Sunday, December 4, 2022

"Beauty and the Beast" at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

Here's one thing I'm grateful for this season: after more than three years, the Ordway Original is back! As Executive Producer of the "Broadway @ the Ordway" series Rod Kaats noted in his pre-show speech, the Ordway is one of the few theaters in the country that both hosts Broadway tours, and does original Broadway-scale productions using local talent. There have been some great tours coming through the Ordway (a pre-Broadway SIX, and a little show called RENT in 1997 and many years thereafter), but my favorites have always been their original productions, because #TCTheater absolutely has the talent in cast, creatives, and crew to build a big beautiful show. In 2019 they were on a roll with a fan-freakin-tastic 42nd Street and a terrific Smokey Joe's Café. The extended pandemic intermission interrupted that momentum, but now they're back with a Disney favorite - Beauty and the Beast (which they last produced back in 2019, shortly pre-blog). It is everything I expected it to be and more: an incredibly talented and mostly local cast, a fabulous 12-person pit orchestra, and an all-around impressive design, combining into one enchanting theatrical experience for all ages. The show continues through New Year's Eve but it's a popular one, so book your tickets now and head to downtown St. Paul, which is particularly beautiful this time of a year, for a magical night. Click here for the official ticket site, with prices ranging from $50-$150.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

"Christmas at the Local" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Theater Latte Da is celebrating their 25th season this year, and in that time they've created two beloved holiday* shows. A Christmas Carole Petersen (#TCTheater artist Tod Petersen's funny and poignant tribute to his mom and growing up in small town Minnesota) debuted in their third season and has been produced numerous times over the years (including six shows at Crooners this year, December 15-18). All is Calm (a documusical about the WWI Christmas Truce) premiered in 2007 and has gone through a few different iterations over the years, settling into a nearly perfect 70 minutes of theater that has toured all over the country (currently touring the Midwest and West Coast) including Off-Broadway, and was filmed in 2019 for a PBS special that will air in on TPT December 11 and 12. And now the brand new original piece Christmas at the Local feels like the start of another beloved holiday tradition. A "double feature" of Dylan Thomas' story A Child's Christmas in Wales and Maya Angelou's poem Amazing Peace, both set to music and tied together with other holiday songs performed by a group of friends hanging out at their local pub, it creates such a warm, cozy feeling of community, nostalgia, and hope that I want to visit every year (or every night). Get in on this new tradition from the start, with performances continuing at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis through New Year's Day.

Friday, December 2, 2022

"Holidate" at Yellow Tree Theatre

Yellow Tree Theatre is doing something a little different this holiday* season. From the beginning, Yellow Tree has produced an original holiday Minnesota comedy written by co-founder Jessica Peterson, both in the popular Miracle on Christmas Lake series and other stand-alone plays. Taking a break from that this year, they're producing another original holiday show, this one written by new Artistic Director Austene Van for Park Square Theatre in 2011. There may be fewer Minnesota references and goofy characters, but it's still a festive, fun, and heart-warming show. Plus, there's music, lots of great music! So make yourself a Holidate with Yellow Tree Theatre in charming downtown Osseo this year (continuing through December 30).

Thursday, December 1, 2022

"Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story" by Wayward Theatre at the James J. Hill House

For an alternative (or complement) to the Guthrie Theater's annual production of A Christmas Carol, head across the river and see what the creative minds at Wayward Theatre Company are bringing to this classic story. Not only are they focusing on the ghostly aspects of the story and doing it in the gorgeous (and slightly spooky on a good day) James J. Hill House, but they're also performing in ten different locations around the house with three staggered groups of 30-person audiences walking around to the different locations. I always enjoy ambulatory site-specific theater, and this Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story is intricately planned, well executed, and provides an immersive (but not interactive) experience into this familiar and beloved tale of redemption. With three performance times every Wednesday through Sunday (except for Christmas Eve and Day) through New Year's Day, you have plenty of opportunities to follow Scrooge on his journey. But with only 30 tickets per show, and some performances already selling out, don't wait too long to secure your ticket.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Agatha Christie's "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" at Theatre in the Round

Theatre in the Round, the oldest theater in Minneapolis, has a tradition of presenting Agatha Christie mysteries. For their 71st season, they're premiering a new adaptation of Christie's first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, published in 1920 and featuring what would become one of her most popular characters, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. I have to admit, I've never read any of her novels or seen any movies based on her mysteries, and I've only seen a couple of her plays (that tracks for a theater nerd), so I was previously unfamiliar with Papa Poirot. I found him to be a thoroughly delightful character, and this Mysterious Affair to be a well-plotted, suspenseful, and entertaining mystery. And after seven straight Christmas shows in a row, it was a nice palate cleanser from all the carols and figgy pudding and such. TRP's mysteries are quite popular and most shows are close to selling out, so if you want to catch this non-holiday offering before it closes on December 18, get your tickets soon!

