Saturday, July 13, 2019

"Legally Blonde" at Lyric Arts

Oh my God! Oh my God, you guys*!! Lyric Arts' production of Legally Blonde is so much fun! I recently wrote that Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant is the perfect fun summer musical (playing at Park Square Theatre through July 28), but now we have a second perfect fun summer musical. Unlike some other summer musicals, Legally Blonde is fresh, modern, fun, and feminist. I had never seen it before (or the movie from which it was adapted) because I'm a bit of a snob about movie-musical adaptations - I prefer original musicals. But I've been missing out! Elle Woods is a 21st Century heroine and role model who turns the stereotype of the dumb blonde on its head (see also Smart Blonde). Lyric Arts' production of Legally Blonde is sharp, funny, well-cast, and just an all around great time.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

"What Would Crazy Horse Do?" by Turtle Theater Collective at Mixed Blood Theatre

"The Turtle Theater Collective is committed to producing high-quality, contemporary work that explores Native experiences and subverts expectations about how and when Native artists can create theater. In addition to producing Indigenous plays, we center Native bodies and voices by situating them within the broader theatrical canon, providing opportunities for Native artists to grow and play."

Monday, July 1, 2019

"George" by Sheep Theater at Phoenix Theater

Celebrate Independence Day with Sheep Theater, who is bringing back their delightfully wacky original comedy George for the July 4th weekend. This show was my first introduction to Sheep four years ago, with their motto of "Original plays. Deranged sincerity," and I've enjoyed many moments of deranged sincerity since. At the time I called George "funny, clever, and irreverent, with jokes about the many things America is best at (giving speeches, celebrating) and how it's OK to lie if it's for the good of the country." Revisiting it, it gave me all of the patriotic feels, watching a bunch of goofballs make fun of our founding fathers (and mothers!) in the most lovingly irreverent way, celebrating all of the freedoms we hold dear, and remembering the ideals this country was founded on (which is easy to forget these days). As my great-grandmother, daughter of Polish immigrants, used to say - hooray for the 4th of July!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

"The Pillowman" by Theatre Coup d'Etat at SpringHouse Ministry Center

Theatre Coup d'Etat's production of The Pillowman is the third play by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh that I've seen, and the darkest and most twisted. And that's saying something, considering I've seen The Beauty Queen of Leenane about an extremely unhealthy mother-daughter relationship and A Behanding in Spokane about a man in search of his missing hand. McDonagh has a knack for writing really fascinating characters, darkly funny dialogue, and extremely twisted situations. All of those are true about The Pillowman (best play Tony nominee in 2005), which explores the brutal interrogation of a short story writer whose stories of violence against children start coming true. With a fantastic cast, inventive design, and an intimate performance space, Theatre Coup d'Etat brings this creepy story to life almost too viscerally.

"Guys and Dolls" at the Guthrie Theater

So here's the thing, my #TCTheater friends. The Guthrie Theater's production of the 1950 classic musical Guys and Dolls is spectacular. The cast is brilliantly talented, the dance numbers are phenomenal, the music is familiar, fun, and lively, and every element of design is spot-on gorgeous. But even all of that wonderfulness can't overcome the fact that Guys and Dolls is a dated, misogynist story that we don't need to tell anymore. Calling women "dolls," and all of the gender stereotypes wrapped up in that, is just not cute in 2019. I've seen the show several times in the past, and I've loved it in the past, but each time I see it I love it a little less. The world is changing, I'm changing, but Guys and Dolls remains rooted in gender stereotypes from the title to the lyrics, dialogue, and story. To their credit, the Guthrie has made a number of changes that make the show a little more palatable to a modern audience, but there's only so much they can do. Ever since they announced their season last year, I couldn't understand why they would choose to do this show now, except that it's a crowd-pleaser that will sell lots of tickets. The good news is that their other summer show is a world premiere of a new play that the Guthrie commissioned from Lynn Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning African American female playwright. If doing dated old musicals that have been done a million times is the price we have to pay to support new work from too often unheard voices, well, as Stephen Sondheim wrote in the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Sunday in the Park with George (seen at the Guthrie two summers ago in a stunning production), "that is the state of the art, my friends." And don't get me wrong, it is a super fun show and audiences are going to have a great time. I had a great time. But I'm also disappointed that we keep telling these old stories instead of discovering new ones.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant" at Park Square Theatre

This summer, Park Square Theatre is all about supporting new works of music-theater created right here in #TCTheater. Last weekend saw the closing of one remount of a locally created new original musical (the gorgeous and moving dance musical about the Bosnian War, Heaven) and the opening of another remount of a locally created new original musical. More than a remount, this iteration of Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant is an expanded version of the 2017 Fringe hit that has been doubled in length, fun, and emotion. Created by uber-talented young composer/lyricist/playwright Keith Hovis, Jefferson Township is a darkly hilarious and surprisingly poignant look at a group of millennials turning 30, as seen through a super creepy small town Minnesota youth pageant. It's extremely clever, very funny, and the super talented well-balanced quartet of actors are having so much fun that it's impossible for the audience not to have fun too. Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant is the perfect fun summer musical.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical" on tour at the Ordway

