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.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

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

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

"The Hobbit" at Children's Theatre Company

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

Saturday, March 16, 2019

"Roe" at Mixed Blood Theatre

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

Friday, March 15, 2019

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

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

Thursday, March 14, 2019

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

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

Monday, March 11, 2019

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

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

Sunday, March 10, 2019

"Mamma Mia!" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

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

Saturday, March 9, 2019

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

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

Thursday, March 7, 2019

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

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

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

"The Government Inspector" at Theatre in the Round

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

Sunday, March 3, 2019

"My Antonia" at Illusion Theater

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

Friday, March 1, 2019

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

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