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.