her husband, one of his murderers who was acquitted and then later confessed. The second act focuses on a black couple whose lives were touched by violence in the wake of the trial. The playbill notes, "like the land in its time, the play is segregated." It almost feels like watching two different plays, or two one acts around the same theme. Both are, like the first part of the trilogy, devastating and engrossing, and shed more light on this important historical event and the people involved. This world premiere play continues at Penumbra through March 10.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"'Til Death" by Bucket Brigade at Art House North

In 2012, Bucket Brigade premiered their new original musical 'Til Death. The funny yet poignant examination of marriage has become an annual event, with creators Vanessa and Jeremiah Gamble playing a separated couple on their 15th anniversary, and a #TCTheater married couple playing the honeymooners they encounter at a secluded cabin in the mountains. This is my second time seeing the show in the charming renovated church known as Art House North in St. Paul's 7th Street neighborhood. It's very funny (a little more over the top than I remember), and relatable even if you're not among the good and crazy married people. And even though it would play nicely as an intermissionless 90-minute musical, the delicious cupcakes and coffee served at intermission (included in the price of admission) in the cute church basement lobby, accompanied by live music, makes for a festive evening.

Monday, February 11, 2019

"Stewardess!" at the Herstory Theatre

This spring, the History Theatre, which regularly produces new works of theater about local and national history, has transformed into the HERstory Theater, with three new plays by women, about women: "real women, real stories." The line-up includes a new musical about a female spy and a play about some radical nuns. But first: Stewardess! This new play by Kira Obolensky tells the true story of a real American hero, Mary Pat Laffey, who tirelessly worked for the union to improve the working conditions and treatment of then-called stewardesses, and even sued her employer, Northwest Airlines, eventually winning $59 million dollars in back pay for over 3000 flight attendants. Unfortunately we're not yet at the point of equal pay for women and men, but thanks to Mary Pat we're a lot closer. This fun, playful, inspiring play tells her story, as well as that of other feminists of the era, at just the right time. There's a growing awareness of the importance of women's stories and women's voices, and the Herstory Theatre is celebrating that.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

"The Skin of Our Teeth" by Girl Friday Productions at Park Square Theatre

It's an odd-numbered year, and that means it's time for another Girl Friday Productions large cast classic American play (they do one show every other year). I first saw them do Street Scene* at the old Minneapolis Theatre Garage in 2011 and was thoroughly impressed, and depressed that I'd have to wait another two years to see them. But two years goes by faster and faster, and now eight years later I've seen my fifth Girl Friday show, their 3rd in collaboration with Park Square Theatre. They've moved upstairs to the proscenium theater, the largest space in which I've seen them. They fill that space with a cast of 15 playing a list of characters that fills an entire page in the program, and Thornton Wilder's bizarre and profound history of humanity, the Pulitzer Prize winning The Skin of Our Teeth. The three-act two-intermission play pushes three hours, and my ability to stay awake and alert sitting in an uncomfortable theater seat, but it's worth it. There was not a little attrition at the second intermission, but trust me, you want to stay for the third act. So take a nap before the show, get a cup of coffee, carry chocolate in your purse, because the third act is where it all comes together. Thornton Wilder is not telling a story of one crazy family, he's telling a story of the whole crazy beautiful history of humanity. And there's no one better to bring it to crazy weird profound life than Girl Friday.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

"Antigone" at Park Square Theatre

"Who lives, who dies, who tells your story." In Sophocles' classic Greek play Antigone (the third of a de facto trilogy which begins with the tragedy of Oedipus, Antigone's father), pretty much everyone dies, including the title character. But in Park Square Theatre's basement stage, a group of talented women are telling her story. MJ (Meagan) Kedrowski adapted and directed the story for Theatre Coup d'Etat a few years ago, which Park Square's recently retired Artistic Director Richard Cook saw and asked her to remount for Park Square. Much of the cast and creative team return, along with some new artists, to rework the piece. One of the biggest changes is that this production features an all-female cast, and a mostly female creative and technical team. It's a powerful story of a strong and resilient woman who does what she believes is right for her family, despite the consequences she will face, powerfully told by this team of women in an engrossing and affecting way. Brave the cold and snow to visit the tumultuous world of Thebes in downtown St. Paul.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

