Tuesday, November 30, 2021

"All is Calm" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Theater Latte Da's first full production in their 24th season is the annual favorite, All is Calm. I've seen it eight times now, and it never fails to move me, in fact it continually finds new ways to move me. Peter Rothstein created the piece about a dozen years ago, and it has morphed throughout the years, eventually being whittled down to its current concise and practically perfect 65-minute form. The story alone is inspiring - the Christmas Truce of 1914, when soldiers on both sides put down their weapons for a spontaneous truce in the beginnings of WWI. And this piece of music-theater, which combines period songs with historical text from letters, journals, and newspaper articles, is simply the most powerful way to tell the story that I can imagine. It's told with such precision, thoughtfulness, and economy; every word, every gesture, every note rings true and has meaning. All is Calm is truly my favorite #TCTheater holiday* production because it conveys what I believe is the core meaning of this season - peace, stillness, reflection, community, and connection.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

"Jacuzzi" by Dark and Stormy Productions at a found space in Stillwater

If you're looking for a palate cleanser to all of the holiday fare in #TCTheater this year, which can often skew towards the sickly sweet, look no further than Dark and Stormy Productions, which returns to the stage, er, hot tub, with the kind of dark comedy that has become their trademark. In Jacuzzi, the story of a couple of con artists preying on a gullible and dysfunctional father/son duo plays out over 100 minutes or so in and around an actual jacuzzi filled with actual water. It doesn't get much more site-specific than that. This is a great time of the year to visit lovely river-side Stillwater for holiday shopping, dinner at one of the numerous great restaurants, and some great and intimate theater (continuing through December 19).

"It's a Wonderful Life" at Lyric Arts

The 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life has become one of the most beloved Christmas* movies of all time. And now you can see it come to life on Lyric Arts' Main Street Stage in lovely downtown Anoka. The adaptation by Doug Rand is very faithful to the movie; it almost plays out scene by scene. It feels a bit long and slow-moving at times (the many scenes that make up someone's life story don't cut together quite as quickly on stage as on film), but the large and talented cast really make these characters their own, while having a lot of fun with accents and these familiar lines. Most importantly, the beautiful and important message that "no one is a failure who has friends," that every person's life is impactful and worthy no matter what their accomplishments or net worth, shines through.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

"Holiday Show! the holiday show" at DalekoArts

A local theater fan arranges for all of their favorite actors to come to their home under false pretenses, locks them in, and orders them to create and perform a new holiday* show. No, I'm not describing my pandemic fantasy, this is the plot of DalekoArts' return to the stage after a 21-month extended intermission (during which time they produced an all-virtual subscription box season called "Daleko Home Invasion"). The new original comedy Holiday Show! the holiday show is a ridiculous and loving ode to theater, the holidays, and being together. In other words, it's perfect for this odd and lovely season we're living in. Holiday Show plays weekends through December 19 in charming historic downtown New Prague, just a quick jaunt over the river and through the woods (and farm fields). Their programming is always worth the drive, and their 10th season looks to be a great one, continuing with the "hilarious and heart-breaking" play Lone Star Spirits, and the second regional production of the eight-time Tony-winning musical Once. If you've not been to New Prague lately, now is a good time for a visit (click here for info on the season).

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

"Christmas of Swing" at History Theatre

#TCTheater loves its holiday* shows, and my very first this year (not counting Annie, which is holiday-adjacent) is History Theatre's remount of their original musical Christmas of Swing, which I first saw in 2013. They've updated it this year to reflect the greater diversity of soldiers who served in WWII, making it more poignant and powerful than ever. But it's still highly entertaining, featuring Minnesota's own original girl group The Andrews Sisters, singing WWII era songs both Christmassy and not. The large and talented cast does a wonderful job of bringing this music and these heart-warming and heart-breaking stories of WWII soldiers to life.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

"Anamnesis" by The Moving Company at the Southern Theater

Two years after their last live show (during which interval they produced a charming, funny, and profound little web series called Liberty Falls 2020), the Moving Company is back on stage where they belong. As I found my seat in the nearly full-to-capacity vaxxed and masked crowd at the Southern Theater last night, and saw the black tarp-covered object filling the space under the historic arch, I had no idea what I was in for. But after ten years of experiencing this company that is the descendent of the famed Tony-winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune, I knew it would be unique, inventive, and, yes, moving. Anamnesis is all that and more (continuing at the Southern Theater through December 4).

Friday, November 19, 2021

"The Empathy Project" by Full Circle Theater Company at Park Square Theatre

During this very long extended intermission from live performance, Full Circle Theater Company continued development of new works, including a play called The Empathy Project. They held several zoom readings, and now it's finally on stage in a full production. Having seen and appreciated the zoom version, it's wonderful to see what it has grown into in this fully staged version of the piece. Playwright Stephanie Lein Walseth interviewed 20 people across the state of Minnesota, looking for a good representation across politics, geography, and race. She asked people about their family story, their values, what empathy means to them, and their hope for the future. All of these stories are beautifully woven together, with the interviewees embodied by a talented nine-person cast, to create an inspirational tapestry of humanity that reminds us that behind all the rhetoric, we're much more similar than we thought we were. If you need a little more empathy in your life (and who doesn't right now?), see one of the few remaining performances of The Empathy Project at Park Square Theatre, closing November 21.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

"Little Women: The Broadway Musical" at Artistry

After cancelling their originally scheduled opening weekend due to a positive COVID test in the vaccinated cast (statistically speaking, this was bound to happen somewhere amongst the many shows in production right now, even with a low breakthrough rate), Artistry finally opened their production of Little Women: The Broadway Musical. Louisa May Alcott's classic story of four very different but loving sisters has stood the test of time and many adaptations. While this is not my favorite adaptation of the story, it's still a heart-warming tale, and the talented cast and creative team make the most of the material.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