Monday, November 28, 2022

"White Christmas" at DalekoArts

Taking a break from their usual tradition of original holiday* comedy plays, DalekoArts is presenting the 2008 musical adaptation of the beloved 1954 move White Christmas. It may be the biggest musical they've ever done on their intimate stage in terms of size and scope. But as usual, they've created something warm, homey, and intimate out of this big show. A fantastic hard-working cast of just 13 (less than half of the original Broadway cast), a small but mighty off-stage five-piece orchestra, and simple yet effective design bring this familiar heart-warming story to life. It simply isn't Christmas without White Christmas, and to see it live at DalekoArts, after a drive through the countryside full of lights, is a treat indeed. It plays Thursdays through Sundays until December 18, and is playing in rep with the original holiday comedy White Chrismith on Sundays through Mondays. It features popular character Chris Smith from past original comedies, so they found a way to continue the tradition and do something new.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

"Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley" at Lyric Arts

This holiday* #TCTheater season, we are blessed with not one but two productions of Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon's Pride and Prejudice fan fiction series Christmas at Pemberley. The first play in the trilogy, Miss Bennet, was first seen on local stages at the Jungle Theater five years ago, after which they co-commissioned two more plays, the latest of which, Georgiana and Kitty, is currently premiering at the Jungle. But you can also see where the story all began in Miss Bennet in a new production at Lyric Arts in Anoka. All of these plays are gems, perfectly marrying Jane Austen's legacy of female-centered stories in a man's world of property, marriage, and inheritance with modern feminist sensibilities. It's lovely to see a different take on these stories at Lyric Arts, but just as charming, funny, and heart-warming. You can visit Pemberley via Anoka Thursdays through Sundays until December 18.

Friday, November 25, 2022

"A Christmas Carol" at the Guthrie Theater

It's the Guthrie Theater's 60th season, and for about 80% of those years they've been producing Charles Dickens' classic story of redemption, A Christmas Carol. This year marks their 48th production, and my 16th time seeing it. It's obviously a beloved holiday* tradition in the #TCTheater community, one that I also love and have rarely missed in my 19 seasons as a subscriber. But why? Why do they keep doing it? Why do people keep seeing it? Why do I go back year after year? Read on for ten reasons** to see the Guthrie's A Christmas Carol this year before it closes on December 31.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

"A Servant's Christmas" at History Theatre

For longtime History Theatre Artistic Director Ron Peluso's final show, he chose an old favorite - A Servant's Christmas. It premiered in 1980 and ran for over a dozen years. Early in his 27-year reign Ron had the idea to turn this stalwart play into a musical, and hired composer/ lyricist Drew Jansen to work with playwright John Fenn to add music to this story of servants in a grand house on Summit Avenue around the turn of the last century. The result is a lovely musical about a found family and the atypical way they celebrate the holiday* season, which can include many different traditions. The cast is chock full of fantastic singers, who also bring out all of the emotions of this story of love and longing. See A Servant's Christmas at the History Theatre in downtown St. Paul through December 18.

Monday, November 21, 2022

"Georgiana and Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley" at the Jungle Theater

It's the most wonderful time of the year* - time to return to Christmas at Pemberley at the Jungle Theater. Playwrights Lauren Gunderson (one of the most produced playwrights in the country, often writing plays about women in history, particularly in STEM) and Margot Melcon have created the most delightful Jane Austen fan fiction in this series of plays based on the characters in Pride and Prejudice. The Jungle produced the first one, Miss Bennet**, in 2017 and it was such a hit that they co-commissioned a sequel, The Wickhams, which premiered the following year. After remounting Miss Bennet in 2019 and taking a break for two years for... you know, they've done it again, with another co-commission and rolling world premiere of the third (but hopefully not last) installment - Georgiana and Kitty. Each of these plays focuses on a different Bennet sister or two, but they're all similar in their sparkling dialogue that feels both period appropriate and refreshingly modern, their centering of women in the story (continuing the legacy of Jane Austen), their fleshing out of characters who didn't get much space in the original novel, and their charming romances complete with obstacles to be overcome, just like all good Austen heroines. With Georgiana and Kitty we get not one but two new Austen heroines to love and root for in their pursuit of love, art, purpose, and happiness. Every Christmas at Pemberley is sheer delight from start to finish, and I hope the Jungle makes this a 40+ year tradition (my dream is that they'll produce all three plays in rep someday and I can see them all in one wondrous epic day). You can visit Pemberley any day except Monday from now through December 23 (click here for info and tickets).

Saturday, November 19, 2022

"The Best Christmas Show in Three Years" by Brave New Workshop at the Dudley Riggs Theatre

This spring, after a two year hiatus, the longest running sketch comedy troupe in the country went Back to the Workshop - the Brave New Workshop, that is. Now their annual holiday show is back for the first time in three years, and it's guaranteed to be The Best Christmas Show in Three Years. It may also be one of the best you see this year, especially if your tastes run more towards the salty than sweet side of things. This hilarious and lovable cast makes fun of all the silly things surrounding the holiday season, while still celebrating being together and laughing. Lots of laughing. It plays at the newly christened Dudley Riggs Theatre (honoring the founder of the company who passed away recently) in downtown Minneapolis through January 28. Click here for info and tickets.

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" at Children's Theatre Company

I came home from a weekend down South in Nashville where it was a balmy 45 degrees to find that winter had arrived in Minnesota. And I'm not just talking about the snow and freezing temperatures. I'm talking about holiday #TCTheater that seems to start earlier and include more shows every year. But I'm here for it; it's a big season for local theater and I love all of the holiday offerings, from sweet to salty. My first of four holiday* shows this weekend, and probably about a dozen this season, is the recurring fave How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Children's Theatre Company. This is the 10th production at CTC since this beloved Dr. Suess adaptation premiered in 1994, the 5th time with the incomparable Reed Sigmund as the furry green grouch we all love to hate, and then just plain love. This show is full of such joy, humor, and nostalgia, that it's impossible not to feel your heart grow a size or two. The gorgeous design and super talented cast of all ages bring this beloved familiar story to life before our eyes. The Grinch continues through the first week of January, but it's a popular show so make sure to get your tickets early, and look for cheaper tickets with better availability on weekdays. And remember, plan to arrive 30 minutes prior to showtime because traffic and parking can be difficult in the area (pro tip: continue on 3rd Avenue south of 26th Street and look for street parking there).

