Monday, January 24, 2022

Art Shanty Projects on Bde Unma (Lake Harriet)

It doesn't get much more Minnesotan than outdoor opera performed on a frozen lake, surrounded by art installations. This is Art Shanty Projects, now in their 14th year, celebrating winter, the great outdoors, and art. Their mission: "Art Shanty Projects intentionally creates an impermanent art village on Minnesota lake ice amid changing climate and environment. With a spirit of embracing challenges through creativity, we support an ecosystem that inspires everyone to create and participate in art, thrive in winter, and build community." Since theater is a bit slow at the moment, I used my spare time to visit the shanties for the first time last weekend. It runs for another two weekends, and you can find all the information here, including performance schedules. Scroll down for my photo journal of my day (well, hour and a half) at the Art Shanties.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

"La Bohème" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Theater Latte Da's re-imagined production of the 19th Century Italian opera La Bohème, first produced in 2005, and again in 2007, was scheduled to open on March 14, 2020. They had a few previews, and then... well, we know how that story goes. But now, 22 months later, La Bohème finally had its opening night at the Ritz Theater! It's a gorgeous, thoughtful production, accessible even to those not very familiar with opera, such as myself. But of course, my interest in La Bohème is primarily as the inspiration for my favorite musical RENT. I've seen La Bohème once before pre-blog, 20 years ago, which means I remember nothing about it. Watching this performance, I was continually delighted by how familiar the characters, stories, and even specific scenes are after seeing RENT 16 times in the last 25 years. But enough about RENT, that's just this RENThead's way into this piece. La Bohème is worthy on its own without that connection, being "one of the most frequently performed operas worldwide." I'd not rather see anyone's production other than Theater Latte Da, who has, as per usual, brought a new and unique spin to the piece while honoring the spirit of the original, and made this 125-year old opera feel vital and relevant.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

"Bina's Six Apples" at Children's Theatre Company

The world premiere new play Bina's Six Apples, which just opened at Children's Theatre Company, teaches children about the refugee and displaced person crisis that's happening now in many places around the world, and has happened countless times throughout history. This particular story is about a family forced to leave their home during the Korean War, inspired by playwright Lloyd Suh's own family history. There's no better way than theater to engender empathy with people who live in another time and place, and this play does just that through the sweet and inspiring story of one frightened but brave little girl.

It's 1950 South Korea, and the war is approaching, so Bina's family decides to move south, further away from the violence. Bina doesn't want to leave her pleasant home on an apple orchard and walk 70 miles into an uncertain life, but she feels safe with her family and begins to see it as an adventure. Bina can only carry a small bag of apples, even though she wants to do more, and insists on taking six apples, one for each member of her family - her brother and sister, mom and dad, and grandma. Just a few hours into the journey, a bomb goes off nearby and Bina is separated from her family. She's terrified, but she believes if she can just make it to their destination, the city of Buson on the Southeast coast, she will be reunited with her family. In a classic hero's journey, Bina meets both friends and foes along the way, learning important lessons that help her survive, and despite her fear and uncertainty, she bravely perseveres until she is reunited with her family.

Olivia Lampert as Bina (photo by Glen Stubbe)
Local young actor Olivia Lampert plays Bina and is onstage for virtually the whole 75-minute show, sometimes alone, delivering her lines to an apple. She beautifully conveys all of the emotions of this young girl, and brings the audience along on Bina's journey. She's joined by one other local child (Jayden Ham as a boy Bina meets on her journey), and five adult actors playing multiple parts. Because this is a co-production with Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, most of the adult cast is not local, except for #TCTheater favorite Sun Mee Chomet as Bina's mom and a wily merchant she trades with. Albert Park is Bina's kind father as well as an eccentric owner of a boat who gives Bina a ride, for a price; Elizabeth Pan plays Bina's wise grandmother; Joseph Pendergrast is both her brother and a deserting soldier looking for his little sister; and Shelli Delgado plays Bina's sister and another woman on the road.

