Thursday, June 23, 2022

"Romeo and Juliet" by Zephyr Theatre at Aamodt's Apple Farm

Zephyr Theatre's summer outdoor Shakespeare tradition continues with the rom-com-turned-tragedy Romeo and Juliet at an idyllic spot on Aamodt's Apple Farm. It always feels like Shakespeare was meant to be experienced in the great outdoors, in a more intimate and relaxed setting like this. Despite the tragic outcome of the play (I always hope that somehow the friar's message will get through to Romeo and those two crazy kids get to run away together as they planned, but nope), it's a lovely evening in a perfectly gorgeous setting. So check the weather, dress and hydrate appropriately, and go see some Shakespeare in Stillwater this weekend!

Sunday, June 19, 2022

"Spittin' Seeds" at Penumbra Theatre

For two years, the artists in Penumbra Theatre's Ashe Lab Residency program have been working together to create a new work of theater/music/dance/poetry. The result is Spittin' Seeds, a 75-minute celebration of Black joy, community, culture, and resiliency. It touches on tragedy as well, but for the most part it's a magical, mystical, beautiful tapestry of song, dance, scenes, and visual delights. Including the talented cast comprised of #TCTheater veterans and young actors, it's a really lovely collaboration by all of the artists involved. See it at Penumbra through June 26 only.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

"Pyrates" by Theatre Coup d'Etat at Historic Fire Station 24

Ten years ago, I saw the first part (Millennium Approaches) of Tony Kushner's epic two-part masterpiece Angels in America on stage for the first time, by a new-to-me theater company Theatre Coup d'Etat. I was so impressed with how this small company handled this big play, and "found myself wondering when Theatre Coup d'Etat will present the second part." The bad news is they never did, and now they're leaving town. The good news is I've been fortunate to witness ten years of their work, which is always interesting, thoughtful, and unexpected, most often produced in an intimate non-traditional space; and that they have one more show before they leave #TCTheater. Pyrates, an original play by Artistic Director and frequent actor/director with the company, James Napoleon Stone, follows in this tradition. It's a rousing pirate story about loyalty, legacy, and camaraderie, featuring a talented and diverse cast and live music in an up-close-and-personal in-the-round space. Your final chance to see Theatre Coup d'Etat perform in #TCTheater ends on June 27 (click here for info and tickets).

Thursday, June 16, 2022

"In the Next Room" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Sarah Ruhl's funny and feminist, historical and modern play In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play had its regional premiere at the Jungle about ten years ago, and can now be seen on Yellow Tree Theatre's intimate Osseo stage. It's an unexpected title, and while, yes, the play features the vibrator (more specifically the time in history when "electric massage" was a serious medical treatment for a particular ailment of women diagnosed as "hysteria"), the play is really about relationships, medical practice, the dawn of electricity, and connections. Yellow Tree's strong cast and detailed design, combined with this smart script, make for a highly entertaining night at the theater, even if it might make you squirm in your seat a little (which is not a bad thing in theater).*

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

"Twelve Angry Men" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

I know what you're thinking: the classic American film and play Twelve Angry Men... as a musical?! It sounded pretty odd to me too when I first heard about it a few years ago, but after seeing Theater Latte Da's world premiere musical adaption (on stage at the Ritz through July 17), I'm sold! It just goes to show that literally any subject can be made into a musical, if done well and thoughtfully by talented artists. Check, check, check. Telling this story that was originally a TV show in 1954 through a modern and musical lens heightens the themes of justice and productive communication. It's still the 1950s on stage, but the cast and creators are aware that it's 2022 in the audience, and this story needs to speak to now, which it pretty geniusly does. Combined with a really interesting jazz score that's seamlessly woven into the dialogue, a simple and classic design, and a diverse cast of 12 talented men, and it feels like this story was crying out to be a musical all along.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

"Cambodian Rock Band" by Theater Mu and Jungle Theater

Originally planned for summer 2020, the Theater Mu / Jungle Theater co-production of Lauren Yee's play with music Cambodian Rock Band finally hits the stage at the Jungle, and to say it's worth the wait is an understatement. Part rock concert, part history lesson, part family dramedy, Cambodian Rock Band explores the complicated and tragic history of Cambodia in the latter half of the 20th Century through the lens of music, art, and one specific family. It's both an epic and an intimate story, and features fabulously unique music by the Cambodian indie rock band Dengue Fever, with fantastic performances by the mostly local and all Asian American cast. It's playing through the end of July, so you have plenty of time and no excuse not to see this ingenious new, innovative, and important work of music-theater.

Friday, June 10, 2022

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

About a year ago, I returned to the theater after 508 days without it to see Theatre Elision's truly lovely production of Islander at Elision Playhouse, continuing in their tradition of new or rarely done one-act musicals with mostly female cast and/or creative team. Now in just their second post-covid-intermission production, they're bringing us another edition of Flight of Short Musicals, which they first did in January 2020 (sadly no flight of drinks this time, because covid). Elision has a knack for finding hidden gems, and for this program they found six of them: short musicals, or excerpts from musicals, that are perfect and complete in just 15 minutes or less. If you're interested in the future of music-theater that's more than just the big splashy musical, you don't want to miss this. Just two performances remain - click here for details.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

"Perfect Arrangement" at Theatre in the Round

Just in time for Pride Month, Theatre in the Round is bringing us the story of two gay couples in the '50s, and what they have to do be with the person they love and still have a career and acceptable public persona. What starts out as a comedy turns tragic as this Perfect Arrangement falls apart. As a time when LGBTQ+ rights are threatened, it's good to look back at history and the people who worked so heard to achieve those rights, to remember how much things have changed, and how much they haven't. But this is no dry history lesson, it's an entertaining comedy with an emotional pull that makes you feel for each of the characters as they navigate this sticky situation. A strong cast and spot-on design make this play a Perfect Arrangement indeed (playing weekends throughout June).