Friends, when I heard that something called The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical was coming to the Ordway, I had no idea what that meant. Who's Percy Jackson, is this some bio-musical? I almost didn't see it, but when I read that it was adapted from a series of young adult novels that are a sort of Greek mythology fan fiction, I was intrigued. I saw the show last night with zero expectations (which is often the best way to see a show) and was pleasantly surprised at how delightful this story is. A relatable message for teens (and adults), a catchy clever score, fun theater magic, and a fantastic seven-person cast (many of whom reprise their roles from the original Off-Broadway production) make this a show worth seeing, even if you've never heard the name Percy Jackson.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

"The Rinky Dink Show! What Kind of Rinky Dink Show is This?" at Bryant Lake Bowl

There's a new group in #TCTheater called Rinky Dink Operations - a collection of very funny people you many know from the Fringe or various other theater, improv, and/or comedy stages around town. They've begun a residency at Bryant Lake Bowl in Uptown with their Rinky Dink Show, a sketch comedy/variety show inspired by everything from Saturday Night Live to The Muppet Show. It's a lot of fun, and something different from the theater I usually see. And with the 7pm showtime and 90 minute runtime, you can be home by 9 for an early bedtime still enjoy other evening festivities that cool people do on the weekends.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Fresh Ink: New Works at Illusion Theater

Every summer, Illusion Theater presents readings of new works. It's been way too long since I attended a "Fresh Ink" reading - three years! But I remedied that this year by attending the first of four performances of the staged reading of a new play by local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher. And I hope to get to one or both of the other new plays, also by local #TCTheater artists Carlyle and Barb Brown and Beth Gilleland. Like readings at the Playwrights' Center, this series is a great way to experience a new play and participate in the development process. In a way, we're the test audience, to see how the play lands and allow the playwright to make adjustments if necessary. Readings are only $10 each and run Thursday through Sunday evenings for the next three weekends (click here for more info).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

"Musical Mondays" at LUSH, June 2019

Friends, it's been over a year since I attended Musical Mondays, the monthly cabaret series featuring #TCTheater talent. Part of that is my busy regular theater schedule, and part of it is that since moving to their new home at LUSH Bar in Northeast Minneapolis, the space has felt uncomfortably crowded. Great for them for drawing a big crowd, not so great for this introvert who doesn't like crowds. So I was thrilled to hear that LUSH expanded their space just in time for Musical Mondays' annual Pride celebration! I attended the show last night with my blogger friends from Minnesota Theater Love and Artfully Engaging, and was reminded of just what a wonderful, welcoming, educational, and entertaining evening Musical Mondays is. They're taking the month of July off (because summer is busy), but they'll be back post-Fringe on August 12, and the first (or second) Monday of every month for what is hopefully a long time.

Monday, June 10, 2019

"Spring Awakening" by The Chameleon Theatre Circle at Gremlin Theatre

At last night's 2019 Tony Awards, Hadestown won eight Tonys (including best musical, notably the first best musical written and directed by women). Twelve years ago, Spring Awakening won eight Tonys, including best musical. Like Hadestown, Spring Awakening is based on an old story (not as old as the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, rather a late 19th Century German play), retold in a way that feels new utterly relevant to today's world. Sadly, the issues of suicide, teen pregnancy, abortion, child abuse, and the general difficulties of being a teenager are never not relevant. The new production by The Chameleon Theatre Circle features a talented young cast, many of whom also play instruments, and brings these issues to the forefront of 2019.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

"My Sister in this House" by Theatre Pro Rata at the Crane Theater

The real life Papin sisters, live-in maids who killed their employers in 1930s France, have inspired several plays, including the absurd dark comedy The Maids, and the not so much a comedy play My Sister in this House. The latter is the final production in Theatre Pro Rata's 2018-2019 season, now playing at the Crane Theater. It's real dark and gritty, with a tone that borders on but doesn't quite cross over into camp. It lets us inside the lives of the would-be murderers and explores what led up to the infamous crime, namely mental illness and the unfair treatment of domestic servants. Great performances by the four-woman cast and spot-on design make for a creepy evening at the theater.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

"Heaven" by Flying Foot Forum at Park Square Theatre

A dance musical about the Bosnian War? Why not! It may sound like a crazy idea, but in the hands of creators Joe Chvala (Artistic Director of theatrical dance company Flying Foot Forum) and Chan Poling (renowned local musician and composer of musicals such as History Theatre's smash hit Glensheen), it's a thing of beauty. The Bosnian War in the mid 1990s was a devastating event that resulted in the deaths of 100,000 people, many the result of ethnic cleansing. The devastation and horror, along with the beauty and culture of the people, is expressed through story, music, and movement in an incredibly moving way. I saw Heaven at the Guthrie's studio theater eight years ago and loved it, and I'm thrilled that Park Square Theatre has brought it back so that this story can live on and be shared with a wider audience. Combined with the excellent and sobering exhibit Genocide and Justice: From Nuremberg to the International Criminal Court by World Without Genocide, it makes for a really powerful evening that goes beyond theater. Even though the show is over two and a half hours long, I didn't want it to end.