"Flowers for the Room" at Yellow Tree Theatre

#TCTheater friends, do yourselves a favor and head on up to Osseo to see Yellow Tree Theatre's new original musical Flowers for the Room. Combining the writing skills of Yellow Tree co-founder Jessica Lind Peterson (best known for her quirky and heart-warming Minnesota holiday plays) with the songwriting skills of Duluth-based musician Blake Thomas (one of my favorite local musicians - check out his music on iTunes and listen to his radio show Take It With You), Flowers for the Room is a truly beautiful new musical that gave me all the feels. Jessica and Blake are well-matched; both of their work has that quirky humor, but also tons of heart and a touch of melancholy. All of those elements are on display in this story of a woman who falls into a coma the night of her wedding, and how it affects her (because this is a musical, she still gets to talk and sing, even in a coma) and those around her. The stellar cast and innovative design bring this beautiful piece to life in a way I haven't yet been able to shake.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

"Isaac's Eye" by Theatre Pro Rata at Gremlin Theatre

In Isaac's Eye, playwright Lucas Hnath (recently nominated for a Tony for A Doll's House: Part Two, soon returning to Broadway with Hillary and Clinton) imagines the life of one of our most famous and most prolific scientists - Isaac Newton. The smart, funny, modern play, well written and well realized by Theatre Pro Rata, is one of those plays that will get you thinking about issues big and small. Similar to the theme of Sunday in the Park with George, a young Isaac is forced to decide between home and family, and his passion and work in the larger world. The play seems to question whether or not his hard work and sacrifice is worth it if he died alone. Looking at all of his contributions to the world of science, I would answer a definite yes. If he had chosen a small town family life, giving up science, we wouldn't now how gravity works! But that's a question for each viewer to grapple with and decide for themselves.

Monday, February 4, 2019

"My Beautiful Infinity" by Chameleon Theatre Circle at Bloomington Center for the Arts

A play about a man sitting in a library writing a book about a man sitting in a library writing a book about a man sitting in a library writing a play - this one. If you like trippy meta theater, ruminations on time and love, and grammar wordplay, My Beautiful Infinity is for you. Chameleon Theatre Circle discovered this play by East Coast playwright David Vazdauskas in their new play festival, and are premiering it at the Bloomington Center for the Arts. Fortunately, I enjoy trippy meta theater, ruminations on time and love, and grammar wordplay, so I loved this play. Or maybe I will have loved it. The solid four-person cast, crisp direction, and smart design help make sense of the complex layered script that loops through time and realities. Although you're still left with a bit of "what just happened?" at the end, which is a good thing.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

"The Devout" by Transatlantic Love Affair at Illusion Theater

In their first all female ensemble piece, devised physical theater troupe Transatlantic Love Affair takes on the myth of Medusa. If I didn't know that going in, I wouldn't have known it from the show, which is typical of TLA's reimagining of fairy tales that is more about exploring the theme than telling the exact same story as we think we know it. In this case, Director Isabel Nelson and assistant director Joy Dolo have focused on this part of the Medusa myth (per Wikipedia): "In a late version of the Medusa myth, related by the Roman poet Ovid (Metamorphoses 4.770), Medusa was originally a ravishingly beautiful maiden, 'the jealous aspiration of many suitors,' but because Poseidon had raped her in Athena's temple, the enraged Athena transformed Medusa's beautiful hair to serpents and made her face so terrible to behold that the mere sight of it would turn onlookers to stone. In Ovid's telling, Perseus describes Medusa's punishment by Minerva (Athena) as just and well earned." This is 2019, and we won't stand for that anymore. TLA imagines a world in which Medusa (here called Demeres) isn't punished for being raped, but rather is supported by her sisters while her attackers are brought to justice. That's a wonderful narrative to put out into the world, and the six-person ensemble does so with TLA's trademark beautiful and evocative physicality.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

"Hair" by Theatre 55 at Mixed Blood Theatre

I was a little obsessed with the 40th anniversary revival of Hair, which opened on Broadway in 2009. I first fell in love with the show via a #TCTheater production directed by Michael Brindisi in 2004, and this fantastic Broadway revival only increased that love to the point of, yes, obsession. You can read more of my Hair thoughts here, but suffice it to say that when I adopted two adult male cats several years ago, I named them Claude and Berger. Now another 10 years have passed, so we're 50 years removed from the groundbreaking Gerome Ragni and James Rado creation (with music by Galt MacDermot) that changed the face of musical theater forever. Theatre 55, a new #TCTheater company dedicated to "enriching the lives of elders," has chosen Hair as their first production, populated with people who were alive and perhaps even saw that first production 50+ years ago, and lived the lifestyle of the '60s represented in the show. While the vocal performances are uneven in this cast made up mostly of non-professional actors, they capture the spirit of the piece in the way that perhaps younger people cannot. They bring an authenticity to the characters and situations of the show, and also a sort of fun free-wheeling vibe because they survived those tumultuous times (although one could say that the times we're living in now are pretty tumultuous too). The firehouse was packed with an audience full of people ready for this show and loving every minute of it. I'm quite sure that Ragni and Rado (the original Berger and Claude, the latter of whom is still alive and just turned 87) would be tickled with this production.

