Monday, January 27, 2020

"The Bridges of Madison County" at Artistry

As frequent readers of this blog may know, I'm not generally a fan of turning movies into musicals. And I'm not sure that the 1995 movie The Bridges of Madison County, adapted from the 1992 best-sellimg novel by Robert James Waller, was crying out to be a musical. But I am sure that Jason Robert Brown's score is one of the best musical theater scores ever written. And not just because it's absolutely stunning to listen to, but also because it so effectively expresses the emotions of the characters. The music makes you feel what they feel, so much so that I was blowing my nose into a tear-soaked tissue at the end of Artistry's regional premiere production. This is perhaps a story that plays better on a smaller stage, tender and intimate, so I'm thrilled to finally see a #TCTheater production. Artistry has assembled simply the best local cast you could ask for and created a show so gorgeous that it's not to be missed. As I wrote about the tour a few years ago, and is even more true now, "If you're a fan of music-theater, or just music in general, go see this show to experience one of the best scores coming out of Broadway in recent years, wrapped up in a sweeping romance."

Sunday, January 26, 2020

"The Madwoman of Minneapolis" by The BAND Group at Calvary Baptist Church

The little theater in the basement of Calvary Baptist Church is becoming one of my favorite theater venues, because it's intimate and versatile. The latest example is The BAND Group's adaptation of the mid 20th Century French satire The Madwoman of Chaillot, which they're calling The Madwoman of Minneapolis. They've turned the space into a cafe, complete with food and drinks, which makes for an immersive and intimate (but not interactive, thankfully) experience of this charming little story, with a message of environmentalism and community over consumerism that couldn't be more timely.

Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" at Children's Theatre Company

"Don't worry about a thing
'Cause every little thing gonna be alright!"
Bob Marley's most well known lyrics describe exactly the feeling one gets from watching Children's Theatre Company's* production of Three Little Birds. In just over an hour, this sweet and fantastical story plays out, about a scared and isolated boy who learns to be brave with the help of his friends, both human and bird. I must confess, I know very little about Bob Marley or his native Jamaica, and I'm not familiar with more than a few of his songs. This show is a great introduction to his music and his message, and it makes me want to board the next flight to Jamaica!

Friday, January 24, 2020

"A Flight of Short Musicals" by Theatre Elision at Elision Playhouse

For the last three years, Theatre Elision has been bringing us short rarely done or original musicals. With A Flight of Short Musicals, they're bringing us six super short rarely done or original musicals, all in one night! They're all truly delightful and unexpected, at least one locally written, and performed by a talented local cast. If that weren't enough, your admission also includes a flight of three drinks (wine, or alcoholic or non-alcoholic cocktails), delivered to your seat during short intermissions. It makes for a really fun and special evening of enjoying new music and drinks. Unfortunately what's also short is the run of the show - only two performances remain! So head to the cozy and welcoming new Elision Playhouse in Crystal (on 42nd Ave just off 100) this weekend to catch this fun and original evening of music-theater (click here for more info and to reserve tickets).

Thursday, January 23, 2020

"Noura" at the Guthrie Theater

The night after seeing Jungle Theater's production of Lucas Hnath's sequel to Ibsen's A Doll's House, I saw Heather Raffo's Noura at the Guthrie Theater, which is, among many other things, a response to A Doll's House. But it's a much different story. This Noura is in an actually good marriage, not just a seemingly good marriage, with a supportive husband. But yet, as the playwright says in a note in a playbill, "women all around me, in strong marriages with truly great husbands, were drowning." But it's not just her role in her marriage that Noura is questioning, she's also questioning her very identity as an Iraqi refugee and new American citizen. She mourns for the culture and the community that she has lost, desperately trying to recreate it on different shores with a scattered family, and finally becoming overwhelmed by it all. As she says in the play, "I don't know how to let go and hold on at the same time." This is a devastating play, that brings to light issues of worldwide refugees, the destruction of war, cultures lost, individualism vs. community, and personal identity. It's incredibly current and relevant, and beautifully presented by the cast and creative team.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

"A Doll's House, Part 2" at the Jungle Theater

When I saw A Doll's House a few years ago I was struck by how much 19th century Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's 140-year-old play still resonates. A few years ago playwright Lucas Hnath wrote a sequel that takes place 15 years later, so approaching the turn of the last century, but written with modern language and sensibilities. It feels both of its time and of our time. A Doll's House, Part 2 furthers the conversation that Ibsen began around marriage and women's role in society. And while maybe it's true that "we've come a long way, baby," history is full of steps forward and backward in terms of human rights, and this is a conversation that feels particularly important to have today. The Jungle Theater's regional premiere is beautifully done, as to be expected by the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers' favorite theater of 2019.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The History Theatre's New Works Festival "Raw Stages" 2020