Sunday, June 5, 2022

"The Roommate" by Prime Productions at Mixed Blood Theatre

"PRIME Productions seeks to explore, illuminate and support women over fifty and their stories through the creative voice of performance." I say huzzah to that! And to the return of PRIME and their celebration of women in their prime, who are often overlooked in entertainment and in life. Their first post-pandemic-intermission production is the two-hander The Roommate written by Playwrights' Center affiliated writer Jen Silverman, and it's a gem. In this dark comedy that the website describes as "Breaking Bad meets Grace and Frankie," to which I would add a little bit of Good Girls, two very different women find themselves living together, and learn things from each other, whether it's how to commit crimes or how to open up to a friend (click here for info and tickets). 

Saturday, June 4, 2022

"Little Women" at Lyric Arts

NYC-based playwright and actor Kate Hamill is known for her modern, feminist adaptations of classics, several of which have been seen on #TCTheater stages in recent years. The Guthrie will premiere her adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma later this month, but first: Lyric Arts' production of her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's beloved novel Little Womencommissioned by the Jungle Theater a few years ago. This quote from Kate's website very much applies to this play: "She is deeply passionate about creating new feminist, female-centered classics, both in new plays and in adaptation: stories that center around complicated women. Her work as a playwright celebrates theatricality, often features absurdity, and closely examines social and gender issues - as well as the timeless struggle to reconcile conscience / identity with social pressures." This, as they say, is not your grandmother's Little Women. While staying fairly true to the events of the novel, the play sees the characters and situations through a modern lens, and veers more towards comedy, at times broad and absurd, than the quiet drama of the original. But at its heart, it's still about the love between four very different sisters, each finding her own identity and path through life (click here for info and tickets).

Friday, June 3, 2022

"HAIR BALL! A Bigfoot Musical Adventure" by Open Eye Theatre at the Bakken Museum

"Friends, this is the sweetest, cutest, funniest, silliest, naturiest, heart-warmiest 80 minutes of music-theater you could see! Don't miss it!!" Such was my Instagram post last night after coming home from seeing Open Eye Theatre's new original music-theater-puppetry creation HAIR BALL! A Bigfoot Musical Adventure. This new tradition of outdoor summer musicals at the Bakken Museum's lovely green rooftop lawn was birthed out of the pandemic last year, and I hope it never ends. There's just nothing better than witnessing the creative talent of artists in the great outdoors next to one of Minnesota's beautiful lakes. HAIR BALL! is a fairy tale for kids with plenty for adults to enjoy too - great music, much humor, and fantastic performances by the cast. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets (continuing through June 19).

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

"Back to Workshop; Or, Everything's Fine!" at Brave New Workshop

More than two years after they had to shut down due to a global pandemic (remember that?), Brave New Workshop, the longest running improv/sketch comedy troupe in the country, is finally back! Because everything's totally fine now, right?! In addition to everything we've all been through over the last two years, BNW also went through a transition; their founder Dudley Riggs died, and the company and theater space on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis was bought by the Hennepin Theatre Trust, which also oversees the historic Hennepin Avenue theaters - Orpheum, State, and Pantages. The first show coming out of this new partnership, Back to Workshop; Or, Everything's Fine!, is business as usual for BNW. The business being hilariously funny, smart, and topical satire, and just all around silly comedy entertainment. If you're having a tough time transitioning to this new world (and who isn't?!), Back to Workshop will help you feel not so alone in that, and maybe even help you process things or look at them in a new light. But mostly, you'll just have a really great time. Workshop plays weekends (Fridays and Saturdays, plus some Thursdays) through August 6.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

"Charlie (Brown) Black" at Pillsbury House Theatre

In his first solo show, #TCTheater artist Mikell Sapp tells the story of his life, career, and experience working in the local theater community. The 2015 Ivey's Emerging Artist has not had as smooth of a path as one might expect is granted to such an award-winner, which he talks about so openly and honestly. He's as funny and charming as he is vulnerable and heart-breaking, engaging and personable throughout it all. In just 90 minutes we learn so much more about this artist, who's been appearing on stages around the Twin Cities for 11 years, as he explores the ideas of grief, self-doubt, dating, family, perseverance, and what it's like to be a young Black actor working in theater today. See Charlie Brown Black through June 12 at Pillsbury House Theatre.

Friday, May 27, 2022

"Moulin Rouge!" Broadway Tour at the Orpheum Theatre

In general, I'm not a fan of movie-to-musical adaptations, but Baz Lurhmann's 2001 film Moulin Rouge! was crying out to be a stage musical. Everything about it is big, bold, and theatrical, and it cleverly weaves pop songs into the storytelling (it's one of my favorite movie soundtracks). The only surprising thing is that it took 18 years for it to get to Broadway, where it won ten Tony Awards in the covid-shortened 2020 season, including best musical. And now, three years later, it has finally arrived on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis for a three-week stay. It's a successful adaptation of the movie, staying very close to the storyline of the passionate but doomed love story, and the group of misfits trying to save their community from the rich and powerful Duke. Like the movie, the stage musical also cleverly weaves pop songs, from a single line to the whole song, into the storytelling. Most of the songs from the movie are still there, with some fun additions. Like it was on the screen, Moulin Rouge! on stage is big in every way - big emotions, big songs, big dance numbers, big hats, big set pieces - and the audience just laps it up. Visit the Moulin Rouge in Minneapolis now through June 5 (click here for the official ticket site).

