Tuesday, July 27, 2021

"The Music Man" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

Chanhassen Dinner Theatres opened their production of The Music Man in early March of 2020, when I was out of town on vacation in paradise, aka New Zealand. I was scheduled to see it mid-March when I returned, but we know how that story goes. Fast-forward through 16 long months to their re-opening a few weeks ago, and I was finally able to see the show. It was only my second time inside a theater since I left town in late February of 2020, and my first large-scale musical with a full house. I attended with my mom, aunties, and cousins, and in the middle of the first act one of them leaned over to me and said "it's so good I can hardly stand it!" I couldn't agree more. It was a very emotional experience for me, watching a huge group of talented performers (many of whom I've watched on stage for years) doing what they do best, with a few hundred people in the same space experiencing it live. Something that I used to take for granted, but no longer will. And I can't think of a better show with which to return than The Music Man, a celebration of the importance of music, community, connection, and working together towards a common goal, all things that have been sorely missing of late. It's a fantastic production from start to finish, and such a joy to be back. Tickets are on sale through the end of the year, so make your plans to visit River City!

Saturday, July 24, 2021

"Mamma Mia!" by Zephyr Theatre at Lowell Park

2021 is THE summer for fantastic outdoor* theater, and Zephyr Theatre's Mamma Mia! is high on that list. The Stillwater theater has been around for a few years, drawing top talent from #TCTheater, but this was my first experience with them. It will definitely not be my last. What's better than walking around charming riverside Stillwater, shopping, eating, and drinking, followed by outdoor theater performed on a stage with the St. Croix River and the historic lift bridge in the background?! In normal times they perform inside the Minnesota Zephyr Train Depot, but this summer they're opening their "Broadway by the Bridge" series with a show that's full of joy (as Artistic Director Calyssa Hall said before the show), Mamma Mia! Perhaps a bit of a guilty pleasure, this long-running hugely successful jukebox musical that spawned two movies (and counting) is so infectious with it's fun, familiar story-songs and heart-warming stories of female friendship and celebrating different kinds of families that you just can't help but love it. And this lovely and talented cast brings out all of the joy, fun, warmth, and humor of the piece, made extra specially poignant by the fact that it's likely the cast and audience's first return to theater after a very long extended intermission. That's a celebration in itself. The only downside of Mamma Mia! is that it runs this weekend only, and I do recommend buying tickets in advance (read: now) because it's close to selling out. Watch for the next "Broadway by the Bridge" in early August; I hear they're doing Shakespeare's As You Like It (dates and details TBA).

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Ghostlight Series: "The Rap Pack" streaming from Theater Latte Da

With so much summer outdoor live performance going on right now (click here for a full list), I almost forgot about Theater Latte Da's Ghostlight Series of virtual cabarets. Beginning in January, when things were still pretty dire in the pandemic world, they began releasing 30-minute virtual cabarets, with a new one coming out about every other month. They released the fourth show a few weeks ago and I watched it over the weekend. It's so different from the other shows, which have all been unique, and it's so much fun. The Rap Pack features a group of the same name, consisting of rappers GQ (Gregory Qaiyum), JQ (Jeffrey Qaiyum), Jax (Jackson Doran), and Pos (Postell Pringle). Their show is an engaging mix of comedy and hip hop done in that famous "Rat Pack" style.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

"Company" by Lakeshore Players Theatre in the parking lot of Hanifl Performing Arts Center

"Company! Lots of Company! Life is Company! Love is Company!"

It's been a very long time since most of us have experienced this sort of company. Even an introvert who enjoys her own company is craving the company of other humans about now. And golly does it feel good to be in the company of a full audience enjoying a wonderful performance of Sondheim's Company, which is all about company, community, friendship, relationships, and togetherness. During the pandemic, White Bear Lake-based Lakeshore Players Theatre produced a number of new productions filmed for virtual viewing. But Company is their first live in-person show, performed on a very professional looking temporary stage in the large parking lot* behind the Hanifl Performing Arts Center (one of the benefits of theater in the suburbs - a free and spacious parking lot!). A gorgeous Minnesota summer evening, a talented cast, a Sondheim favorite, lots of company... what more could one ask for (other than a live band)?! The short run ends on July 25, don't miss it!

Saturday, July 17, 2021

2021 Summer Outdoor #TCTheater and More!

photo taken by me in the BWCA (no filter, it's just that gorgeous)
Updated July 17
I've long believed that one of the best things about a Minnesota summer (besides lakes, like the one at left in the BWCA) is the opportunity for watching outdoor performances. Every summer there are many great options, from music to plays and more. But this year, when outdoors feels like the safest place to be, and we're starved for live in-person entertainment after a year (and counting) of theater closures due to the pandemic, outdoor performances are absolutely necessary to get us through to that joyous day when we can return to the theater indoors. Below is a list of outdoor shows in #TCTheater (and beyond) planned for this spring/summer/fall. I'll continue to update this list as I hear of more, and please let me know via email (cherryandspoon@gmail.com), the comment section below, or social media if there are any I've missed.

