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!