January may be the depths of winter in Minnesota, but it also brings one of my favorite theater events of the year. History Theatre, or HERstory Theatre as it's currently known, holds workshops and a public reading of four new works of theater in what they call their "Raw Stages" festival. For a theater that produces as many world premieres as History Theatre (something like 70% of their work is new), this is an important part of their season. This is my seventh year attending Raw Stages, and it's super fun to see a reading of an exciting new work, typically about a true Minnesota story, and then watch it continue to develop and often receive a full production a season or two later. In fact History Theatre's next three productions this year were part of last year's Raw Stages - Superman Becomes Lois Lane, Not for Sale, and Runestone! A Rock Musical. I only missed one of this year's readings (thanks, winter), and they're all really exciting work that I hope to see more of. A post-show discussion follows every reading, which is often the most moving part as people who lived and remember the story share their experiences. It's a powerful experience in and of itself, and also provides a glimpse behind the scenes. What follows is a short description of each play and my thoughts.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

"Bernarda Alba" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Theater Latte Da's area premiere of Bernarda Alba is unlike anything I've seen. The musical adaptation of the play The House of Bernarda Alba by Spanish playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca premiered in 2006, but the play was written in 1936 and first performed in 1945. It tells the story of a widow and her five adult daughters, who are suffering under their mother's strict control of their lives and bodies. The score is complex, haunting, and gorgeous, and the depiction of the lack of freedom and limited roles of women in society is sobering and not unfamiliar. Bernarda Alba feels different than a typical musical; when I attended opening night there was no applause during the show, partly because it doesn't follow the usual structure of clearly differentiated songs and dialogue with scripted applause breaks, and partly because it felt like we were under a spell we didn't want to break. It's a complicated piece,* and cast and creative team pull it off beautifully.

Monday, January 13, 2020

"Black Comedy" at Theatre in the Round

When looking at the #TCTheater schedule for the second weekend of 2020, I saw Black Comedy at Theatre in the Round and thought - what's that? I went to their website to check it out and saw the below photo of Josh Carson and Don Maloney, and my immediate thought was - yes, please! You might know Josh from his Fringe shows or his sold out annual parody A Very Die Hard Christmas, and Don from various shows at Lyric Arts (and other stages around town) including a very funny Odd Couple. Not only was I correct in my choice to see these two in a comedy, but the entire cast is fantastic in what is a classic British '60s farce of a play, with detailed and clever design to make this comedy in the dark really shine.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

"Bloomsday" at Lyric Arts

A character in Steven Dietz's play Bloomsday says something like, "a sunny day is nice, but on a rainy day the ache for the sun is nicer." This distinctly Irish sentiment is a good description of this bittersweet story of a pair of star-crossed lovers meeting across space and time. It may not be a happy ending, but the ache for these two characters to find happiness is grand. Lyric Arts' new production features a strong four-person cast and lovely design that bring us right into this charming and unconventional love story.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The 77th "Musical Mondays" at LUSH, January 2020

What better way to celebrate the beginning of the 2020s than to look back at some great musical theater songs from the 1920s? For their 77th show, Musical Mondays did just that. Hosted by talented #TCTheater artists and BFFs Sheena Janson Kelley and Max Wojtanowicz, this popular monthly cabaret series at LUSH Bar in Northeast Minneapolis showcases different local talent every month. Also different every month is the theme, which gives musical theater fans like myself the chance to take a deep dive into a specific genre and learn a little bit more about musical theater history, while enjoying a fun and entertaining night, at the cost of a suggested $5 donation (which goes directly to the artists). This series should definitely be on the radar of every local music-theater fan. Their next show is on February 3; follow their Facebook page for the announcement of theme and performers.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Lorna Landvik's "Party in the Rec Room" at Bryant-Lake Bowl

It's the new year, and that means it's time for another Party in the Rec Room at Bryant-Lake Bowl! Local "author/entertainer/antic dealer" Lorna Landvik returns with her annual improv performance/party. I've not read her books or seen her show before but I've heard good things. Plus I love dinner and a 7pm 90-minute show at Bryant-Lake Bowl (doors open at 6, with dinner and drink service before and during the show). It was obvious last Saturday night that much of the audience were fans and returnees, and came ready to have fun! Lorna entertained with improvised scenes and songs using her particular brand of Minnesota humor, and her comfort on stage and genuine rapport with the audience made for a fun evening.

"Becky Shaw" at Gremlin Theatre

Just who is Becky Shaw and why does she have a play named after her? That's a good question, and even after seeing Gremlin Theatre's production I'm not sure I know. But I think maybe she's a little bit like the gentleman caller. It's not really about her, but about what she represents. She's a catalyst for change in one family's life. A family full of horrible people saying horrible things and treating each other horribly. Yes, Becky Shaw is one of those plays, one of those unlikable people plays that make you laugh but also feel guilty about laughing. If you're looking to start this new decade with positivity and light, this is not it. But if you're looking for a super dark comedy about despicable people, meet Becky Shaw!

Friday, January 3, 2020

2019 #TCTheater Favorites

Happy New Year #TCTheater friends! This is the 10th year-end wrap up I have written on this blog; this summer I will mark 10 years of writing about theater in Minneapolis and St. Paul. That's a lot of theater, and a lot to love. This year I saw about 200 shows (not counting 29 Fringe shows), and I would like to share with you some of my favorite experiences of the year.