"Ordway Cabaret, A Brand New Day: Breaking Barriers" at the Ordway Concert Hall

From 2011 to 2017, I attended 13 Broadway Songbook concerts at the Ordway (I think I only missed one or two). I absolutely loved learning about the history of musical theater (IMO the greatest American art form), while enjoying performances by some of #TCTheater's top talent. The series ended with the departure of Artistic Director James Rocco, but now the Ordway's new Artistic Director, Rod Kaats, has started a new series called Ordway Cabaret, A Brand New Day, described on their website thusly: "Ordway Cabaret features local performers in a cabaret format. This all-new series presents the music of Broadway in a thoroughly modern way: critiquing musicals that reinforce stereotypes and celebrating those that succeed in breaking barriers. The finale and signature song, 'A Brand New Day' from The Wiz, reminds us that, at least in some Broadway musicals, love can set you free." That sounds fantastic to me (see also last summer's Fringe hit Not Fair, My Lady, returning soon as part of their "Women's March"), I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment, Breaking Barriers, and look forward to this series continuing for many years.

Friday, February 1, 2019

"The Wolves" by Jungle Theater at Southern Theater

The Jungle Theater's production of playwright Sarah DeLappe's story of a girls' soccer team, The Wolves (a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize), was so successful that they've brought it back in a new venue. With The Children continuing on the Jungle's stage, this is the first time in their history that the Jungle has had two shows running simultaneously. I attended the first preview on a night when the temperature was 20 below zero, not to mention the windchill, and it was a nearly full house. This play has really struck a chord, both with audiences and with the cast and creative team, all of whom return this year. It's such a beautiful and real exploration of nine very different young women, their lives, and their friendship - just the kind of story we're craving right now. That these nine young and talented actors (the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers favorite dramatic ensemble of 2018) have the opportunity to play these complex and interesting roles that go beyond the usual stereotypes of teenage girls we see in plays/movies/TV, beyond the wife/girlfriend/mother role, is also a reason to celebrate. If you missed one of the best #TCTheater performances of 2018, now's your chance to get in on the action (click here for info on the show and complementary programs on women and sports).

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

"She Loves Me" by Artistry at Bloomington Center for the Arts

This was my third time seeing She Loves Me in under a year, and I'm not mad about it. Yes, I would prefer that the people of #TCTheater talk to each other a little more so as not to produce duplicate shows, but it happens (e.g., everyone jumping on the Ordway's bandwagon - the Guthrie producing West Side Story the year after they did, the same for Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and Mamma Mia!). If there's a musical I have to see three times in a year (OK I don't have to, I choose to, because I'm me), I'm glad it's this darling little gem of a musical. Each theater (see also Lyric Arts and DalekoArts) brings their own spin to it, and a different delicious cast. Now playing at Artistry in Bloomington, She Loves Me is definitely worth a visit, whether or not you've seen it on stage recently, or perhaps one of the other iterations of the 1937 Hungarian play (such as the 1940 Jimmy Stewart movie The Shop Around the Corner or the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan remake You've Got Mail or the successful 2016 Broadway revival of She Loves Me broadcast live via BroadwayHD). It's a sweet, funny, charming, and relatively egalitarian love story considering when it was written.

Monday, January 28, 2019

"A Little Night Music" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Theater Latte Da's production of A Little Night Music is pure loveliness from the moment the cast steps onstage behind a sheer curtain, warming their voices and waltzing in old fashioned undergarments, to when that same curtain falls at the completion of the story and the youngest cast member steps out gazing in wonder. As everything created by Peter Rothestein and company, it's thoughtful, detailed, well cast, beautifully staged, and musically gorgeous. Sondheim's 1973 Tony-winning musical is a charming, smart, and funny story about the perils of love and the phases of life, bringing to mind the Shakespeare quote "Lord, what fools these mortals be." And you'd be a fool to miss it.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

"The Great Leap" at the Guthrie Theater

This may come as a shock to you, dear readers, but I am not a fan of the sportsing events. The one exception being my lifelong love of the Minnesota Twins, but other than that, I have no interest in watching any game anywhere anytime. Except on the stage, where for some reason sports provides a good background for drama (see also Colossal and The Wolves, which is being remounted at the Southern beginning next week). In the case of Playwrights' Center affiliated writer Lauren Yee, basketball combined with US-China relations in the 1970s and '80s provides a whole lot of drama. Inspired by her father, a Chinese-American who went to China to play basketball against Chinese teams, she has written a smart, funny, entertaining, educational, and thought-provoking play about basketball that isn't really about basketball at all.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