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

"Othello" by Classical Actors Ensemble at Elision Playhouse

I've enjoyed Classical Actors Ensemble's summer outdoor tradition of Shakespeare in area parks since 2015. But it turns out they also perform indoors. And while their fall indoor production of Othello isn't as fun and playful as their outdoor shows (also, it's Othello), it's still accessible, understandable, and entertaining. Othello is a heavy play, one I'm not as familiar with, and not a short play (i.e., better for me to see a matinee, which I did). But the clear direction and great performances by the cast make the relevant themes of love, betrayal, trust, deception, and manipulation ring out. It continues weekends through November 20, plus a few free readings of other plays (see CAE's website for more info).

Sunday, November 6, 2022

"Pirates of Penzance" by Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company at Howard Conn Fine Arts Center

In their first fall production, Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, the only local company dedicated to the silly, witty, and delightful creations of late 19th Century British librettist and composer W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, respectively, bring us my personal favorite, The Pirates of Penzance! GSVLOC have typically just been doing one show a year, in the spring, but as their dedicated audience would agree, once is just not enough. Directed by Gary Briggle (who played the Major General in the Ordway's 2015 production), the huge cast and off-stage orchestra bring out all of the delicious silliness and gorgeous musicality of the piece. If you're looking for a traditional production of this G&S masterpiece (with an interesting note in the program about the history of the piece - the first to premiere in the U.S.), this is it. See it at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center in Plymouth Congregational Church in South Minneapolis through November 20.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

"The Boys Room" at Gremlin Theatre

It's been nearly three years since Gremlin Theatre's last production (the dark comedy Becky Shaw in January 2020). They've of course hosted other theater companies in their Midway St. Paul space in that time (including a few outdoor productions in summer 2020). But now they're back with the family dramedy The Boys Room, which premiered at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater a little over ten years ago. A stellar four-person cast brings this family, that puts the fun in dysfunctional, to such vivid life that it's a bit startling when it ends after 90 short minutes, with nothing really resolved, but a whole lot exposed. None of these characters are very likeable, but the actors are as they make these people, and the awkward situation they find themselves in, seem very real.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

"Uncle Philip's Coat" at Six Points Theater

The day before Halloween at my chosen place of worship, the sermon was about ghosts. And that maybe ghosts aren't the spooky thing we think about this time of the year, but the spirit of our ancestors that we carry with us by remembering them. A few hours later this theme came up again in Six Points Theater's production of Uncle Philip's Coat. In this engrossing and engaging solo play, #TCTheater veteran J.C. Cutler portrays the playwright Matty Selman as well as his ancestors in a story of family and identity and the ghosts that are carried in an old ragged coat, full of stories and history.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

2022 Twin Cities Horror Festival at the Crane Theater

Here's the thing: I don't like horror. I don't watch horror movies. Halloween means nothing to me other than the opportunity for fun-sized candy. But what I do love is the #TCTheater artists who create new and inventive work for the genre-specific mini-fringe fest known as the Twin Cities Horror Festival. Their 11th season includes 11 shows, with performances daily now through October 30. If you love horror, this is definitely going to be your thing. And even if you don't, there's a lot to enjoy. I saw six of the 11 shows; keep reading for brief thoughts on each one, and for more in-depth TCHF coverage, follow my horror-loving friends at Minnesota Theater Love and The Stages of MN.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Broadway Tour of "SIX" at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

It's only been three years since the six Queens of the smash hit musical SIX have been seen on the Ordway stage, but what a three years it's been! Shortly after the show's month-long run at the Ordway in December of 2019, as part of a US tour, it went to Broadway. Previews began in February of 2020, but before opening night, a global pandemic shuttered Broadway's doors for a very long and unprecedented 18 months. But these Queens are resilient; the show finally opened in October of 2021, just four years after it debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, an unlikely trajectory for a Broadway musical. Nominated for eight Tony Awards and winning two (score and costume design), SIX is still playing on Broadway (and hopefully will for a long time). This year they launched a new tour, which opened at the Ordway this week and continues through November 6. Structured as a pop concert, SIX allows the six wives of Henry VIII to tell their own stories. This musical couldn't have come at a better time, when we're hungry for women's stories, for women to tell their own stories instead of being defined by men, as history has defined these six women by their marriage to a king.  This is the third time I've seen the show, and I only love it more each time. It's so smart, so clever, so modern, so feminist, and so much fun! If you love new, original, innovative music-theater, do not miss this opportunity to see SIX (visit the Ordway website for info and tickets).

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Broadway Tour of "Cats" at the Orpheum Theatre

People dressed in cat suits dancing and singing songs based on some poems about cats. How on earth did this bizarro idea win seven Tonys include Best Musical, become the longest running show on Broadway at the time it closed in 2000 (now 4th longest, soon to be passed by Wicked), and become a worldwide phenomenon?! I first saw it on tour 25 years ago, and at the Chanhassen a few years later. Since then I've become a bit more discerning in my music-theater tastes, preferring the smart and clever scores of Sondheim, or edgier musicals like Next to Normal, to commercial blockbusters like Cats. You know, musicals that are about something, and have something to say. But I also know that I wore out my OBC recording of Cats back in the day, and I do believe cats to be the superior animal, so I decided to revisit the musical. At opening night last night it was obvious that the crowd loved it, and I can see why. It's completely ridiculous, but in a kinda wonderful way. This production features some amazing and unique artistry, honors the divine felinity, and is a whole lot of fun. And sometimes that's enough. Experience the phenomenon yourself at the Orpheum Theatre through Sunday only (visit the official HTT site for info and tickets).