Friday, June 7, 2019

"Dry Powder" by Dark and Stormy Productions at Grain Belt Warehouse

After two pretty dark and devastating plays about suicide ('Night, Mother) and child abuse/kidnapping (Blackbird), Dark and Stormy returns to comedy with the regional premiere of the new play Dry Powder. It's still dark, and not exactly light-hearted since it features some pretty horrible people working in the cutthroat world of finance, but it is funny. I didn't understand a lot of the terms and acronyms being thrown around, but I am familiar with layoffs and buyouts. Either way it's less about the business world than it is about how these four characters function within this world. As always with Dark and Stormy, there are great performances by a terrific small cast, seen up close and personal in their small studio space, with tight and clear direction (here by Michaela Johnson). It's not so much a forget your troubles kind of comedy, more of a laugh at the troubles of the world because if you don't you'll cry.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

My Thoughts on #BoycottCTC

I'm sure many of you have heard about the movement to boycott Children's Theatre Company (CTC), which was started by #TCTheater artist Laura Stearns Adams, one of the many survivors of sexual abuse at CTC in the '80s. You can read more about her case against CTC and the reasons for the boycott in this MPR story, and you can read her original post on my friend and fellow blogger Gina Musto's blog here. I shared this post on Facebook, and I also shared CTC's video response (which you can watch here) on Twitter, stating "This feels like a good first step in the long journey towards healing, justice, and restitution. I look forward to seeing how @ChildrensTheatr continues to work with the survivors and survivor organizations."

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

"Boston Marriage" by Arrow Theater at Maison Bodega

Last night was a perfectly charming evening from start to finish. I attended the first official production from new #TCTheater company Arrow Theater, spearheaded by #TCTheater artist Grant Sorenson who last December independently produced Vincent River, a beautifully devastating play about the aftermath of a horrific hate crime. David Mamet's Boston Marriage is the complete opposite – a light and frothy comedy. The site-specific production is staged in the gorgeous Maison Bodega (run by Bodega Ltd.), in a room as light and airy as a delicate pastry. Free wine was served to the mingling audience dressed as if for a garden party, creating a festive atmosphere. Unfortunately the rest of the small audience short run is sold out, but if these two shows are any indication, Arrow Theater needs to be on your radar. Two such different plays, both beautifully executed by Grant as director and the cast and team.

Monday, June 3, 2019

"A Raisin in the Sun" at Lyric Arts

The last time I saw the American theater classic A Raisin in the Sun was in November 2016, at Park Square Theatre. Re-reading that post today, I was struck by this: "I'm writing this on the afternoon of election day, and no matter what tomorrow brings or who our president is, the work for social justice and equality continues. Theater such as this furthers that work by taking a deep look at our shared history and how it reflects in the present." Well, it's two and a half years later, and we now know what that tomorrow brought, and the tomorrows after that. The never-ending work for social justice and equality feels even more urgent now, and this play about "dreams deferred" for African Americans is as relevant as ever. Lyric Arts has brought this classic to their suburban Anoka stage and delivered a powerful production. I have previously called Lyric out for their lack of diversity on stage, which is something I know they've been working on. I commend them for bringing this play with a mostly African American cast to their stage and their audience, and for hiring a black female director (veteran #TCTheater artist Austene Van) to tell this story written by the first black female Broadway playwright, proving that this 60-year old story is one that still needs to be heard, even (or especially) in the suburbs.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

"To Let Go and Fall" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

No better way to kick off Twin Cities Pride month than with a beautiful and sad love story between two men that spans time, distance, disease, memory, and music. To Let Go and Fall is a world premiere new play by Playwrights' Center core writer Harrison David Rivers, who over past few years has given us several beautifully written and meaningful new plays (see also This Bitter Earth). And because this is Theater "we don't do musical theater we do theater musically" Latte Da, this play incorporates music in such a way that the story wouldn't be the same without it. The result is a truly lovely exploration of a relationship, beautifully realized by the cast, director, and every element of design, as I've come to expect from TLD.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

"Sea Cabinet" by Theatre Elision at the Southern Theater

If you're not aware of new(ish) #TCTheater company Theatre Elision, you haven't been paying attention. To me, anyway. I've seen just about everything they've done since their debut two years ago and continue to be impressed with how they're filling a niche we didn't even know we were missing - small-cast one-act original or rarely performed musicals with mostly (or all) female cast and creative team. Get on board! For their penultimate show of their second full season, Elision has discovered a charming song cycle written by British singer-songwriter Gwyneth Herbert and are bringing it to the Southern Theater in Minneapolis - the very first US production. Sea Cabinet is a collection of lovely, melodic, interesting, unique songs around a common theme of the sea, and specifically a woman walking along the sea collecting objects. It's beautifully performed by this four-person all female cast with spot on design and direction under the gorgeous historic arch of the Southern. Truly a perfect 75 minutes of music-theater.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