"On Your Feet!" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

On Your Feet! The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical tells the story of a real-life American Dream. Gloria and Emilio immigrated with their respective families from Cuba to Miami, where they met, married, and built a pop music empire. The line that got the biggest response on opening night was Emilio telling a music exec who said they could never cross over from the Latin market, "this is what an American looks like." Even though this scene happened 30-some years ago, it's particularly poignant today. As is watching an all Latinx cast in a Broadway musical (when have we ever seen that?) as talks of a wall on our Southern border dominate the news. But I don't mean to get too political or heavy. All of the above is true, and does add resonance to the story, but On Your Feet! is also a super fun musical celebrating a music superstar and the man behind the woman. The Broadway tour is in Minneapolis for just one week, giving us the opportunity to get out of the January cold and experience the Miami heat for a few hours (click here for info and tickets, including student/educator rush tickets).

Saturday, January 19, 2019

"Gone Missing" by Theatre Elision at Dreamland Arts

The Twin Cities Theater Bloggers gave new-ish #TCTheater company Theatre Elision the "Under the Radar" award for 2018 (read all the awards here). It was less than two years ago that they debuted with an original musical Ragtime Women in the intimate Dreamland Arts space in St. Paul. After nearly a dozen small cast, one act, original or rarely done musicals at small venues around town, they return to Dreamland Arts with another such piece. Gone Missing was created by NYC based theater company The Civilians, including playwright Steven Cosson and composer/lyricist Michael Friedman. The Civilians also created The Abominables at Children's Theatre, premiering shortly after Michael's death from AIDS shocked the theater world. I'm a big fan of his music (see also Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), so I'm grateful to Elision for bringing us this piece. Gone Missing is a funny, quirky, poignant little musical about all things lost, as always beautifully performed by the cast and band.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The History Theatre's New Works Festival "Raw Stages" 2019

Last weekend was one of my favorite weekends of the year: "Raw Stages" weekend at the History Theater in downtown St. Paul. Most of the work produced by the History Theatre is new work that they develop, a claim few theaters of their size can make. Specifically, they produce plays and musicals inspired by local history. Usually some part of history that's not well known, but somehow relates to the modern world and helps us gain insight into where we are by looking back at where we were. An important part of the development process is their annual new works festival, in which four new pieces receive a director, cast, workshop, and public reading. I was able to attend two of the four readings this year, both exciting and promising works that I hope to see on the stage next season. But first, History Theatre's current season concludes with three HERstory plays - world premieres by and about women (click here to find out more).

Sunday, January 13, 2019

"These Shining Lives" at Theatre in the Round

"Dip this paintbrush in radium and then put it in your mouth. Don't worry if it gets all over your skin, clothes, and hair, you'll be fine!" If any of our employers told us this today, we would all likely walk out the door. But in the 1920s, when workers had much fewer rights than we do now, if you needed the job to feed your family, and especially if you were a woman and your bosses were men, you likely would have accepted it. These Shining Lives tells the true story of women who did just that, until their hands started glowing and their bones started aching. It's because of a couple of lawsuits brought by the real life "Radium Girls" against their employers that companies are held responsible for injuries or illnesses their employees acquire on the job. Theatre in the Round tells these pioneering women's story, via a female playwright and director, with humanity and grace.

"The Children" at Jungle Theater

The Jungle Theater produced some of my favorite work in #TCTheater last year, and they're showing no signs of stopping that trend in 2019. Their first show of the year (my fifth, but who's counting), is the first post-Broadway production of The Children by Lucy Kirkwood (not to be confused with the re-imagined Medea play The Children by Michael Elyanow produced by Pillsbury House a few years ago). In a pre-show speech by Artistic Director Sarah Rasmussen (who has only made the Jungle better in her short tenure), she said that this team of actors, designers, and director are a master class of putting together a piece of theater. I couldn't agree more. Everything about this play is impeccable, from this very specific design that transports the audience to a seaside cottage after a nuclear disaster, to the three-person cast of beloved veterans of stage and screen, and everything else that allows this magic to happen. Get yourself to Uptown (as much of a pain as that sometimes is) to see this brilliant work of theater that will leave you contemplating life for days to come.