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

"Fire in the New World" by Full Circle Theater Company at Park Square Theatre

Rick Shiomi, founder of Theater Mu and current co-Artistic Director of Full Circle Theater Company, returns to the Japanese-Canadian noir detective world of post-WW II Vancouver in his new play Fire in the New World. The first play in what is now a trilogy, Yellow Fever, is set in 1973 and premiered in 1982, and was produced by Mu in 2013 as part of Rick's last season as Artistic Director. It was followed by the prequel Rosie's Cafe, set in 1951. Fire in the New World takes place between these two, in 1963, but don't worry if you haven't seen the other plays, it stands on its own (although it would be great fun to see the three plays in rep). Once again, private eye Sam Shikaze battles crime, gentrification, and racism with the help of his friends. See it at Park Square Theatre through November 6.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

"Next to Normal" by Wildwood Theatre at the Capri Theater

"The Wildwood Theatre unravels the stigma of mental health and mental illness by creating safe spaces where individuals can feel comfortable to ask personal questions, explore feelings, investigate social norms, and excavate truth." I'm not sure there's a better musical for this newish #TCTheater company to tackle than Next to Normal, the Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical about a family dealing with mental illness. I was lucky enough to see a preview of Next to Normal on Broadway in 2009, and was blown away. I've loved it ever since, and seen several local productions, but it's been over seven years since I've seen it on stage. Wildwood's new production is so lovely and heartfelt, with beautifully sincere performances from the talented (and mostly unknown to me) cast, and the Tony-winning rock score sounds fantastic as played by the seven-person orchestra. It's playing for two weekends only at Capri Theater in North Minneapolis.

Friday, October 21, 2022

"The Abortion Chronicles" by Mermaid Productions at Haus of Loring

The Scarlet Letter A does not always mean Adultery, it can also stand for Abortion. Something to be ashamed of and never spoken about. Or at least that's how it used to be, but lately it's become more common for women, and men, to share their abortion stories. That was the impetus behind the 2016 Minnesota Fringe Festival show The Abortion Chronicles, created by Ariel Pinkerton, Ruth Virkus, and Ben Layne. At the time I wrote "40+ years after Roe v. Wade it's important to be reminded why legal abortion is a necessity, especially in such a human and relatable way as this." It never occurred to me that six years later, legal abortion would no longer be available in many parts of the country after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Which makes The Abortion Chronicles even more necessary now, as it simply, honestly, and with humanity shares real stories of women making the choice to have an abortion. You can hear these stories Fridays and Saturdays at 7 at Haus of Loring, on Lake Street just off Bde Maka Ska (click here for details).

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

"Real Women Have Curves" at Lyric Arts, a co-production with Teatro del Pueblo

Like most good movies, the 2002 film Real Women Have Curves (that gave us America Ferrera) started as a play. Teatro del Pueblo, a #TCTheater Latino theater company that recently celebrated their 30th anniversary, produced the play this summer. Now, Lyric Arts is bringing that production (with much of the cast and creative team returning) to their stage in Anoka for their first ever co-production. I saw the busy Sunday matinee last weekend, and found it to be sweet, funny, and heart-warming. While the story and characters are specific to the Latinx community in East L.A., the themes of female friendship, generational conflict, and body shaming (turned into body positivity) are universal and so relatable. The endearing five-person cast makes us love these women and root for them on their journeys towards happiness and a better life. There's more than one reason to go to the Halloween capital of the world this month, and this charming play is one of them - but only two more weekends remain!

Sunday, October 16, 2022

"Weathering" at Penumbra Theatre

Prolific #TCTheater playwright Harrison David Rivers has written another beautiful and relevant story about humans. Weathering was commissioned by Penumbra as a response to the growing awareness of racial disparities in maternal health. A quick google search reveals staggering statistics around the racial disparity in infant and maternal mortality in this country - two and three times higher for Black mothers compared to White mothers. Weathering puts a human face on those statistics and lets us experience the tragedy of one family, as well as the healing that can happen within a community.

Friday, October 14, 2022

"Of Pigs and Pianos" at the Jungle Theater

The Jungle Theater's 32nd season includes three original productions and two "Jungle Presents" offerings, in which they host shows from elsewhere. The first of these is a one-weekend-only engagement of the one-woman show Of Pigs and Pianos. This is the amazing story of Sara Davis Buechner, a transgender woman who transitioned in the middle of her career as a classical pianist - performer, composer, and teacher. She probably could talk and play for hours on end, but instead, she's compressed her life story into a little over an hour, succinctly conveying her trials and triumphs through stories and music. It's a unique and inspiring story, and some of the best piano performance I've ever had the privilege to witness. Only four more shows remain - this weekend at the Jungle in Uptown (click here for details and tickets).