"Dear Evan Hansen" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

Two and a half years after debuting on Broadway (where it's still playing), the six-time Tony-winning smash hit musical Dear Evan Hansen has arrived in Minnesota. For the next two weeks, Evan and friends will be found at the Orpheum Theatre on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. I was lucky enough to see the show on Broadway, starring Ben Platt in an unforgettable performance that won him Tony, and was totally enraptured by this thoroughly modern musical. Two years later the show and this touring cast are still fantastic (even if the Orpheum is too big of a venue for this intimate of a story). The small-cast non-flashy musical deals with pretty serious issues like suicide, mental illness, grief, and the dangers of social media, although not without humor and a fantastic Pasek and Paul score. Most importantly, it delivers a message of connection and hope that this world needs.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

"How It's Gon' Be" by Underdog Theatre at Mixed Blood Theatre

Two and a half years after their debut, new #TCTheater company Underdog Theatre, whose mission is to "create art for the underserved, underrepresented, and unheard," is bringing us their fourth play, and third world premiere new play. How It's Gon' Be is a beautifully written play by JuCoby Johnson, a talented young actor who's appeared on many stages around town in the last several years. As director H. Adam Harris succinctly put it on opening night, it's a play about love: love between parent and child, love between friends, romantic love. It's a funny, sweet, poignant coming of age tale with characters that feel real and modern, beautifully brought to life by a terrific cast. It's exciting to see young black artists playing all the roles - actor, director, playwright, producer - to tell these stories that need to be told.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Small Mouth Sounds" at the Jungle Theater

"Friends, @jungletheater's Small Mouth Sounds is exactly my kind of play: awkward, funny, profound, and full of one of my favorite things in theater that I rarely get - silence! Perfect execution by the yummy cast and the whole team."

This was my Instagram post upon arriving home from the Jungle last night, and it pretty much says it all. I'll expand on that a bit more here, but in general, this new play about six people on a silent meditation retreat is hilarious, heart-breaking, and very human. Visit the Uptown theater now through June 16 to experience it yourself (pro tip: the Jungle is one of the few theaters in town with Tuesday and Wednesday performances, which have lower ticket prices, better availability, and usually less Uptown crowd/parking/traffic issues than weekends).

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"Another Revolution" by Market Garden Theatre at the Crane Theater

Judging by the mathematical symbols and equations painted on the floor and wall of the Crane's studio theater, I was expecting Another Revolution to be a math play (which I love, BTW). But this new play by Jacqueline Bircher, produced by Market Garden Theatre, is less about math than it is about science, and it's less about science than it is about friendship, politics, protest, war, and coming of an age in a tumultuous time. The tumultuous time in this case is 1968, but it's not too hard to translate it to today's world, which has plenty to protest and is still sending young people to war. In addition to math plays, I also really love two-people-sitting-in-a-room-talking kind of plays, and that's what this play is. It's like eavesdropping on a conversation between two specifically drawn characters who couldn't be more different, but find common ground, and maybe even friendship, when forced to spend a few months together. This is also one of those plays where nothing really happens, and everything happens. Both are true. I left the theater looking at the sky differently than when I walked in. What more can you ask of theater than a discussion of ideas big and small, and a different outlook on the world?

Monday, May 20, 2019

"Blood Knot" at Pillsbury House Theatre

Despite being written almost 60 years ago in a country on the other side of the planet, Blood Knot, currently playing at Pillsbury House Theatre, feels very relevant to the here and now. Through the story of two brothers, one dark-skinned and one light enough to pass for white, South African playwright Athol Fugard explores the complex issues of racism and white privilege, before that term was in our collective consciousness. It's remarkable that this play was performed (for one performance only) in Johannesburg in 1961, with it's strong anti-apartheid message. But even in Minnesota in 2019, we still have lessons to learn from it. This is a powerful, intense, and sobering play, beautifully acted by two beloved #TCTheater veterans.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

"Caught" by Full Circle Theater at the Guthrie Theater

When I took the elevator up to the Guthrie Theater's 9th floor Dowling Studio, accompanied by high school students dressed for prom*, I didn't know what I was in for. I knew I was attending my third Full Circle Theater show, and I knew enough about them to expect it to be something thoughtful, well done, and relevant to the world we live in. And I knew this play had something to do with Chinese political art. All of those things are true, but Caught is so much more. It's a Russian doll of a play with layers upon layers of truth, reality, and artifice. By the time it was over I didn't know what was real, where the play ended and reality began. And that's the point of Caught, to make us question truth, reality, art, politics, even theater. It's a brilliantly written play (by California based playwright Christopher Chen), perfectly executed by director Rick Shiomi and the team. I'm not going to be able to tell you too much about it because I don't want to spoil the surprising and delightful trip, but just trust me - you need to see this play. And with all tickets just $9 as part of the Guthrie's Level Nine initiative, you have no excuse not to.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

"The Sins of Sor Juana" by Ten Thousand Things at Open Book

Ten Thousand Things' first post-MH season is in its conclusion, and we can now safety declare that TTT's retired founder and Artistic Director Michelle Hensley has taught us well, and her legacy of accessible, entertaining, engaging, meaningful theater for everyone lives on. From the hilarious Scapin, to the most moving Into the Woods, to the currently playing The Sins of Sor Juana, this season has been classic Ten Thousand Things. That is to say theater in its purest form without distraction, stripping away all the fluff to get to the purest heart of the story, and delivering it directly to the audience in a playful and immediate way. The Sins of Sor Juana is a fictionalized telling of the life of an inspirational woman ahead of her time, 17th Century Mexican poet and scholar Juana Inéz de la Cruz. It's a story that feels so relevant, as girls and women around the world are still denied opportunities for education. Sor Juana is a heroine for today.

