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 Theatre 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 Theatre 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

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.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

"The Last Days of Commodus" by Four Humors Theatre at Strike Theater

Four Humors Theatre brings their thoughtfully ridiculous interpretation of history and/or literature to the Roman Emperor Commodus, a by all accounts horrible ruler who brought an end to the era known as "Pax Romana" - no more peace and stability for Rome under this egotistical tyrant. Playwright and company member Matt Spring sets the story as a play-within-a-play, which allows for commentary and exposition around the story that's being told, breaking down all the complicated history into a palatable 90-minute story. It's the type of zany fun I've come to expect from Four Humors, perhaps with a bit of social and political commentary if you look past the silliness. The Last Days of Commodus continues through next weekend only at Strike Theatre in Northeast Minneapolis.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

"The Drowning Girls" by Freshwater Theatre at the Crane Theater

Three victims of an early 20th Century English serial killer have their say in the haunting play The Drowning Girls, receiving its regional premiere with Freshwater Theatre. Based on a book about this true story, The Drowning Girls examines the life of these three women, their hopes in marrying a seemingly charming man, and the dire consequences when it's revealed he's a con man and serial marryer/murderer, after their money only. The play is ingeniously staged with three onstage bathtubs, shower-heads periodically pouring water into them, the three hardy actors working in water and wet clothes for the entire 75-minute show (which probably explains why the theater was toasty warm, a nice treat on a cold late winter day). The short run closes this weekend - just two remaining performances; click here for more info on how to see this fascinating, gripping, and well executed story.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

2019 NYC Trip: "The Ferryman" at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

Show*: 7

Title: The Ferryman

Location: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

Written By: Jez Butterworth

Summary: A sprawling Irish family drama set during "The Troubles" in early 1980s Northern Ireland.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

2019 NYC Trip: "Oklahoma!" at Circle in the Square

Show*: 6

Title: Oklahoma!

Location: Circle in the Square

Written By: Rodgers and Hammerstein

Summary: Director Daniel Fish brings urgent new life to this American musical theater classic for a complex look at life on the frontier then and now.

2019 NYC Trip: "Hillary and Clinton" at the Golden Theatre

Show*: 5

Title: Hillary and Clinton

Location: Golden Theatre

Written By: Lucas Hnath

Summary: An alternate universe in which a woman named Hillary is running for president in 2008.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

2019 NYC Trip: "Smart Blonde" at 59E59 Theater

Show*: 4

Title: Smart Blonde

Location: 59E59 Theater Off Broadway

Written By: Willy Holtzman

Summary: The life and career of Broadway and film start Judy Holliday in 90 minutes.

Friday, April 5, 2019

2019 NYC Trip: "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the Shubert Theatre

Show*: 3

Title: To Kill a Mockingbird

Location: Shubert Theatre

Written By: Aaron Sorkin (adapted from the novel by Harper Lee)

Summary: A new adaptation of the American classic.

2019 NYC Trip: "Fiddler on the Roof" at Stage 42

Show*: 2

Title: Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish

Location: Stage 42 Off Broadway

Written By: music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, book by Joseph Stein with Yiddish translation by Shraga Friedman

Summary: The beloved 1964 musical about an early 20th Century Jewish family forced to leave their Russian home, performed in Yiddish.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

2019 NYC Trip: "Hadestown" at the Walter Kerr Theatre

Show*: 1

Title: Hadestown

Location: Walter Kerr Theatre

Written By: Anais Mitchell

Summary: A folk musical retelling of the Orpheus myth, developed from Anais' 2010 concept album with director Rachel Chavkin.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

"Evita" at Lyric Arts

Continuing with their season of showcasing women's stories, Lyric Arts presents the musical Evita, one of the most popular woman's story in music-theater. There hasn't been a local production of it in several years, so the time feels ripe to revisit this story. It's a big show for Lyric Arts to tackle, a sung-through musical with a large cast and complicated score, but they've proven that they're up to the task (this season began with a regional premiere of a new musical, and next season will too). They've enlisted a strong cast, which is notably one of the most diverse casts I've ever seen at the Anoka theater, plus a great design team. The result is a thrilling production of this 1980 multiple Tony-winning classic.