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

NYC Theater Trip 2022: "The Music Man" at the Winter Garden Theatre

Show*: 5

Title: The Music Man

Location: Winter Garden Theatre

Written By: Richard Greenberg

Summary: A big, beautiful, colorful, life-affirming, revitalizing, traditional (with a few tweaks) revival of the 1957 classic, only the second Broadway revival.

Highlights: I unabashedly love The Music Man, the story of a con man who "gets his foot caught in the door" on his way out of town, because someone saw through his slick veneer to his true self, and loved him anyway. He's not selling a band, he's selling hope, a common goal, community, and something to believe in. Marian is a woman with standards, and finally meets an intelligent man who meets them, and brings life back to her family and town. This production is a joyous celebration of all of that. And maybe it is corny and old-fashioned, but that's OK with me. This lovely, talented, diverse, and huge cast is such fun to watch, especially the young ones who are unbelievably confident and capable amongst the pros. Hugh Jackman is an absolute charmer, a spellbinder who has everyone in River City and the theater believing his every word, a twinkle in his eye that can be seen from the last row of the theater (or at least the 2nd to last where I was sitting). He has a great match in two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster, whose Marion doesn't suffer fools. She's tough and smart, and watching these two warm to each other and their easy natural chemistry is a joy. Meredith Wilson's beloved classic score sounds simply scrumptious as played by the 20+ piece orchestra tucked under the stage; I stayed to hear every last note. There are a couple of rewritten lyrics, most notably in "Shipoopi" to make it a little more palatable in the #metoo era, and a new (or old) intro to "My White Knight." The choreography (by Warren Carlye) is divine. "76 Trombones" is the highlight, absolutely stunning as each group of (mimed) instruments comes forward and takes turns, the groups of dancers weaving together and creating a beautiful symphony. The library scene is also a delight, as is the final tap number. As expected, costumes are luscious, overflowing with bustles and hats and flounces, and sets are genius, with a "curtain" made up of the red planks of a barn. It opens in various ways and rises into the ceiling, revealing two-dimensional backdrops and set pieces in the Grant Wood style (set and costumes designed by Santo Loquasto). This was my final show of the trip, and it left me on a high, marveling at the wonder and magic of theater. Everything about it is so wonderful, a balm to a world-weary soul. I had tears in my eyes throughout the show, at the beauty of the story and the storytelling, and remembering how long we had to live without it. Only one of the five shows I saw didn't have an understudy in a lead or featured role, but we're finding a way for the show to go on safely. Broadway is unquestionably back, and The Music Man represents that traditional musical that we love so much.

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2022 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.

NYC Theatre Trip 2022: "A Strange Loop" at the Lyceum Theatre

Show*: 4

Title: A Strange Loop

Location: Lyceum Theatre

Written By: Michael R. Jackson

Summary: In the 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama (just the tenth musical to do so), a queer black writer is writing a musical about a queer black writer writing a musical about a queer black writer writing a musical…

Highlights: This very meta theater play features a unique voice and a unique story that needs to be heard. Composer/lyricist/playwright Michael R. Jackson's "emotionally autobiographical" story features a self-described queer black fat boy, with an inner white girl, working as an usher at the Lion King while writing his show. As he's writing the show, he's discovering and living the hard truths he's writing about. Truths about his career (should he sell out and write a Tyler Perry gospel play, which would make his mom happy?), his family life, his love life (or lack thereof). In a clever storytelling device, his embodied thoughts help and hinder him along the way, representing those ugly little voices all of us have in our heads. It's a very specific story, with very graphic language and subject matter (my friend and I wondered what they could possibly sing on the Tony's), but with universal and relatable themes of family, identity, and finding ones place in the world. I saw an understudy in the lead role, Kyle Ramar Freeman, who did a beautiful job filling in for Tony nominated Jaquel Spivey, so endearing and sympathetic, with a great voice and stage presence. Six talented and hard-working actors play his "thoughts" and multiple other characters, dressed in chic neutral athleisure wear with added pieces to create characters. (Side note: #THTheater actor Jon-Michael Reese is an understudy for several of these roles and recently made his Broadway debut, much deserved!) The story takes place primarily on a simple set consisting of six open doors and a few set pieces, which are later removed to reveal the set of the much talked about and finally seen Tyler Perry gospel play (set design by Arnulfo Maldanado, costume design by Montana Levi Blanco). A Strange Loop may not appeal to the tourist crowd (that's OK, they have plenty of jukebox musicals and revivals to choose from), but it's an exciting and unique new musical that pushes the boundaries of what music-theater, and in particular Broadway musicals, can do and be and say.

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2022 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.

NYC Theater Trip 2022: "Take Me Out" at Second Stage at the Hayes Theater

Show*: 3

Title: Take Me Out

Location: Second Stage at the Hayes Theater

Written By: Richard Greenberg

Summary: In this very funny and loving tribute to the best sport in the world - baseball - a superstar player comes out as gay in the middle of the season, leading to all sorts of drama, and even tragedy.