Friday, January 11, 2019

"Dead Man's Cell Phone" at Lyric Arts

In 2007, playwright Sarah Ruhl wrote a quirky, fantastical, and painfully real play about our relationships with our cell phones and with each other. A play that seems even more relevant now, 12 years later, as smart phone technology and usage has increased. Lyric Arts' production of Dead Man's Cell Phone captures this struggle between technology and connection, and entertains with a charming six-person cast and ambitious design. This odd and amusing comedy that speaks to the world we live in officially opens tonight and runs through January 27 in downtown Anoka.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

"Rough Cuts" at Nautilus Music-Theater: "Fidgety Fairy Tales" and "Heroine"

On the second Monday of (most) every month, in a little studio space in Lowertown St. Paul, you can listen to exciting new works of music-theater. The place is Nautilus Music-Theater, a company committed to developing new works. Once a month (typically repeated on Tuesday at a location in Minneapolis), composers and playwrights have the opportunity to see their work read by talented local actors, and we the audience have the opportunity to witness a new work in the making and provide feedback to help the creators in their process. That's a pretty cool thing. Here's what I experienced at Nautilus last night, to be repeated tonight at Open Eye Figure Theatre (for a suggested donation of $5, which includes milk and cookies!).

Sunday, January 6, 2019

"Twelfth Night" by Orchard Theater Collective at Calvary Baptist Church

New #TCTheater company Orchard Theater Collective, founded by a quartet of U of M/Guthrie BFA grads, has brought us some interesting and innovative shows over the past year or so. They continue that tradition with Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night, a clever choice to stage in early January when this actual holiday (aka the 12th day of Christmas) falls. And they've made it feel like a holiday. What is essentially a church basement theater has been transformed into a warm, cozy, festive space with lights and colorful decorations, as well as drinks and a lovely spread of cheese, hummus, bread, and cookies, all included in the price of admission. The intrepid cast of eight brings many more characters to life in this gender-swapping mistaken identity romantic comedy, performed on the small stage and in a square in front of it, with the audience sitting at tables on three sides. This Twelfth Night is playful and fun, an evening of pure frivolity. Fortunately this show runs a little longer than their previous shows (sometimes one weekend only); you have until January 19 to celebrate Twelfth Night with Orchard Theater Collective (click here for info and tickets).

"The Father" at Gremlin Theatre

After a nearly two-week hiatus (during which I wrote about my favorites of the 200-ish shows I saw in 2018), I returned to the theater on Friday night. It was good to be back doing my favorite thing, and Gremlin Theatre's production of The Father was an excellent way to start 2019, setting the bar quite high for all the shows to follow. A smart and twisty script (adapted by Christopher Hampton from French playwright Florian Zeller's original), an excellent six-person cast, thoughtful direction, and meaningful design. Subtitled "a tragic farce," this story of a man descending deeper into dementia is so sad to watch, but beautiful and amusing at the same time. Start your year of theater at Gremlin and you won't be disappointed (continuing through January 27).

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Most Viewed Posts of 2018

Happy New Year, #TCTheater friends! Because I like numbers, I like to look at what posts had the most page views each year. Here are the results from 2018. Two of my most popular posts are about the Minnesota Fringe Festival, proving that people are fanatical about their Fringe. Also for companies big and small, musicals and plays, and even some readings (yay new work!).
  1. MN Fringe Festival: Five Fifths of the Matrix
  2. The Legend of Georgia McBride (Guthrie Theater)
  3. The Book of Mormon (Broadway Tour)
  4. Newsies (Chanhassen Dinner Theatres)
  5. MN Fringe Festival: Must-See List
  6. Words Do Move (Sandbox Theatre)
  7. Assassins (Theater Latte Da)
  8. Mamma Mia! (The Ordway)
  9. The Great Gatsby (Collide Theatrical Dance Company)
  10. The Ruth Easton New Play Series (Playwrights' Center)
  11. My Mother Has 4 Noses (Jungle Theater)
  12. The Laramie Cycle (Uprising Theatre)
  13. Raw Stages New Works Festival (History Theatre)
  14. The Royale (Yellow Tree Theatre)
  15. A Crack in the Sky (History Theatre)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018: The Year that Was in #TCTheater

Dear 2018, it’s been a wild year. You’ve brought us highs and lows, tragedies and triumphs. I’m sure many people are happy to say good-bye to you. But in the Minneapolis/St. Paul theater world, you’ve been grand, truly grand. And I now have the very difficult job of summarizing the approximately 190 locally created shows I’ve seen by over 80 theater companies (not counting 36 Fringe shows; click here for my festival favorites). For the first time since I started blogging eight and a half years ago, this is a slight decrease from the previous year – I’ve definitely found the saturation point. Even still, I’m at the theater more days than not, and I like what I see much more often than not. I started out with a list of about 50 shows I loved this year, which I attempted to whittle down to something a little more manageable. Keep reading for my 2018 #TCTheater favorites, in roughly alphabetical order.