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!