Thursday, October 13, 2022

"Sally & Tom" at the Guthrie Theater

Premiering at the Guthrie this month is a new play by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks, in association with The Public Theater (responsible for many ground-breaking shows from Hair to Hamilton). Sally & Tom is not just the story of America's third president Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, an enslaved woman whom he owned and with whom he had a 30-year relationship and six children. The playwright uses a clever play-within-a-play format to also comment on theater itself, and the role it plays in tackling the big issues of the day. The good news is that Sally & Tom is both highly entertaining and engaging (both the play itself and the play-within-the-play) and provides relevant social commentary, particularly on the legacy of slavery upon which this country was founded, and its repercussions still being felt today. It's a brilliant new play, and we're lucky to see it here first! (Continuing through Nov. 6.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

"Five Minutes of Heaven" by Illusion Theater at the Center for Performing Arts

The world premiere stage adaptation of the 2009 Irish film Five Minutes of Heaven tells the story of two men affected by the period of Northern Ireland's history known as "The Troubles." Over 3500 people were killed in the 30-year long and complicated conflict, but this is the story of just one of them. Based on a real-life murder and an imagined meeting between the killer and the victim's brother 35 years later, the taut 75-minute drama is riveting and tension-filled and at times difficult to watch. The adaptation by Michael Egan and the excellent five-person cast (including the playwright himself) beautifully and painfully bring this difficult story to life, and highlight the relevance of the historical events to the here and now. Continuing through October 23 in Illusion Theater's intimate performance space at the Center for Performing Arts.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Josh & Brad in "We Only Murder in THIS Building Featuring: Brad & Josh!" at Bryant-Lake Bowl

It's been a year since I've been to Bryant-Lake Bowl, the quirky little theater at the back of a bowling alley that's home to some of the most creative and risk-taking performances in town, and I've missed it. Josh & Brad in "We Only Murder in THIS Building Featuring: Brad & Josh!" is as much of a love letter to the BLB as it is a celebration of the friendship and creative partnership of Josh Carson and Brad Erickson. In a series of "sketches, songs, and stories," they talk about their separate moves to L.A. working on the oddest of jobs, and their return home to Minnesota, where they met and forged a comedic partnership. They've performed together and individually in a multitude of shows at BLB, the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and elsewhere, the most famous of which is the little show they did ten years ago that has become a smash hit annual event - A Very Die Hard Christmas. You can experience the origin story of these two goofballs in three more shows, or check out other upcoming shows at the theater that supports them and many other artists in #TCTheater, giving them a safe place to explore and create.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

"Buddy! The Buddy Holly Story" at History Theatre

"That'll Be the Day." "Peggy Sue." "Oh, Boy." "Maybe Baby." These iconic songs by '50s rocker Buddy Holly are so much a part of our culture that everyone knows them, even those of us born long after his tragic death in a plane crash in 1959. Buddy! The Buddy Holly Story, a jukebox musical that uses Buddy Holly's music to tell his story, premiered in London in 1989 before crossing the pond to be seen on stages around the country. It's a fitting choice for the History Theatre, which brings varied and sometimes obscure pieces of Minnesota history to life on stage. What does Buddy Holly have to do with Minnesota? His doomed plane was on its way from Clear Lake, Iowa to Moorhead, Minnesota when it crashed, killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. This production, which premiered at the History Theatre in 2005 and was remounted a few times, is back this year for the first time since 2015, with many returning cast members and creatives (including director Ron Peluso in his final season as Artistic Director). Buddy! is a fun celebration of the all too short life and career of this pioneering rock-and-roller, enjoyed equally by those who remember first-hand his life and death, and those who only know the legend (although the audience skews much more towards the former).* This run of Buddy! continues through the end of the month; click here for info and tickets.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

"46 Plays for America's First Ladies" by Theatre Pro Rata at Crane Theater

If I'm late posting this review, it's because I went down an internet rabbit hole about the fascinating 46 (or more) First Ladies. Because the new play 46 Plays for America's First Ladies, by virtue of covering all of these women in about two hours, only gives us a brief hint at each one of them. Someone needs to write a musical about one or more of these women* (looking for a next project, Lin-Manuel?), maybe Harriet Lane, adopted daughter of "lifelong bachelor" James Buchanan, or Lucy Webb Hayes, who accomplished so much that even five people talking at the same time couldn't cover it. Written by five different playwrights, this yet-to-be-published and up-to-the-minute play (ending with Jill Biden, 2021-?) is mostly a comedy, but not without some social and political commentary (not-so-fun fact: many of the early First Ladies owned slaves). It's a funny and fascinating whirlwind trip through the history of this country, as seen through the eyes of the women behind the men who were presidents. With some hope that maybe one day, this country will get with the times and elect a woman to lead outright, instead of just from behind.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

"The Thin Place" at DalekoArts

It's October, and #TCTheater is starting to get spooky. There's something about a chilling story that's so satisfying when the leaves start to turn and the weather gets cooler. A few days after I saw Theatre Elision's hauntingly beautiful Ghost Quartet, I made the gorgeous drive out to New Prague to see DalekoArts' regional premiere production of Lucas Hnath's new play The Thin Place. My drive was rewarded with a thoroughly chilling and captivating story, told by a great cast and sparse but effective design. See this deliciously spooky story at the Prague Theatre in charming downtown New Prague weekends through October 9 only!