"Puttin' on the Ritz" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

After 611 long dark days, Theater Latte Da is finally back performing again in their Northeast Minneapolis home, the Ritz Theater. They opened their 24th season last weekend with a special cabaret concert for subscribers (and me!) and it was such a joyous celebration. I've missed Theater Latte Da's brand of music-theater so much, and am thrilled that they're finally back. The first official show of the season is a remount of their gorgeous annual holiday show All is Calm (seen on PBS stations around the country last year), to be followed by La Boheme in January, nearly two years after the production was shut down after just a few preview performances. Next spring we'll see the area premiere of the 1992 multiple Tony-nominated musical Jelly's Last Jam, and the season will conclude with the world premiere of a new musical adaptation of the classic play Twelve Angry Men, which Latte Da has been developing for several years. Click here for info on their season and to purchase season tickets, or individual tickets for the first two shows, and read on for highlights of last weekend's Puttin' on the Ritz.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

"Annie" at Children's Theatre Company

A healthy dose of optimism is exactly what I needed last Friday night, when it seems like coming out of this pandemic is one step forward and two steps back, on top of all of the other problems the world is facing right now. And optimism is exactly what Children's Theatre Company's production of Annie delivers, in spades. Ten years later, they're remounting their 2011 production with most of the creative team and even some of the cast returning. It's the first live performance at CTC since their original play Spamtown, USA closed early due to the pandemic 20 months ago, and it's a joyous return. Despite being written in the '70s and taking place in the '30s, Annie clearly resonates with 2021. People living in poverty struggling to survive while others live on "Easy Street," and bad feelings towards a former president who left us with mess to clean up, are stories that could've been pulled from today's headlines. Annie shows us the power of "Little Girls," at a time when we're looking to the younger generations, and women of all ages, to lead us out of today's challenges and into a better "Tomorrow."

Friday, November 12, 2021

Broadway Tour of "Oklahoma!" at the Orpheum Theatre

The 2019 Tony winner for best revival of a musical begins its National tour right here in Minneapolis. But this Oklahoma! is more total reimagining than revival. So many revivals are really just a retread of the original production, with a few tweaks here or there. But with this show, it's as if director Daniel Fish were handed the script and score for a new show in 2015 (the first year he directed the show) and created this piece with no knowledge of any production that had ever come before. This production takes wild risks and pushes the edges in every direction. The result is an Oklahoma! that is dark, sexy, urgent, vibrant, modern, stripped-down, and speaks directly to current American by examining its violent* past. Pretty remarkable feat for a nearly 80-year old musical. But it's only in town through Sunday, before heading off across the nation (click here for info and tickets).

Thursday, November 11, 2021

"Fruit Flies Like a Banana" by the Fourth Wall Ensemble at the Southern Theater

Oh happy day - my favorite traveling fringe show is in town, and it's not even fringe season! With all fringe festivals cancelled (or virtual) in 2020, and limited in 2021, the Boston-based Fourth Wall Ensemble is embarking on a mini-tour of their own. And since they love Minnesota (or that's what they tell us, and we believe them), the Southern Theater in Minnesota is one of their stops. But hurry, they're only here for one more show - tonight! If you've never seen them before, now is your chance to see multi-disciplinary artists do what I have literally never seen anyone else do. This trio of classically trained instrumentalists performs short pieces of music combined with storytelling, theater, dance, movement, acrobatics, and just generally wildly creative silliness. It's a guaranteed hour (or so) of pure joy and wonder. And who doesn't need that right now?! Click here to purchase tickets for tonight's 6:30pm show (great for kids and morning people struggling with the recent time change).

Sunday, November 7, 2021

"Top Girls" by Theatre Pro Rata at the Crane Theater

Everyone loves the '80s, right? Maybe not so much after seeing Theatre Pro Rata's production of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls, which takes an unflinching look at what the '80s were really like, particularly in the lives of working women who seemed on the surface to "have it all." It's dark, weird, and a little fantastical, like all of Churchill's work, but it's also smart, thought-provoking, grounded in humanity, and relevant to our world 40 years later, with a different sort of gender politics happening in the work place.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

"Brujería for Beginners" by 20% Theatre Company and Lightning Rod at Mixed Blood Theatre

Amongst the theater companies recently lost to the pandemic (and other reasons) are Theatre Unbound (featuring female-identifying artists and stories), Uprising Theatre Company (transgender and gender nonconforming artists and stories), and now 20% Theatre Company (all of the above). The rest of #TCTheater really needs to step up to make sure that these stories continue to be told, and that women and members of the LGBTQ+ community are given a seat at the table. One new company that will be taking up the mantle is Lightning Rod, "a transgender-led, majority BIPOC organism, dedicated to legacy, development and opportunities for queer and trans artists," which is partnering with 20% Theatre's on their 50th and final show. Brujería for Beginners opened at Mixed Blood Theatre last night and it was a bittersweet event, full of celebration as well as sober finality. The family dramedy, with a magical twist, is a sweet and charming show, and the energy in the firehouse was palpable.

Monday, November 1, 2021

"The Most Beautiful Home... Maybe" by Mixed Blood Theatre Company at Springboard for the Arts

Mixed Blood Theatre's second production of their 2021-2022 season, The Most Beautiful Home... Maybe, delivers an important message about the housing crisis in an unconventional performance style. The audience participation was too much for this extreme introvert; it just makes me uncomfortable and further distances me from the subject matter, as opposed to drawing me in with non-participatory storytelling. But for those who don't mind some pretty significant audience participation, it might be a good way to start imagining a better world in the future, where everyone has safe affordable housing.