Highlights: I loved this play so much I just bought the script. As a lifelong Twins fan, I am familiar with the joy and the heartbreak that is baseball. And this play, while covering lots of relevant social issues, is at its heart an ode to baseball. Will people who don't like baseball like this play? I couldn't say, because I could never understand a person who doesn't love a game that's so perfect, so symmetric, so democratic. Jesse Tyler Ferguson (who was on Broadway long before he became known as Mitchell Pritchett) plays a business manager who starts watching baseball when he takes on said superstar, Darren, as a client (played by Grey's Anatomy's Jesse Williams in his Broadway debut), and over the course of half a season, he falls in love with the game. He has a couple of fantastic soliloquys (the play is framed by narration directly to the audience, mostly by Darren's best friend, played by Suits' Patrick J. Adams) about the beautiful oddities of baseball, and the many reasons we love it so much (I need a t-shirt with the quote "baseball is better than democracy" but sadly there was no merch table). But back to the drama. After the superstar comes out publicly as gay (which, BTW, no active MLB player has ever done, although a couple of minor leagers and retired players have, including Billy Bean, current MLB VP and special assistant to the commissioner), a recent call-up from double-A (Michael Oberholtzer) makes a racist and homophobic statement to the press (think John Rocker, or rather don't think about him). He's suspended and suddenly Darren finds himself at the center of a movement, something he never wanted; he just wants to play ball as usual. More drama unfolds over the course of the season, some of it shocking. The season ends and so does the play, after exploring baseball as a microcosm of America, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The fantastic cast (Jesse Tyler Ferguson in particular is such a gem, so funny and natural on stage, and deserves to win his first Tony for this) on the simple but cool set comprised of a set of clubhouse lockers that turn around to form a backdrop for projections, and showers with actual running water (which yes, means they're naked, as people usually are in the shower), makes it feel like you're really in the clubhouse with these guys as they journey through this unexpectedly eventful season. 

On that eventual day, and it will come, when the MLB accepts openly gay players and allows them to be themselves without threat of ridicule, retaliation, or damage to their career, I will only love baseball more than I do now. I'll leave you with the closing lines of the play, the lament of every Twins fan at the end of every season throughout history except for two ('87 and '91!):
This season was tragic.
What will we do until spring?!

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2022 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.

NYC Theater Trip 2022: "Paradise Square" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre

Show*: 2

Title: Paradise Square

Location: Ethel Barrymore Theatre

Written By: Christina Anderson, Craig Lucas, and Larry Kirwan (book), Jason Howland (music), Nathan Tysen and Masi Asare (lyrics)

Summary: A new original musical (with ten Tony nominations) about Irish immigrants and free Black people living together in the Five Points neighborhood of NYC, until various factors including the draft riots of 1863 brought it to an end.

Highlights: This show reminded me a lot of Theater Latte Da's original musical Five Points, with similar themes, characters, setting, and dance styles. But while Latte Da's story centered around two historical dancers, Paradise Square is a fictional story about two Irish siblings married to free Black people and working together to run a pub called Paradise Square. Sister Annie (Chilina Kennedy) is married to Reverend Sam (Nathaniel Stampley), who works with the Underground Railroad to ferry escaped slaves to Canada, and brother Willie O'Brien (Matt Bogart) is married to Nelly (Tony nominated Joaquina Kalukango), who inherited the pub from her father. Things get even more complicated when Willie goes off to fight in the Civil War (easy to guess how that goes); the O'Briens' nephew Owen (Tony nominated A.J. Shively) arrives from Ireland needing work and a place to stay; the family takes in an escaped slave who takes the name Washington (Alan Wiggins beautifully filling in for the third Tony nominated actor in the cast, Sidney DuPont); politicians try to force Nellie out of her bar; and a draft is announced, causing unrest among the poor population who can't afford to pay the $300 fee to get out of it. The drama centers around a dance competition at the pub that will hopefully earn enough money to save it, with Owen and Washington competing to win the money and secure their freedom. There's a lot going on, perhaps too much, but this look into an early American multi-cultural society is interesting and inspiring, and the manipulation of the populace by businessmen and politicians once again reminds us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Six people collaborated to write the music, book, and lyrics, pulling in many different voices to tell this story. Both the score and the choreography (by Bill T. Jones) combine the influence of Irish, African, and Black American traditions, and the dancing is truly phenomenal and thrilling, impeccably performed by the large and talented cast. How often do you see Irish step-dancing in a show that isn't Riverdance?! Lastly, the impressive set (designed by Allen Moyer) features a rotating two-story piece that represents the pub, inside and out, plus three narrow three-story pieces representing the tenement buildings. This epic and truly American story has a depressing ending, but "the door is always open to Paradise Square" provides a moment of hope.

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2022 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.

NYC Theater Trip 2022: "The Minutes" at Studio 54

Show*: 1

Title: The Minutes

Location: Studio 54

Written By: Tracy Letts

Summary: A small town city council meeting turns ugly when truths about the town's past are revealed, but not accepted by the people in power.