Thursday, September 29, 2022

"Ghost Quartet" by Theatre Elision at Elision Playhouse

Theatre Elision is back with their first full production since the lovely Islander in July of 2021 (my first post-pandemic-hiatus show). They're bringing back their annual spooky fall hit Ghost Quartet, with a few updates to the production. I've seen it a couple times before, and it’s definitely the type of show that gets better with repeat viewings. The song cycle by Dave Malloy (Tony nominated for Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812) weaves related tales in and out through the 90-minute show, in a way that doesn't quite make sense, but somehow fits together to form a cohesive and compelling story. In a little over five years, Theatre Elision has created and filled a niche with excellent productions of small-cast, one-act, original or rarely done musicals. Ghost Quartet is one of their most successful productions, and one that has only gotten better over time. It's musically gorgeous and truly haunting, a perfect choice to kick off the #TCTheater October scary season (continuing through October 8).

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

"Doubt: A Parable" at Theatre in the Round

To open their historic 71st season, Theatre in the Round is presenting the 2005 Tony-winning best play Doubt: A Parable. In roughly 90 minutes, the intense and tautly written play explores ideas of faith, doubt, gender, race, class, sexual abuse, and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that allowed such abuses to continue. Presented in a series of mostly two-person scenes, expertly written and well performed by this cast, the play is not so much about whether the accused is innocent or guilty, but about how we as humans deal with the doubt and uncertainty that exists in many areas of life. Doubt is truly a parable that can be applied to so many situations (especially today with so many sources of "truth" flying at us), with no clear answers, leaving the audience feeling a bit unsettled. 

Monday, September 26, 2022

"Merrily We Roll Along" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Stephen Sondheim was 91 when he died last November, but it still felt too soon, like there was still more he could do and write and say. But the good news is he left us an incredible body of work, songs and musicals and stories that will never die, as long as there are companies like Theater Latte Da to perform them (which many seem more eager to do in the wake of his recent passing, the Guthrie will produce Into the Woods next summer). Latte Da teased us with a couple of Sondheim cabarets at Crooners earlier this year, and is now opening their 25th season with the lesser produced Merrily We Roll Along. The 1981 Broadway flop was reworked a few times, and has gained popularity over the years*. I knew nothing about it before seeing the show, but I knew that I was in good hands with Theater Latte Da, my favorite interpreters of Sondheim's work. Seeing this production it's hard to imagine why it wasn't an instant hit, but I guess the show took a while to find itself, similar to its characters. The unique backwards storytelling is interesting and challenging and fun, as the pieces fall into place in this story of three friends trying to make it in show business, while still holding on to what matters. As per usual with Theater Latte Da, it's an all-around impeccable production that made me fall in love with this piece and want to see and listen to it over and over again.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

"Iphigenia at Aulis" by Ten Thousand Things at Luminary Arts Center

This fall, Ten Thousand Things, my favorite interpreter of Shakespeare and other classic works, brings us the Greek tragedy Iphigenia at Aulis. Because they are not yet able to tour the show to their usual locations of community centers, homeless shelters, and prisons, they are presenting this show in a sort of hybrid style between the usual stripped-down bare-bones production in a small space surrounded by a few rows of chairs, and a more traditional proscenium style production. They also performed the show outdoors, which may have had a more TTT feel, but in the former Lab Theater, now known as Luminary Arts Center*, it still maintains the TTT hallmark of making classics feel fresh, relatable, and relevant, if in a more formal theater style (but still with "all the lights on"). They're set to return to touring this winter, which will likely bring back their usual style, but in the meantime, Iphigenia at Aulis is a gorgeous production with a large and hugely talented cast, that uses an original score to tell this ancient story.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

"Once" at the Duluth Playhouse

Walking along the greatest of lakes yesterday morning, watching the rising sun turn the clouds shades of pink and orange, while the waves lapped at my feet at the seagulls played in the water, I knew it was absolutely worth driving 300 miles roundtrip in 24 hours to see one of my favorite musicals in my favorite Minnesota city. I'm not saying you should also make the long drive to see Duluth Playhouse's production of the lovely eight-time Tony winning musical Once, based on the 2007 Irish movie and featuring music by stars of the film Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, but if you're itching for a Minnecation, or happen to be in Minnesota's favorite vacation spot along the North Shore of Lake Superior, you should definitely check it out, or maybe catch something else in the Playhouse's busy and ambitious 2022-2023 season on multiple stages, which culminates in the Minnesota premiere of Kinky Boots next summer. Not just for nature, adventure, shopping, and eating, Duluth is also a destination because of its incredible arts and culture scene.

Friday, September 23, 2022

"Vietgone" at the Guthrie Theater

Next spring, the Guthrie Theater will celebrate its 60th anniversary; I've been a season subscriber for about a third of that time. Their new season (the first full-length season since the pandemic) begins with a play that may challenge some of its traditional audience, but that's not a bad thing. In fact, in the case of Qui Nguyen's ambitious and genre-blending play Vietgone, first seen in #TCTheater about five years ago at Mixed Blood Theatre, it's a very good thing. Rather than yet another story about the Vietnam War told from the point of view of Americans, it's a love story set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, as told by the son of Vietnamese refugees. Vietgone is part rap musical, part romantic comedy, part bawdy sex comedy, part war story, and all engrossing. It's in-your-face and squirm-inducing, but is utterly effective in communicating the refugee experience and making at least this audience member rethink their views on the Vietnam War and American involvement.*

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

"The Humans" at Park Square Theatre

To open their exciting new season, Park Square Theatre is presenting the regional premiere of the 2016 Tony-winning best play The Humans by Stephen Karem (whose Sons of the Prophet they produced a few years ago). This play about a typical family Thanksgiving dinner is devastating in its specificity, in its relatability, in its raw truth, and in the way it lays bare what it is to be human and part of a family. And therein lies its beauty. I saw the Broadway tour, as well as the recent movie adaptation, so I knew we were in for a treat. The stunning design and excellent cast lived up to my expectations; the show cuts deep and is hard to shake upon leaving the theater. If you're a human, you will be able to relate to The Humans - the good, the bad, and the ugly of it. See it in the historic Hamm building in downtown St. Paul through October 9 (#bringtissues).