Friday, May 17, 2019

"Mary Poppins" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

Do you know who your local community theater is? There are so many great community theaters in the #TCTheater area that it's impossible to keep track of them all. But I encourage everyone to find one in your area and support them. There are so many people working so hard for little reward other than seeing your smiling face in the audience. My local community theater is Lakeshore Players Theatre* in White Bear Lake, which opened a gorgeous new building about a year ago. The final production in their first full season in their new space is Mary Poppins, a show that celebrates imagination, determination, play, and family. I'll admit that the biggest draw to see this show was seeing one of my #TCTheater favorites Quinn Shadko as Mary Poppins, but the whole show is just darling. If you're in the Northeast metro be sure to visit them in the Hanifl Performing Arts Center, or check out what theater is happening in your neighborhood.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

"Peter and the Starcatcher" at Daleko Arts

DalekoArts, a professional theater in New Prague, Minnesota on the very southern edge of the metro area, is closing out their seventh season with the multiple Tony-winning Broadway play-with-music Peter and the Starcatcher. It's a charming, quirky, innovative little play, and therefore a great choice for Daleko. This is my fourth year attending their spring musical(ish) and I continue to be impressed with the care and energy they put into the work that they do. Season 8 looks just as promising, with a walking ghost tour around historic downtown New Prague, a Scrimshaw Christmas comedy, a play about 19th Century mathematician Ada Lovelace, and the hilarious musical Spelling Bee. If you're in the mood for a theater road trip (about an hour from the cities), head south to Daleko.

"Rough Cuts" at Nautilus Music-Theater: "Hurricane"

It's the second week of the month, and that means it's time for another "Rough Cuts" at Nautilus Music-Theater. I'd go to every one if my schedule would allow, so fun and fascinating it is to experience a new work of music-theater in development. Fortunately this week is a fairly light one for me (only four shows on the schedule), so I was able to make it Nautilus' Lowertown St. Paul studio space to see a reading the new musical Hurricane, by L.A. based Cory Hinkle (libretto) and Carla Patullo (music). The performance will be repeated tonight (likely with a few tweaks, as workshops go) across the river at the Playwrights' Center. For a suggested donation of just $5, you too can experience this lovely new musical performed by some of #TCTheater's best. See Nautilus' Facebook page for details and to be informed about upcoming "Rough Cuts" (the next one is a selection from their annual composer-librettist studio on June 3-4).

Monday, May 13, 2019

"The Pathetic Life and Remarkable Afterlife of Elmer McCurdy, the Worst Robber in the West" by nimbus theatre at the Crane Theater

With their original work, nimbus theatre often brings us some fascinating but little known historical event or issue, typically in a thoughtful way that's somehow relevant to today. Their newest work, The Pathetic Life and Remarkable Afterlife of Elmer McCurdy, the Worst Robber in the West, does that too, but it's the first straight-up comedy I've seen them do, and it's great fun. Real life unsuccessful outlaw Elmer McCurdy would likely have been lost to history, if not for the strange tale of his corpse, which was preserved and made the rounds of carnivals, exhibits, side shows, and even movies, eventually stashed away in storage where it was discovered in 1976 and finally buried. He was the subject of an episode of Drunk History, and this play sort of feels like an extended episode of Drunk History. Silly and funny yet sorta kinda true.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

"Autonomy" by Mixed Blood Theatre at the St. Paul RiverCentre

Mixed Blood Theatre's latest project is wildly ambitious, and they accomplish it quite brilliantly. Reminiscent of Safe at Home, a walking play staged in nine locations at CHS Field with precise timing, Autonomy is a driving play staged at nine locations within the exhibit hall at St. Paul RiverCentre. It's a play about climate change, immigration, and autonomous vehicles (aka self-driving cars). A great guideline for making theater is "content dictates form," so when the content is about cars, why not surround the audience with classic cars and have them drive around in golf carts? A little on-the-nose, but it's quite effective. It's really too bad they're only running it for one weekend. There are four more groups of performances but only extremely limited tickets remain. Autonomy is a forward-thinking experiment in theater like you've never seen before.