Highlights: Tracy Letts wrote and stars in this 90-minute very funny and real little play that you think is one thing, until it turns into another. The writing, direction (by Anna D. Shapiro), and performances by this fantastic cast (also including Jessie Mueller, Noah Reid of Schitt's Creek, Blair Brown, and scene stealer Austin Pendleton) are full of little details that define these specific characters and fill out the world in the town of Big Cherry, USA. Combined with a detailed and realistic set (designed by David Zinn), from the water stains on the ceiling, to the rolling snack cart, to the ambiguous mural, it feels like we're eavesdropping on a real meeting. The trouble arises when the newest council member returns from a week away, only to hear that something big happened last week resulting in one of the members being ousted from the council. The titular meeting minutes are not available, but he keeps digging until finally they're produced, revealing an argument about the annual heritage festival. The ousted member had produced the statement of an indigenous person that contradicts the local legend about the hero who saved the town from the "Sioux uprising" (which might sound familiar to those of us in Minnesotan, and really anywhere in the US). The mayor will not accept this, and goes to extreme lengths to make sure his version of history is the one that stands ("who lives, who dies, who tells your story"). What starts as an odd and funny little character study of a town and its residents (think Parks and Recreation) turns into a not so subtle statement about the true history of this country. 

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2022 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

"A Raisin in the Sun" at Guthrie Theater

The American classic A Raisin in the Sun premiered in 1959, making Lorraine Hansberry the first female Black playwright on Broadway, but it's anything but dated. Unfortunately, racism, discrimination, and unjust practices like redlining are still very much a part of our world, as evidenced by the recent racist and anti-Semitic fueled mass shooting in Buffalo, and the fact that in Minnesota 77% of White families own their homes compared to only 26% of Black families. This is the legacy of the world Hansberry wrote about that we're still experiencing. The Guthrie's production of this ever-relevant piece is beautifully wrought, from the detailed set to the raw and emotional performances by the entire cast. You can see it now through June 5 on the Guthrie's proscenium stage.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

"Airness" at Park Square Theatre

Park Square Theatre finally returns from their extended intermission with a really fun and feel-good play about a national air guitar competition. It sound ridiculous, but truth is stranger than fiction - this is actually a real thing. LA-based playwright Chelsea Marcantel has set Airness within this world where people travel the country to compete with 60 seconds of playing an imaginary guitar. But like any story, it's not really about air guitar; air guitar is the backdrop against which is set this sweet and funny story of community, friendship, finding your people, and pursuing your passion. The fantastic cast embodies this lovable group of oddballs so well that you find yourself rooting for them and becoming invested in their story. With the stage appeal of a rock concert and the heart of a chosen family story, Airness is a great welcome back for Park Square (continuing through June 5).

Sunday, May 15, 2022

"The Labyrinth and the Minotaur: The Incarceration Play Project" by Wonderlust Productions at Mixed Blood Theatre

Four years in the making, Wonderlust Productions' newest piece The Labyrinth and the Minotaur: The Incarceration Play Project reimagines the myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth in which it is kept as the Minnesota Corrections system. For this project they collected  stories from over 230 people who live and work within this system, and the huge cast (perhaps the largest I've ever seen) includes many of these people, alongside seven professional actors. It's a really beautiful, inspiring, and thought-provoking piece about an incredibly relevant issue - this country's broken, cruel, and racist system of incarceration. This is a theater company dedicated to elevating the voices of the unheard, and there are few voices less heard than those of the incarcerated. Here they get to tell their own stories in an empowering and powerful way. Although the play is a bit too long (three hours and 15 minutes on opening night) and would benefit from some editing, it's very worthwhile and important. See it through May 22 at Mixed Blood Theatre; only five more performances remain.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

"Once" at DalekoArts

I finally made the gorgeous springtime drive out to New Prague to see DalekoArts' production of the 2012 Tony-winning musical Once in its sold-out final weekend. Just the second #TCTheater production*, Once is a perfect choice for the scrappy little theater in the far-out suburbs, the stage packed with singer/actor/musicians and the intimate house making it feel like we're all in a cozy Irish pub together enjoying some good craic. It's such a beautiful story, and a unique kind of musical that's really more of a play-with-music. All of the music in this Irish folk-rock score (by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who also starred in the 2007 movie from which the musical was adapted by Irish playwright Enda Walsh) is in context, in a pub or recording studio or music shop. The music is woven so naturally into the story that there's not a lot of applause during the show, not wanting to break the spell of the story being woven on stage. A multi-talented 12-person cast plus three band members embody this charming and bittersweet Once.

Friday, May 13, 2022

"Moonlit Walk Home" at Nautilus Music-Theater

Nautilus Music-Theater's second new original piece of music-theater this season is the lovely song cycle Moonlit Walk Home. It turns out that #TCTheater's favorite singing sisters Christina Baldwin and Jennifer Baldwin Peden have a talented poet for a mother, which isn't really that surprising; artistic talent often runs in families. Fern Green Baldwin put her writing aside to raise eight children and numerous plants and animals on 36 acres in the Minnesota River Valley outside of Jordan, Minnesota. She finally got back to writing in her 70s, and published her first book of poetry Moonlit Walk Home at the age of 80. Her daughters have adapted it into a song cycle, along with stage director Ben Krywosz and composer Daniel Nass. The result is a really beautiful collection of music that is not only a love letter to their mother, but also to finding poetry and beauty in the simple and mundane things of everyday life. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

"Two Jews Walk Into a War..." by Six Points Theater at Highland Park Community Center

Two Jews walk into a war. No, that's not the set-up to a joke, it's the title of a play. But it is funny, as much as a play about the beleaguered nation of Afghanistan and the millennia-long story of the persecution of the Jews can be funny. Seth Rozin's play is a fictionalized account of the last two Jews in Kabul, who hated each other but were forced to work together. He uses the humor of this cantankerous relationship to delve into some pretty deep issues of faith, community, tradition, identity, and the meaning of home. See this sweet, funny, heart-breaking little play at Six Points Theater through May 22.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