Sunday, September 18, 2022

"Lumberjacks in Love" at Lyric Arts

Lyric Arts is easing into their ambitious season with the charmingly corny musical comedy Lumberjacks in Love. In the vein of Deer Camp the Musical or the Don't Hug Me series, Lumberjacks is full of local humor (northern Wisconsin, but that's pretty close to Minnesota*), dumb but amusing humor, and goofy songs. But thanks to the amiable cast you can't help but fall a little in love with these oddball characters in their search for (or running scared from) love. 

Saturday, September 17, 2022

"Singin' in the Rain" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

To open their impressive 70th season in White Bear Lake, Lakeshore Players Theatre is presenting Singin' in the Rain. The classic 1952 movie musical was written by legendary musical theater team Comden and Green, and adapted into a stage musical in 1983. It's a big old-fashioned musical with comedy, romance, dancing, and tons of familiar songs, and the team at Lakeshore does a great job in this fun, feel-good musical. See it in the beautiful Hanifl Performing Arts Center weekends through October 6.

Friday, September 16, 2022

E/D Presents "The Show" at the Crane Theater

#TCTheater artists Emily Michaels King and Debra Berger officially joined forces in 2018 under the company name E/D, debuting with the "uniquely beautiful and chillingly disturbing" mixed media piece Animus. They were scheduled to open their second original piece, entitled simply The Show, on the unlucky date of March 13, 2020. We know how that story goes; it was cancelled due to a global pandemic. They rescheduled it for sometime during the 2021-2022 season, again cancelling due to delta or omicron or whatever variant was raging at the time. But now, finally, this glorious pink explosion of a show is fully alive and running, but only for two more nights! The short two-week run closes on Saturday, so get yourself to the Crane Theater quickly to see this emotionally raw, thoughtfully executed, and completely engrossing show by two uniquely talented artists, who combine to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Click here for all of the details and to purchase pay-what-you-can tickets.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

American Players Theatre 2022, Spring Green WI

If Middle Earth had a theater, it would look like American Players Theatre. Situated on over 100 acres in the woods of Wisconsin about an hour west of Madison, the sprawling grounds include several picnic areas on rolling hills with artwork and lights hanging from the trees (very Hobbiton), where people set up elaborate picnics complete with baskets, tablecloths, and stemware, and then you walk through tall forests where the Elves might have lived sometime in the past to the "Up-The-Hill" theater, with performances out in the open in a natural amphitheater. The permanent outdoor theater was built in 1980 and renovated a few years ago, and includes about 1000 cushy comfy waterproof seats around a thrust stage, with not a bad seat in the house. The stage is set against the woods, which are lit up at night in rainbow colors. The light of the sun, stars, and moon is amplified by huge sets of stadium lights, specifically directed where they are needed (stage, aisles, audience). The setting couldn't be more magical, but more importantly, the theater that has been produced in that space for over 40 years is fantastic. I don't know how it took this Midwest theater lover so long to discover this national gem of a theater. Their eight-show summer season continues through the first week of October, with a 9th show being presented in their indoor theater from late October through November, so you still have time to make the gorgeous four-hour drive from the Twin Cities to Spring Green (if you can get tickets). Otherwise, start making plans for their 2023 season, opening in June. If you're a theater fan living in the Midwest, APT is an absolute must-see.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

"God of Carnage" by Dark and Stormy Productions at Gremlin Theatre

For their 10th anniversary season, Dark and Stormy Productions is trying something new - performing in an actual theater, rather than the Northeast Minneapolis studio space that was their home for five years pre-pandemic, or a number of other found spaces (most recently - in a jacuzzi in Stillwater). But what hasn't changed is their tradition of doing one-act, small-cast, darkly funny plays, and God of Carnage is one of the best of that sort. The 2009 Tony-winning best play was first seen in #TCTheater at the Guthrie, when I called it "a tightly wound, intense, darkly hilarious four-person play about what happens when our baser natures come to the surface." Lyric Arts did it several years later, and now it's a perfect fit for Dark and Stormy. Since the theater space they chose is the Gremlin Theatre, it still has that intimate up-close-and-personal feel (if you're in the front row you may want to duck at a few moments). The sharply written four-person play is perfectly cast with some of #TCTheater's best actors, which makes for a very entertaining evening. Pair it with libations from Lake Monster Brewing next door and food from their rotating schedule of food trucks, enjoyed on their outdoor patio, and you have a practically perfect late summer night out (continuing through September 11).

Friday, August 26, 2022

"Pickup Truck Opera Volume 2: The Magic Flute" by Mixed Precipitation at Dodge Nature Center

Mixed Precipitation's "Picnic Operetta" has been a staple of summer outdoor #TCTheater since 2009, combining classic opera, pop music, and passed bites of delicious food. In 2020, rather than letting a global pandemic shut them down entirely, they transitioned to the "Pickup Truck Opera" format, a similar opera/pop music mash-up performed out of a 2011 Ford Pickup that they drove around to local parks. They expanded on this idea in 2021, and return with Volume 2 this year, performed at parks and gardens not just in the Twin Cities but around the state. This year's mash-up features Mozart's The Magic Flute and "groovy beats from the 90s discotheque." As expected from this troupe of traveling artists, this Pickup Truck Opera is a super fun, silly, sweet, and accessible experience of music, theater, and community. You can see it at various locations in the Twin Cities Metro Area, plus Hastings, through September 11 (click here for dates, locations, details, and free reservations).