Friday, May 10, 2019

"The Play That Goes Wrong" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

When something goes wrong at the theater, it can sometimes lead to a wonderful moment in which you get a peek inside the process and see how the actors react to the unexpected. When everything goes wrong, it leads to outrageous hilarity. Such is the concept of The Play That Goes Wrong, a 2012 British play (written by three playwrights from London's Mischief Theatre) that opened on Broadway in 2017, where it played for two years before moving to Off-Broadway earlier this year. Similar to Noises Off, it's a play-within-a-play that's so bad it's good. There's no subtlety in The Play, it's all super broad comedy, including pratfalls, spit takes, and falling scenery. They continue to pile it on until the whole thing collapses in glorious chaos. Broadway plays don't often go on tour, and the fact that this one is on tour points to the fact that it's a crowd-pleaser. The ridiculousness continues through Sunday only (click here for info and tickets).

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Minnesota Fringe Festival: "Five-Fifths of Mary Poppins" at Park Square Theatre

We're only three months away from the most hectic, exiting, exhausting, wonderful week in #TCTheater: the Minnesota Fringe Festival! This year's festival will take place August 1-11 (with the related Family Fringe happening July 26-28 and August 2-4), but events have been happening all year. May brings one of my favorite Fringe events, the "Five-Fifths" benefit, in which a popular movie is divided into five parts and handed to five Fringe companies for them to interpret as they wish. It's a very clever concept, and one that really showcases what's unique about each company. This year's choice was Mary Poppins, and the results were, as my friend Jules from Minnesota Theater Love succinctly put it, "weird and fun." Just like Fringe!

"Tinker to Evers to Chance" at Artistry

You don't have to be a Cubs fan to know the exquisite joy and pain of loving a baseball team. I've been a Twins fan my whole life, so I understand the highs ('87 and '91 world champs!) and lows (too many to name) that come with being a die-hard fan. In Playwrights' Center core writer Mat Smart's play Tinker to Evers to Chance, now receiving its regional premiere with Artistry, he very cleverly draws parallels between that specific and complicated baseball sort of love with other sorts of love - that experienced in families and relationships. When you've been disappointed by love (whether that's your beloved Cubbies losing a chance at the World Series by the skin of their teeth, or watching your wife die a slow and painful death), how do you let yourself love again? Is it worth it? You don't have to be a baseball fan to relate to the very human emotions explored in Tinker to Evers to Chance.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

"Dirty Business: The Spy Musical" at History Theatre

As the final installment of their HERstory spring - true stories by women about women - the History Theatre brings us a new original musical (my favorite thing). Dirty Business: The Spy Musical, with book and lyrics by Laurie Flanigan-Hegge (Sweet Land) and music by Robert Elhai (C., The Lady with a Lap Dog), tells the stories of mostly forgotten female heroes of WWII. The piece was first presented at History Theatre's "Raw Stages" festival of new works last year, when it showed great promise, and it's exciting to see it now as a full production. Dirty Business is a whirlwind journey through pre-WWII Europe, with many players and missions, that's fun, educational, and inspirational.

"Matilda" at Children's Theatre Company

Please read about my decision to join the boycott of Children's Theatre Company here.

The successful musical Matilda (it ran for four years on Broadway, eight years and counting in the West End) is a musical led by child actors, so of course it's the perfect choice for Children's Theatre Company. Although they have a lot of talented adults on stage, and some of their shows even have entirely adult casts, what they do best is nurture and showcase the talent of #TCTheater's youth. And what a bunch of revolting children they are. Nine exuberant, precocious, stupidly talented kids lead us through this dark but inspiring story by Roald Dahl (who also brought us Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and likes to show children getting the best of some truly cruel adults). The show is darkly funny yet surprisingly moving, with fantastic performances from the cast, young and old.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

"The Gun Show" by Uprising Theatre at off-leash area art box

Every day there is another news story about people being killed by guns - mass shootings, gang violence, accidents, police shootings, and suicides. The numbers are staggering. And the worst part is, after each horrific occurrence, nothing changes. If anything, it only makes the two opposing sides double down on their firm unchanging opinions. That's no solution. Nothing changes, and more people die, and all of us live in fear. In her play The Gun Show, playwright E.M. Lewis says something to the effect that guns are what helped to build this great country of ours, but guns were never the point. Freedom was the point. And it doesn't feel very free right now, living with the fear of gun violence every time we step outside our home (and also inside the home for many people). The play had its first reading six years ago, and sadly grows more relevant and necessary every day. It's a fitting choice, then, for Uprising Theatre Company, a newish #TCTheater company that regularly partners with local non-profits to make a real difference in the community, beyond sharing important stories. This play is the second in their 2019 season that is entirely focused on gun violence, a much needed conversation to have.