Friday, July 16, 2021

"Islander" by Theatre Elision at Elision Playhouse

Theatre Elision could not have chosen a better piece for their post-covid return to the stage than the two-person a capella musical Islander, a recent hit from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And I could not have chosen a better show for my first time seeing a live performance inside a theater in 508 days (but who's counting?). Theatre Elision has been around for a little over four years and fills the niche of small-cast, one-act, rarely done or original musicals with a mostly female cast and/or creative team. They opened their new space just off Highway 100 in Crystal less than a year before the pandemic, and it's a lovely small venue that feels safe to return to with a masked and not too crowded audience. The feeling of being back inside the theater was indescribably wonderful and surreal. Islander is a brilliant piece of music-theater and just the kind of thing that Elision excels at. It's a sweet little story, fantastical yet grounded in characters that feel real, and musically gorgeous. The show runs for three weeks, longer than their usual short runs due to a reduced audience size, and I highly recommend you check them out and celebrate the beginning of the return of #TCTheater (click here for info and tickets).

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

2021 Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona

A true sign that our performing arts are back and stronger than ever, Great River Shakespeare Festival returns for its 17th season this summer, after taking a hiatus in 2020. It's a bit of an abbreviated festival this year, with only three shows instead of the usual four, all performed outdoors*, and no in-person additional events, conversations, or presentations. But it's still such a hopeful indicator that normal life is returning. I saw all three shows on a rare Minnesota July weekend that saw high temps only in the '70s, and it could not have been better. In a way, doing Shakespeare outdoors on the banks of the Great River is what this festival always should have been (although I don't think anyone will complain about a return to climate-controlled bug-free theater next year). And as we've seen so many theater companies do in the last 16 months or so, GRSF has taken the limitations presented to them in this situation and creatively used them to better the work. Perhaps even more so this year than ever before, a weekend vacation to beautiful riverside Winona (just a two-hour drive from the Twin Cities) to see some great theater is a wonderful idea for a getaway**.

Friday, July 9, 2021

"An Evening of Show Tunes with Tyler Michaels King and Friends" at The Belvedere at Crooners Supper Club

Back at Crooners Supper Club's new outdoor venue The Belvedere for the 5th time this year, I saw a remarkable collection of showtunes performed by a remarkable group of #TCTheater artists, and it healed my soul a little after this long theater-less time. What really stood out to me, beyond the fact that each one of these performers is a superstar, is that musical theater can truly convey the full range of human emotion. And we went through all of it last night, from laughter to tears and everything in between. It's been quite a year for all of us, and An Evening of Show Tunes with Tyler Michaels King and Friends provided a cathartic release as well as a hope that we will come out of this stronger and better, and soon. Click here for a full list of shows at Crooners (including two indoor spaces as well), and if you missed Tyler and friends this week, you have another chance to see them again on August 26.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

"What to Send Up When It Goes Down" at Pillsbury House Theatre (outdoors)

Pillsbury House Theater returns to live theater with the play What to Send Up When It Goes Down by playwright Aleshea Harris (who also wrote the powerful revenge fantasy Is God Is produced by Mixed Blood Theatre a few years ago). Though written in 2019, this play could not be more relevant to this time and place. The time: coming out of a tumultuous year-plus that saw a devastating global pandemic, the continued murder of Black people by police that led to a racial reckoning, and an attempted violent overthrow of our government by white supremacists. The place: the parking lot outside Pillsbury House Theatre in south Minneapolis, just a few blocks from where George Floyd was murdered just over a year ago. This play was created by Black people for Black people as a safe space to gather, release, mourn, and celebrate the experience of being Black in America. Described as "part ritual and part theatrical experience," it's one of those rare plays that transcends theater to become an experience of real connection and communion with each other and what's going on in the world around us. This is the kind of profound, relevant, truly meaningful theater that I expected to come out of this last year, and I hope it continues.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Classical Actors Ensemble at Newell Park

"The course of true love never did run smooth." "Lord, what fools these mortals be." How often have these words been spoken over the last 400 years, in how many places around the world? Through war, famine, genocide, and plagues, humans have continued to gather together and say these familiar words, and others like them. To share stories, songs, laughter, and tears. There were times in the last 16 months when it felt like we'd never get back to telling stories again. But theater, and the human spirit, is stronger than that. Classical Actors Ensemble has performed Shakespeare in local parks every summer (except 2020) since 2014, but this year feels special, as they welcome us to "a return of live theater." And what better way to return than with A Midsummer Night's Dream (which they also performed five years ago), a celebration of love and the magic of theater. Experience it yourself at a Twin Cities park* near you through July 18 (click here for schedule and free registration).

Friday, July 2, 2021

"Norma Jeane Baker of Troy" by Rough Magic Performance Company at the Mill City Farmers Market

Rough Magic Performance Company has made a name for themselves at Minnesota Fringe Festival with their short, modern, and feminist adaptations of Shakespeare. But now they're moving beyond that by performing a new play outside of the Fringe. And literally outside* (thanks, covid), in the gorgeous space used by the Mill City Farmers Market, between the Guthrie Theater and the Mill City Museum. Norma Jeane Baker of Troy is a retelling of the legend of Helen of Troy, aka the face that launched a thousand ships, superimposed with the story of Norma Jeane Baker, aka Marilyn Monroe. The play examines parallels between the two women and attempts to look beyond their status as icons of female beauty to the truth behind the image. It's a fascinating play, beautifully produced, with a lot packed into the one-hour runtime. Even though I've been to a handful of outdoor plays and musicals this year and last, for some reason this really felt like my first return to theater as we once knew it. Maybe because I held an actual physical program in my hands, maybe because the stage and audience setup felt familiar, maybe because of the complex nature of the play. But for perhaps the first time in 16 months, I left feeling that familiar sort of theater daze, having just traveled to another world for a time, and not quite ready to settle back into this one.