Saturday, August 20, 2022

"Groupthink" at Six Points Theater

The 2022-2023 #TCTheater season officially begins after Labor Day, but Six Points Theater is bringing us a juicy appetizer prior to the start of the regular season. The world premiere new play Groupthink is a darkly funny and so-real-it's-scary look at the world of PR and social media. A group of coworkers at a PR firm plot and plan to make their horrible clients look better to the public, and the scary part is - it works. In what would be a tight 90-minute-no-intermission play, if not for the intermission, the talented cast and crisp design bring us right into this world that doesn't seem so far from our own.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Storyhill Fest 2022

 

After seeing 23 shows in 7 days at the Minnesota Fringe Festival, I headed Up North to see 10 concerts in 2 days at Storyhill Fest, the best little folk music festival in Minnesota. I attended Storyhill Fest every year from 2010-2014 (I think I just missed one in 2009), after which it went on hiatus for a few years. Storyhill Fest was scheduled to come back in 2020, but we know how that story goes. Finally, in 2021, I returned to Clearwater Forest Camp in the Brainerd Lakes area for two glorious days of music, and it was like the past 7 years slipped away. It was such a welcome return to a favorite place and event, especially after the many long months without any performing arts in 2020-2021. This year was the second year of this second incarnation of the Minnesota Storyhill Fest (similar fests have also been held in Storyhill's native Montana in the past), and once again it was a joyous celebration of music and community. There was vague mention of "next time" without any firm details, but follow Storyhill on Facebook or sign up for their newsletter for the latest information about the next Fest, and other upcoming Storyhill concerts. Read on for photos and info about the 8 additional artists who performed, all beautifully unique variations of the folk singer/songwriter genre, and click on their names to be taken to their website where you can listen to and/or buy their music, and find out about upcoming performances. Several of them are Minnesota-based, and if not, they'll come around again soon.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2022: Wrap-Up and Favorites

It's the closing weekend of the first fully live and in-person Minnesota Fringe Festival in nearly three years, but my fringing time is done, at least until next year. I've moved on from my favorite theater festival to my favorite music festival (Storyhill Fest in Deerwood). Sitting in a coffee shop in Crosby, reflecting on the eperience of the last seven days, in which I saw 23 short pieces of theater / music / storytelling / dance / spoken word / any combination thereof, the overwhelming feeling is gratitude. Gratitude that despite a global pandemic, financial issues, and cancelled performances, adventerous audiences (of which I consider myself a part) were able to gather to experience adventurous art (of which I consider myself an admirer). After two years of (mostly) virtual festivals, I didn't realize how much I missed this until I was back. To be immersed in a life in which the only goal is to see as much theater as you can, to eat, sleep, and breathe theater, is a theater blogger's dream. But the best part of Minnesota Fringe is the community feeling it engenders. Walking down the street, particularly in the Cedar-Riverside hub, and seeing so many theater-goers and theater-makers there for the same purpose, and chatting about theater with artists, friends, and strangers, is something that only happens at Fringe. Though I only saw 23 of the 100+ shows, and I know I missed some great shows (follow my friends at Lettered in Theatre and The Stages of MN, as well as the OG Fringe blogger Single White Fringe Geek, for continuing coverage), that tiny feeling of regret and FOMO is overwhelmed by feelings of satisfaction and happiness that Minnesota Fringe is back! Read on for my favorite shows of this year's fest, and visit the Fringe website (sometimes slow but very informative) for today's schedule. There's still time to get out there and #seethefringe, #bethefringe, #supportthefringe!

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2022: "Michael Bay's Bridgerton VII: Revenge of the Forlorn"

Day: 7

Show: 23

Title: Michael Bay's Bridgerton VII: Revenge of the Forlorn

Category: COMEDY / PHYSICAL THEATER / SCI-FI

By: Snikt! Bamf! Thwip! 

Created by: Tim Wick & Jami Newstrom

Location: Theatre in the Round

Summary: A spoof of Netflix's smash hit series Bridgerton, with some Michael Bay transformers elements thrown in.

Highlights: Confession: I had to google Michael Bay to see what movies he was involved in, so I was definitely there for the Bridgerton of it all. And I was very satisfied in that regard. The story revolves around our favorite BFFs - Penelope Featherington (Angela Fox) and Eloise Bridgerton (Alison Anderson). There's a dashing suitor known as Viscount Studleywright (Michael Bloom), a meddling mother (Breanna Cecile), and even a voiceover by Whisledown (Dawn Krosnowski). But here our heroines also have to deal with the evil Lord Montjoy (Edwin Strout) and his inept accomplice (Samuel Poppen) trying to sabotage the Bridgerton ball and therefore the entire family's reputation. There's a running comentary about how the men simply do not hear the women (funny because it's true), and the benefit of guilds (i.e., unions). About halfway through the show, it turns from Bridgerton to Michael Bay, with our characters losing their charming British accents and instead speaking and acting like crass Americans. There are explosions, and fights, and transformers! But in the end, the two friends come back together and vow to take their lives, and their stories, into their own hands. The Fringe isn't the Fringe without a trendy pop culture spoof, and this show fills that spot nicely.