Friday, May 3, 2019

"Ordway Cabaret, A Brand New Day: Rise Up!" at the Ordway Concert Hall

Last night the Ordway presented their second installment in their new Ordway Cabaret series. At this point it's a one-night only event (if you missed it you're out of luck, sorry), but they did also share it with almost 2000 students as part of the Ordway's education program. The first installment earlier this year was subtitled "Breaking Barriers," this one is "Rise Up!" and the third, coming this fall, will be "all about the ladies," i.e., about how women are portrayed in musical theater and how female audience members and performers respond to that (see also Not Fair, My Lady!). The Ordway Cabaret is similar to the Broadway Songbook series that the Ordway ran for a number of years, except that it's less about musical theater history and more about the performers' personal history as it relates to musical theater. I'm really loving this twist, because it shows in a very real way how much musical theater can affect our lives, both for performers and audience members. And as always with these types of shows at the Ordway, the phenomenal cast brings their hearts and souls to the wonderful performances of beloved musical theater songs.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

"The Brothers Paranormal" by Theater Mu and Penumbra Theatre

For the first time in their long and celebrated histories, #TCTheater's African American and Asian American theaters (Penumbra and Mu) are joining forces in the regional premiere of the new play The Brothers Paranormal. In it, an African American couple hires two Thai brothers to investigate some mysterious happenings around their house. The result is a totally captivating thriller that also deals with some pretty serious issues surrounding culture and mental health. It's a play that's both wildly entertaining, and speaks to our world today in a meaningful and thought-provoking way. And as usual with these two theaters, the production is top notch, with an excellent cast and spot on design. Don't miss this historic and fantastic #TCTheater collaboration!

Monday, April 29, 2019

"Shul" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at Highland Park Center Theatre

On a weekend when there was yet another deadly attack on a synagogue, I can think of no better reaction to the devastating news than to go to our local Jewish theater and support Jewish artists, Jewish stories, Jewish culture. Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's world premiere new play Shul, another word for synagogue, is especially appropriate as it deals with an inner city synagogue in danger of closing, and even references a bullet hole in the window. It's a beautiful, funny, poignant story about a group of people trying to keep their culture, traditions, and community alive in the face of ever-changing modern times.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

"Red Hot and Cole" at Theatre in the Round

Cole Porter wrote many a song in the great American songbook, and dozens of Broadway musicals, his most famous being Anything Goes and Kiss Me Kate (currently being revived on Broadway). I previously learned about his career in musical theater and film at an installment of the Ordway's Broadway Songbook six years ago, but I didn't know much about his personal life. The musical revue Red Hot and Cole, now playing at the longest running theater in Minneapolis, Theatre in the Round, fills in those gaps. Song after hit song, interspersed with scenes from Cole's life and his fabulous and famous friend, all taking place at the swankiest cocktail party. It's an evening filled with great music and a deeper understanding of the man behind so many witty, clever, tuneful songs.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

"Hidden Heroes: The Black Women of NASA" at Stages Theatre Company

Are you (or your children) a fan of superhero origin stories? If so, you (and they) should go see Hidden Heroes: The Black Women of NASA at Stages Theatre in Hopkins. It's the origin story of heroes named Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Miriam Mann, and Annie Easley - black women scientists and mathematicians who played a vital role in the space race. Most of us learned about them through the 2016 film Hidden Figures, which was based on the book of the same name that came out the same year. Now multi-talented #TCTheater artist Shá Cage has adapted the book into a play for young people, that imagines what these remarkable women were like as children. She's taken a bit of artistic license (I doubt all four went to the same school), but shares the truth of what it was like to be a black girl growing up in the mid 20th Century, the limitations placed on them that they persevered through to become heroes. It's a very special thing to see a stage full of women and girls of color telling this story, inspiring us not only with the history of these smart, brave, pioneering black women, but also with their own artistic talent. Director Signe V. Harriday notes in the program: "May this play spark in you the feeling of joy and the power of dreaming." Mission accomplished.

"Marjorie Prime" by Prime Productions at Park Square Theatre

New #TCTheater company Prime Productions "seeks to explore, illuminate and support women over fifty and their stories through the creative voice of performance." Hooray! Their third full production just opened at Park Square Theatre, and it's another high quality thought-provoking play featuring women in their prime. The regional premiere of the new play Marjorie Prime by playwright Jordan Harrison is, like his play Maple and Vine, a little trippy and creepy. But instead of a scary Stepford society, it deals with artificial intelligence and the benefits and possibly scary consequences of technology. But it also deals with very human issues of aging, death, grief, and complicated family relationships.

"Metamorphoses" at the Guthrie Theater

"Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths." The Guthrie's production of Metamorphoses, from which this quote comes, feels like a dream and a myth, gorgeously come to life on stage. I knew nothing about this play going into it, and was absolutely enthralled by it. Some of the myths relayed in the play were familiar to me, some entirely new. The play is only 90 minutes long, so only 10-15 minutes is spent on each myth. But the telling is so exquisite that each one feels like a full, rich, complete story. Playwright Mary Zimmerman directs the play she wrote 20+ years ago. When the same person writes and directs, it creates such a singular vision, a clear and cohesive storytelling, and that's definitely the case here. You don't need to know anything about mythology to see this play, and don't let that word scare you. This is not a dry history lesson from long ago, it's a fluid, captivating, beautiful retelling of these archetypal stories that still resonate.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

"Cry It Out" at Yellow Tree Theatre

There's been a lot of crying at Yellow Tree Theatre this season (the classic play The Miracle Worker about a deaf and blind child learning to communicate, the new musical Flowers for the Room about a woman in a coma, plus tears of laughter at the original Minnesota comedy Miracle on Christmas Lake). But fortunately their final show of the season, the regional premiere of the new play Cry It Out, despite having the word "cry" in the title, is a comedy. Although not without poignant moments and very relatable pain. It's not an easy pat sitcom with solutions found in 90 minutes. Rather it's an exploration of the joy, pain, confusion, isolation, friendships, and conflicts associated with being a new parent. No need to bring tissues for this one, but be prepared to laugh, and if you've ever had young children, commiserate, as the excellent cast and creative team brings us right into this messy, funny, real world.

