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.