"Runestone! A Rock Musical" at History Theatre

Who else but the History Theatre can take a bizarre Minnesota legend and turn it into a super fun, entertaining, and even thought-provoking musical? Who else would even attempt such a thing? In the vein of their smash hit Glensheen (returning to St. Paul this summer after a tour through outstate Minnesota), History Theatre brings us the new original musical Runestone! A Rock Musical, a show many years in the making about the Kensington Runestone. I first saw a reading of it in 2019 and was so intrigued that I visited the original Runestone in its museum the next time I was in Alexandria. The musical's 2020 premiere was postponed along with so many things, but it's finally seeing the stage in a terrific production continuing through the end of the month.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

"The Bucket List of Booze Club" by Freshwater Theatre Company at the Crane Theater

In their first production in over two years, Freshwater Theatre Company is bringing us a new play by Michigan-based playwright Maureen Paraventi called The Bucket List of Booze Club. An odd title for a sweet and salty, funny and poignant play about female friendship and the mother/daughter bond, which couldn't be more appropriate for this Mother's Day weekend. This very real and relatable story is beautifully brought to life by the cast and creative team at Freshwater. But only 6 performances remain in this short run, so bring your closest friends, a parent or child, or yourself to the Crane before it closes on May 15 (click here for info and tickets). 

Saturday, May 7, 2022

"Celebrating Sondheim, Act I" by Theatre Latte Da at Crooners Supper Club

My favorite Sondheim interpreters, Theater Latte Da, return with Act II of their Celebrating Sondheim cabaret series at Crooners Supper Club. And the good news is - there are still some tickets remaining for today's two shows! Click on this link right now to snag one before they're gone, so that you too can experience this beautifully curated selection of songs from arguably our greatest music-theater creator.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

"Miss Woodhouse Presents" by Aethem Theatre Company at Elision Playhouse

In a delightful piece of Jane Austen fan fic, Aethem Theatre Company brings us the new play Miss Woodhouse Presents, written and directed by their Managing Director Kayla Hambek. It's a sort of mash-up of all of the novels, in the form of a British reality TV show. In just 90 minutes, we see love lost and won among the Dashwoods, the Bennets, and more familiar characters. Fans of Austen, who are not too precious about it, are sure to enjoy. The short run ends this weekend; you have just three more chances to see this charming play at Elision Playhouse in Crystal (click here for info and tickets).

Sunday, May 1, 2022

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" at Children's Theatre Company

To close out their 2021-2022 season, Children's Theatre Company is bringing back their original musical adaption of the popular book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I saw 2016 premiere, and although I had no prior experience with the source material, I was thoroughly charmed by it. The creative team has updated the show to add new scenes and songs, but my memory is not good enough to notice which ones, although I did note a Tik-Tok reference, which wasn't a thing six years ago. So they've tweaked the show a bit to make it feel fresh and new, but what hasn't changed is the incredible talent of #TCTheater youth (plus a few out-of-towners) in bringing to life this "clever and musically diverse score, universally relatable story of a kid trying to find himself in middle school" (as I wrote six years ago). "Whether you're a kid stuck in the middle (school), or a jaded grown-up, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical is simply irresistible." What follows is my 2016 review, plus a few tweaks for the current production, which continues through June 18.

"All American Boys" by Stages Theatre Company and Capri Theater

Stages Theatre Company (Hopkins) is partnering with The Capri Theater (North Minneapolis) on an adaptation of the book All American Boys, a story of how a school and its students are affected by police violence against a Black teen. It's an incredibly inspiring and insightful look at one of the biggest and toughest issues we're facing right now, and these kids (it's primarily a youth cast, like most of Stages' work) do such an amazing job. It's hard enough to be a teenager, but a teenager living with all of the uncertainties of today's world, a Black teenager living with the knowledge that they could be beaten or killed for simply trying to buy a bag of chips, it's unthinkable. This play and these incredibly talented and open-hearted young actors do a beautiful job of bringing that experience to life. Really the only thing that gives me hope these days is our young people; they can show us the way out of this mess if we just let them, and listen to them. You can do that now through May 22 at the beautifully renovated Capri Theater (click here for info and tickets).

Saturday, April 30, 2022

"Much Ado About Nothing" by Fearless Comedy at the Historic Mounds Theatre

Two years after it was originally scheduled, Fearless Comedy is finally bringing us their 1940s-set take on the Shakespearean rom-com Much Ado about Nothing. It's fun to see a comedy company, that often does new work, take on one of the original comedians. The large and talented cast and inventive staging at the Historic Mounds Theatre make for a delightfully fun evening of Shakespearean comedy. See it now through May 14.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

"Class of '85" by Collide Theatrical Dance Company at Gremlin Theatre

For two weekends only, Collide Theatrical Dance Company is remounting their super fun original jazz dance musical Class of '85, which premiered in 2014 (just their fourth production). They've made some updates to the music, characters, and story, and moved from the spacious Southern to the more intimate Gremlin. As with all of their work, it's creatively choreographed to well-chosen music, impeccably performed by this troupe of dancers. Class of '85 is not only a fun '80s homage with all of the fashion and music we love, but it also has a poignant (but not heavy-handed) message about looking beyond the labels we put on each other to see the human with real feelings and experiences behind it. Only three performances remain this weekend, in addition to a virtual option - click here for more info and tickets.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

