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" by Illusion Theater at the Center for Performing Arts

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).

Friday, April 1, 2022

"The Tempest" at the Guthrie Theater

The Guthrie's production of Shakespeare's The Tempest, which opened last month and continues through April 16, is "such stuff as dreams are made on." Former Artistic Director Joe Dowling returns to the Guthrie to direct this piece, the first time since he left in 2015. I became a subscriber and fell in love with the Guthrie (and through it, the local theater community) during the Joe Dowling era, so this production feels very familiar and comforting to me, like going home. That big blue beautiful building on the Mississippi (which Joe Dowling shepherded into existence) truly is one of my happy places. And this Tempest is a joyful celebration of the magic we call theater, one that's especially heart-warming after the very long intermission of the last two years. This is the first fully new production of the Guthrie's 2021-2022 pandemic-shortened season (they hosted the touring production of What the Constitution Means to Me last fall, and put a new spin on their 40+ year annual tradition The Christmas Carol), and they've just announced an exciting new 60th anniversary season (my 19th as a subscriber). It feels so good to come home to the Guthrie again.