Monday, April 22, 2019

"Be More Chill" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at Illusion Theater

Something strange and exciting is happening at Illusion Theater on the 8th floor of the Hennepin Center for the Arts in downtown Minneapolis. Young people, teenagers even, are going to the theater. And having a great time! As a theater-goer in my '40s, I often find myself the youngest person in the room (especially at a Sunday matinee). Theater audiences skew older, whether for financial reasons, or because of the theater that's being offered, or because young people simply don't think theater is cool. But Minneapolis Musical Theatre seems to have cracked that audience with their latest show Be More Chill, which just completed the 3rd of its four-week run. It's set in a modern day high school, with characters that feel real, even if the situation is fantastical. The good news is even those of us many years removed from our HS days will be delighted by this energetic, exciting, entrancing new musical. Just three more shows remain!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

"Pop Goes the Noggin" by SOS Theater at Gremlin Theatre

New #TCTheater company SOS Theater debuted a year and half ago with the dark comedy / family dramedy Roller Derby Queen. I really enjoyed that play, calling it "smart, funny, and well-written, with quirky but real characters," and was looking forward to their second outing. Pop Goes the Noggin is another new play written by Michele Lepsche, a dark comedy featuring quirky characters. Unfortunately it's an example of the proverbial sophomore slump as the great ideas don't quite come together, perhaps because due to an unexpected illness the playwright was unable to finish the play, which was completed by director Kari Steinbach and cast member Greta Grosch (one of the writers of the Church Basement Ladies series). But the play has an interesting premise, and a cast of unique and endearing characters (some more defined than others). There's definitely potential there, and it would be interesting to see it again after a round of revisions.

Friday, April 19, 2019

"Velvet Swing" by the Umbrella Collective at Bryant Lake Bowl

Now it's the
Crime of the century
Crime of the century
Giving the world a thrill

Harry's in trouble
And Stanny's in heaven
And Evelyn is in Vaudeville

So go the lyrics of the song "Crime of the Century" in the musical Ragtime, based on the E.L. Doctorow novel about life in early 20th Century America. But of course, there's more to the story of Evelyn Nesbit than that. Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? In the new play Velvet Swing by the Umbrella Collective, Evelyn tells her own story, as brought to life by five actors. This 100+ year old story rings eerily true today - a young woman taken advantage of by older men she trusted and who helped her in her career, a fascination with celebrity, a true crime story that was the talk of the town. Umbrella Collective sheds a new and modern light on this all too familiar story.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

"Hello, Dolly!" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

Friends, I think it's safe to say that the long-awaited spring has arrived. And our reward for making it through the long bleak winter is the tour of the recent Broadway revival of the classic musical Hello, Dolly! The luscious old-fashioned (in a good way) show fairly leaps off the stage in an explosion of music, romance, dance, color, and the hopeful life of springtime. Bette Midler won a Tony in the title role a few years ago; the tour needed big talent to fill those big shoes. They've found it in Broadway legend Betty Buckley. I was fortunate enough to see the Divine Miss M on Broadway, and while the two actors are very different in ways I can't quite articulate (perhaps Bette is more comic and almost zany, Betty more earthy and grounded), Betty is quite divine in her own way, totally makes the role her own, and charms everyone in the room. The 55-year-old musical with a strong female leading role has held up relatively well, and the creators have pulled out all the stops to make this show a musical theater lover's dream. Dolly is staying in Minneapolis for two weeks, before she has to go away again, leaving the world a little duller in her absence. (Click here for info and tickets.)

Monday, April 15, 2019

"Victor/Victoria" by Artistry at Bloomington Center for the Arts

Twenty-four years ago, a new musical premiered in Minneapolis before moving to Broadway. A new musical starring Julie Andrews, created for her by her husband Blake Edwards, based on the 1982 movie also created for her. Yet inexplicably Victor/Victoria is only now receiving its regional premiere. Theaters have a tendency to do the tried and true musicals that we all know and love, but there are so many rarely produced gems out there (see also this list of musicals written by women). Artistry is bringing us one such musical in Victor/Victoria, and even more in their 2019-2020 season (which includes the rarely done musicals A New Brain and Mame, as well as the regional premiere of the 2014 musical The Bridges of Madison County with music by Jason Robert Brown, one of the most gorgeous scores I've ever heard). And even better - Victor/Victoria happens to be very timely and relevant with its themes of gender fluidity and being free to be who you are and love who you want. The team at Artistry has delivered a gorgeous production of this big old-fashioned musical full of heart and humor.