"Memphis" by Artistry at Bloomington Center for the Arts

"All rock 'n' roll is, is Negro blues sped up." This quote from the 2010 Tony-winning best musical Memphis, currently playing at Artistry in Bloomington, sums up the premise of the story - the way that White rock 'n' roll artists of the 1950s borrowed, or stole, from Black R&B artists. This cultural appropriation is something we're even more aware of in 2022 than we were 12 years ago, as noted by director Aimee K. Bryant in the program: "the show appropriates the story of the birth of rock 'n' roll, just like the music industry appropriates Black music and culture. It credits Huey Calhoun with the success of the genre, instead of crediting Felicia Farrell and her brother Delray with Huey's success." Well said, and this production is fully aware of that, and much of the spotlight is given to the Black artists and music that fueled the rock 'n' roll movement. Artistry has assembled a cast that is truly an embarrassment of riches to bring us the regional premiere of the Tony-winning musical.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

"Hands on a Hardbody" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at Luther Cadillac

"Rare Musicals. Well Done." That's Minneapolis Musical Theatre's motto, and one they live up to time and time again. In their first full production in over two years (they produced a series of ten-minute Minne-Musicals one weekend last fall), they're bringing us the regional premiere of the musical Hands on a Hardbody, based on the 1997 documentary of the same name about a Texas contest to win a truck. It only ran for a few months on Broadway in the spring of 2013, but has since become something of a cult hit. As MMT has shown before (see also High Fidelity), sometimes shows that don't work on a big Broadway stage work brilliantly in a more intimate and site-specific space. I was expecting a fun time, which I got, but I wasn't expecting to be moved to tears by these very human stories of people trying to live the American dream, and what happens when that dream fails them. Performed with MMT's usual heart, gusto, and authenticity, in a car dealership showroom of all places, Hands on a Hardbody is a don't-miss-it opportunity for music-theater fans. But it's only playing for a few weeks, with limited seating, so get your tickets now (click here for details)!

Friday, April 22, 2022

"Atacama" by Full Circle Theater at Park Square Theatre

Full Circle Theater Company, a new-ish #TCTheater company that "produces heartfelt, groundbreaking theater that artfully addresses issues of diversity and social justice for 21st century audiences," is producing a new play by California-based playwright Augusto Frederico Amador. I believe I attended a virtual reading of Atacama sometime in the last two years (it's all kind of a blur), and now it's taking the stage for nine performances only on Park Square Theatre. This two-hander examines the long-lasting and devastating of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's 17-year reign, during which he executed thousands of citizens who disagreed with him. It's a timely piece, when violence and human rights violations are occurring around the world. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

"imagine a u.s. without racism" at Mixed Blood Theatre Company

Mixed Blood Theatre Company returns to indoor performance in their Minneapolis firehouse home for the final show under the leadership of founder Jack Reuler - the necessary new play imagine a u.s. without racism. What a thing to imagine, indeed, and what a perfect time to imagine it - coming out of a global pandemic and racial reckoning, a time when we're reassessing how we do everything and looking for ways to do it better. Playwright and director Seema Sueko interviewed 100 people across the U.S. with the simple and complex prompt "imagine a u.s. without racism," and has woven the responses into an 80-minute play that's both a cohesive and engaging story about this diverse group of characters, and a call to action to "create a just neighborhood."

Saturday, April 16, 2022

"A Play by Barb and Carl" at Illusion Theater

Illusion Theater is returning to live performances and christening their new space with a new play by Carlyle Brown, Playwrights' Center Core Writer and playwright in residence with Illusion. You've likely seen a play or three by this prolific local playwright at any number of theaters around town, but I venture to say that A Play by Barb and Carl is his most personal. In it, he and his wife and dramaturg Barbara Rose Brown tell the story of their marriage, and how it was affected by Barb's stroke which left her unable to speak. It's an incredibly moving and poignant story, well and succinctly told in just 70 minutes, with raw and real performances by the cast. You can see it at the newly expanded Center for Performing Arts in South Minneapolis through the end of the month (click here for info and tickets).

Friday, April 15, 2022

"Passing Strange" at Yellow Tree Theatre

The latest offering at Yellow Tree Theatre, the little theater in the 'burbs with big bold theatrical offerings, is Passing Strange, a loosely autobiographical musical by the musician known as Stew (with help from Heidi Rodewald on the music composition). This rarely done musical (last seen in #TCTheater at Mixed Blood in 2014) is a coming of age story about a young black man from L.A. who travels to Europe in search of what he calls "the real." The narrator (played by Stew himself on Broadway) and his younger self take us on this epic journey with them, filled with the highs of love and music and the lows of grief and heartbreak, and it's a beautiful thing when he comes out the other end with a better understanding of life, love, and art.* The talented cast and creative team at Yellow Tree bring out all of the passion and poignancy of the piece, for a truly unique experience. See it in Osseo through May 8 (click here for info and tickets).

