The show begins before the show begins. Be sure to get to your seat 15-20 minutes early to enjoy the pre-show entertainment of traditional Eastern European music and dance as the cast mingles onstage at Kafé Heaven. You'll know the show is officially beginning when the proprietor (played by director/choreographer Joe Chvala) welcomes the audience to Kafé Heaven. Similar to the prologue of West Side Story, the opening dance number sets the scene, as dancing turns to fighting and back to dancing again. Throughout the story, music and dance are woven seamlessly into the dialogue in such an organic way that there are few applause breaks (which this theater-goer enjoys), just continuous storytelling.
|Peter (Riley McNutt) and Faruk (Eric Webster) surrounded by|
soldiers (photo by Loco f/x Photography)
|Peter (Riley McNutt) and Lejla (Jessica Staples) find a moment of|
connection amidst the chaos of war (photo by Loco f/x Photography)
Composer Chan Poling's score (also created by Joe Chvala, Victor Zupanc, and Natalie Nowytski) is a wonderful blend of Eastern European sound with more traditional musical theater songs. Music director/band leader Jake Endres and lead vocalist Natalie Nowytski, who specializes in this style of music, return from the 2011 production and lead this fantastic cast and band in creating a beautiful and moving soundscape for the story. Joe Chvala's trademark percussive body-slapping choreography is thrilling to watch, and perfectly matches the tone of the story, whether it's the terrors of war or the celebration of the people.
|the cast of Heaven (photo by Loco f/x photography)|
Heaven is one of my favorite local music-theater-dance creations of the last decade, and I'm so happy it's back. It's really about finding connection and joy, even amidst the horrors of war. As I wrote in 2011: "Original musical theater that uses music and movement to tell an interesting, relevant, meaningful, entertaining story, and to help us make sense of the world we live in. That's what musical theater can, and should, do. And when that happens, there's nothing better."
Heaven continues through June 23 at Park Square Theatre in downtown St. Paul. Be sure to get there early to take in the exhibit in the lobby and pre-show entertainment on stage, and consider partaking in the post-show discussions and related programming (click here for all the details).
*Plot summary borrowed from what I wrote about the 2011 production.