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 and final reading of the series, which continues TONIGHT (reservations recommended, but if you show up they'll usually be able to get you in) and past readings in the series.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

I've been excited to see Theater Latte Da's production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, starring multi-talented #TCTheater artist Tyler Michaels King, since they announced their season last spring. I've loved Hedwig since seeing the movie in the early aughts, and even more so since seeing her Broadway debut five years ago in the person of Neil Patrick Harris. Even though punk rock isn't usually my scene, I really connect with this queen of the misfits and losers who encourages us all to be ourselves, and reminds us that we are worthy and whole exactly as we are. Latte Da's production captures all that and more - part fantastically fun rock concert, part transformational journey to the self. The piece is co-directed by Artistic Director Peter Rothstein and Annie Enneking, #TCTheater's preeminent fight choreographer and headliner of the rock band Annie and the Bang Bang. Through this perfect combination of Peter's clear vision for music-theater storytelling and Annie's rock star sensibilites, they have created a piece that's epic and intimate, loud and in your face, yet beautiful and touching.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

"The Beldenville Troll" at Open Eye Figure Theatre

Open Eye Figure Theatre's The Red Shoes, created by Joel Sass, was one of my favorite shows of 2017. So when I heard they were doing a (sort of) sequel to that piece, I was all in! The Beldenville Troll shares no characters, plot points, or locations with The Red Shoes; it's more of a thematic sequel, in which they "continue our creative grafting of fairytale themes and folklore onto surprising modern settings by utilizing a creep museum of compelling artifacts, animated shadow puppets, and live performers." It's another unique and ingenious creation from Joel Sass and the team, and what I wrote about The Red Shoes also applies here: "My immediate thought at the end of the show was, 'how do people think of such things?' The Red Shoes The Beldenville Troll is something so curious and unique, odd and chilling, inventive and charming, it's thoroughly captivating from start to finish."

Friday, March 29, 2019

"Sisters of Peace" at History Theatre

In the second of a three-show HERstory spring, the History Theatre is telling the true story of four local sisters and Sisters who actively work for peace and justice. The aptly named Sisters of Peace brings these four amazing women to life on stage (who, by the way, are still alive and continuing their work in their 80s and 90s). I was so moved and inspired by these courageous and determined women who ceaselessly work to create a better world, that I was often moved to tears, amidst the laughter of their lives. These women fight not with weapons, but with kindness, music, love, and laughter. We would all be better people if we lived by the mantra, "what would the McDonald sisters do?" Sisters of Peace is not only a truly feel-good piece, but also a call to action to live more authentic lives and consider our fellow beings on this planet.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

"Cyrano de Bergerac" at the Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie's Artistic Director Joseph Haj brings his adaptation of the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac to the proscenium stage. First produced in 2006 and revised for this production, he based it on the original French and two early English translations, with a goal "to create a well-built, forward-moving story with a steady rhythm that remained in pursuit of what I believed to be Rostand's key theme: the idea that true beauty resides within." Mission accomplished. A dynamic staging, a lovely cast, and inventive design bring this beloved classic to life.

Monday, March 25, 2019

"Mother Courage and Her Children" by Pangea World Theater at the Lab Theater

Pangea World Theater began in 1995 with the following mission: "Pangea illuminates the human condition, celebrates cultural differences, and promotes human rights by creating and presenting international, multi-disciplinary theater." Inexplicably, I have not seen any of their work until last weekend. I'm happy to jump on board with their thoughtful and thought-provoking production of German playwright Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, performed at the gorgeous Lab Theater in Minneapolis' North Loop neighborhood. Written at the start of WWII, it tells the story of a woman and her children during Europe's 17th Century Thirty Years' War, but its themes translate to any and all wars occurring around the world. Specifically the way some parties seek out war and encourage it because of the profits that can be gained, while others pay the ultimate price. A strong ten-person ensemble and cool design elements effectively tell this important story.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Collide Theatrical Dance Company at Park Square Theatre

Now in their 6th season, Collide Theatrical Dance Company is an expert at telling stories through dance. In their newest original jazz dance musical, playwright and frequent collaborator Michael Hanna has re-imagined Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray in the modern NYC fashion world with all female characters. I'll let Regina Peluso, Collide's Artistic Director and choreographer of this show, take it from here. "This classic story, as told through a female lens, illustrates many central themes for women today including the fight against aging in our culture and in the beauty industry, social media's narcissistic influence, the depravity behind perfection, and the debate between beauty and morality." That's more words than are uttered in the entire 100-minute (including intermission) show, but all of that and more is conveyed through the expressive choreography, beautifully danced and emoted by the company, the appropriately chosen pop songs, and the sparkling look of the show. It's a fabulous and well constructed piece of dance-music-theater.

"Cosi fan tutte" by Skylark Opera Theatre at the Historic Mounds Theatre

The last (and only) time I saw Mozart's comic opera Cosi fan tutte was 24 years ago when I was studying abroad in his lovely hometown of Salzburg, at the Marionettentheater during the week celebrating his birthday (a big deal in Salzburg). I remember nothing about it, other than that I saw it. No better way to experience it, for basically the first time in memory, than with Skylark Opera Theatre, which specializes in performing both new and classic operas in an accessible way, including performing in English. For an opera that roughly translates as "women are like that," Cosi fan tutte could be a difficult one to present in 2019. But Skylark has managed to make it modern and fun, with the jerks not getting away with the nasty tricks they play on their fiances. Performed in the small intimate space at the Historic Mounds Theatre in just over two hours, it's a fun and accessible way to experience the work of this gifted composer.

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.