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Broadway Tour of "The Prom" at the Orpheum Theatre

Who goes to the prom for the first time at the age of 48? This theater blogger does! And happy to, when The Prom is not the silly cliquey high school party, but rather a super fun, sweet, sassy, and heart-warming musical. The 2019 Tony nominee is finally on tour across America, and its message of inclusiveness, the freedom to be who you are, and LGBTQ rights couldn't come at a better time, with the recent rise of anti-LGBTQ sentiment and legislation. A great message, and also a really fun show that lovingly spoofs Broadway, actors, celebrity, and show business, all while bringing us tons of great music and dancing. But don't wait around for a prom-posal; consider this your invitation to the glorious Prom being held on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis through Sunday only.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

"The California Songbook: Unplugged" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

During his 13-year tenure as Artistic Director of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, James Rocco created the "Broadway Songbook" series, with over a dozen edutainment cabarets combining fantastic performances by local talent with musical theater history, focused on different composers, eras, or topics. After James left the Ordway in 2017, they started the "Ordway Cabaret" series under Kelli Foster Warder, that was a more personal look at how various facets of Broadway inspired local performers. Now that Kelli has left the Ordway for other roles (see her brilliant Jelly's Last Jam at Theater Latte Da), it remains to be seen what the Ordway will do next. But the good news is that James Rocco's "Broadway Songbook" is back, retitled "The Songbook Experience." After omicron forced the cancellation of a January Songbook focused on the late great Stephen Sondheim (a show which will hopefully return later this year), they're finally on the Lakeshore Players Theatre stage with The California Songbook: Unplugged, not exactly Broadway, but still great music history edutainment. There's one final show this afternoon with a few seats remaining.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

"Smokey Joe's Cafe" at Lyric Arts

If you follow #TCTheater, you've probably heard about the reaction to Lyric Arts' initial casting announcement for Smokey Joe's Cafe, which historically has a mostly Black cast, and the disappointment in the community about their lack of diversity. They took that feedback and did another round of casting, bringing in more performers of color (read the full story it here). I've long been a fan of Lyric Arts, and have also called out their lack of diversity (see here and here). I know it's something they've been working on for years, and I know it's a challenge, being a theater in the suburbs that can't afford to pay much. This production stands as an example of doing the outreach to cast a wider diversity of artists, facing limitations in that, taking feedback, and making changes to improve. The addition of more BIPOC cast members can only have made this show better, to the point where it has become a big, boisterous, multi-cultural community celebration of this beloved music, really paying tribute to the legacy of Leiber and Stoller, two Jewish men who often wrote for Black artists and helped introduce them to White audiences. It was a difficult road to get to opening night, but Smokey Joe's Cafe is a success as a fun and entertaining show, as well as an example of a theater doing the work to make their show more inclusive and representative. See it at Lyric Arts in Anoka weekends through May 8.

Friday, April 8, 2022

"Thunder Knocking on the Door" by Ten Thousand Things at Capri Theater

When I returned home from two weeks in paradise (aka New Zealand) on March 11, 2020, one of the shows I had on my schedule to see that weekend was Ten Thousand Things' production of Thunder Knocking on the Door. That didn't happen, for reasons we are all too familiar with. But now, more than two years later, I was finally able to see it. While they're still unable to tour like they usually do (to prisons, community centers, homeless shelters, and other locations were people don't usually have access to theater), Ten Thousand Things is performing the show at Capri Theater and Plymouth Congregational Church, with pay-what-you-can tickets, and have even recorded a cast album (that never happens in regional theater!). No one does theater like Ten Thousand Things, so accessible, raw, up-close-and-personal, with "All the Lights On," but with the highest quality of performance. This show is a rollicking, feel-good, fairy tale of a "bluesical" that was worth the two-year wait (trite but true). Catch in North or South Minneapolis through May 8 (click here for info, tickets, and to purchase the cast album).

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

"The Family Line" by Stage North at the Capri Theater

For their second production, new #TCTheater company Stage North, based at the newly renovated Capri Theater in North Minneapolis, is bringing us a new play by Playwrights' Center Core Writer Lee Blessing. The Family Line is a road trip play with a grandfather and grandson getting to know each other for the first time. Set in May 2020, it includes all the despair and complexity of that time in our recent history, but not without some humor, and a whole lot of humanity. With strong performances by the two-person cast, simple yet effective design, and relevant topics discussed, it's another strong outing for this promising new company (through April 17, click here for more info).

Sunday, April 3, 2022

"Jelly's Last Jam" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Thirty years after its Broadway debut, Theater Latte Da is bringing us the area premiere of Jelly's Last Jam, featuring the life and music of jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton. It's not an easy piece to do; it deals with a lot of tricky issues, includes uncomfortable language, and requires a specificity in casting. In the wrong hands it could be problematic, but fortunately Theater Latte Da has assembled a collection of all the right hands to bring this show to life. It's a true triumph, of acting, music, dance, production design, and social commentary. Music-theater fans, you don't want to miss this opportunity, because a show like this won't come around again soon. It continues through May 14, and I recommend getting your tickets soon (click here for more info).

Saturday, April 2, 2022

"The Rape of Lucretia" by An Opera Theater at Southern Theater

I'm generally not a big opera-goer (despite the fact that I've seen four already this year), but when I do go, I like my opera accessible, relevant, and preferably in English. The simply named An Opera Theatre started a few years ago with a mission "to produce socially-relevant works, in order to break down the barriers of the classical art form, and bring communities together." I first became aware of AOT and their great mission and work during the pandemic, with the original virtual piece In the Midst of Things: In Media Res, and also caught them performing live at the Art Shanty Projects one cold January day. They have returned to live in-person (indoor) performances with a one-weekend-only production of The Rape of Lucretia. A difficult topic to be sure, but an important one to address as violence against women, toxic masculinity, and using women's bodies as a political tool haven't changed all that much in the 2500 years since the event in question. AOT has partnered with several local organizations (Women's Advocates, Violence Free MN, Southern Valley Alliance, and Advocates for Human Rights) and even has an on-site therapist from the Domestic Abuse Project to help audience members process what they see. It's a heavy piece, but it's beautiflly and responsibly done by An Opera Theatre (click here for more info and to purchase tickets to one of the two remaining performances at the Southern Theatre).