the cast of Bina's Six Apples (photo by Glen Stubbe)
The storytelling has a fairy tale-like quality, with movement and music filling the spaces between
scenes. The set is dominated by a simple gray wall with water color outlines of mountains. Doors open up to let in large set pieces like a treehouse in an apple tree, or carts that represent a boat, mountains, or a merchant's goods. The river is represented with light and color in a trapdoor in the floor. Members of the ensemble, dressed in period costumes authentic to the time and place, manipulate all of the above, almost like living set pieces, sometimes exchanging a glance or a wink with Bina to keep it playful. It's all very flowy and dreamlike. (Direction by Eric Ting, scenic and lighting design by Jiyoun Chang, costume design by Junghyun Georgia Lee, composition and sound design by Fabian Obispo, movement direction by Marcela Lorca)

Bina with her family (photo by Glen Stubbe)
One of my favorite ideas in theater is that the more specific something is, the more universal it is. Bina's Six Apples is a very specific story about a family in Korea in the 1950s, authentically told by the cast and creative team. Children may or may not see themselves in the specific details of the story, but the love (and playful teasing) within the family, the yearning for a safe home, Bina's fear in an uncertain situation, her joy at being reunited with her family, those are universal truths that connect us to Bina's story.

Bina's Six Apples continues through February 13. Children's Theatre recommends the play for children 9 and up - visit their website for more information and to purchase tickets.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

"[title of show]" at Lyric Arts

If you love musicals (and if you don't, why are you reading this blog?), grab your vax card and mask and head to Anoka to see Lyric Arts' new production of [title of show], the charming, irreverent, quirky little musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical. I knew I loved the show, but I hadn't seen it in over ten years and I had forgotten just how fantastic it is. Chock full of (sometimes obscure) musical theater references and meta fourth-wall breaking, it shows the creative process in all it's wonder and heartbreak. Lyric has assembled a really talented young cast and creative team, some of whose names you may not know, but you will now. It's 90 minutes of sheer joy and delight, a celebration of making art that couldn't come at a better time. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Broadway Tour of "Come From Away" at the Orpheum Theatre

The new year has started out a little rocky, with several local shows being cancelled or postponed. I still have a few shows on my schedule, but up until the moment the curtain goes up I'm not sure they're actually going to happen. The Broadway tour of Come From Away is still on (for the moment) and playing at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. I cannot think of a better show to begin my 2022 year of theater. It's the heart-warming true story of how the people of Gander, Newfoundland welcomed 7000 strangers when their planes were diverted there on 9/11, smartly and succinctly told in a 100-minute musical that flows from story to song with minimal applause breaks, with a fantastic score infused with Celtic rhythms and instrumentation. What I love most is that someone heard about this inspiring 9/11 story and thought - let's write a musical about it! And then they did it in a way that's not treacly, or overproduced, or any other of the many ways it could have gone wrong. They did it in a true and heartfelt way that tells the story in the best possible way. "They" are Canadian married couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein (and producer Michael Rubinoff), and their creation has traveled around the world, inspiring many, and reminding us of the good in humanity, and the incredible things that all of us ordinary people can do when we put aside our differences and connect with our fellow humans.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

#TCTheater 2021 - a Hybrid of Favorites

We did it, friends: somehow, we've made it to the end of another year. A year that started in the bleak darkness of a much too long intermission from live theater, continued through a glorious summer of outdoor performances, and into the sudden hopeful return of #TCTheater, almost like we knew it before, but different. Things looked pretty great in September as many companies returned to the stage with a new season, but a bit of darkness has descended again with the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant that has forced show closings and cancellations on Broadway and here at home. The future is uncertain, but the experience of the past nearly two years dealing with this pandemic gives me confidence that we will get through this too, and theater will continue. But first, let's pause and look back at the year that was in #TCTheater.