Tuesday, May 17, 2022

"Airness" at Park Square Theatre

Park Square Theatre finally returns from their extended intermission with a really fun and feel-good play about a national air guitar competition. It sound ridiculous, but truth is stranger than fiction - this is actually a real thing. LA-based playwright Chelsea Marcantel has set Airness within this world where people travel the country to compete with 60 seconds of playing an imaginary guitar. But like any story, it's not really about air guitar; air guitar is the backdrop against which is set this sweet and funny story of community, friendship, finding your people, and pursuing your passion. The fantastic cast embodies this lovable group of oddballs so well that you find yourself rooting for them and becoming invested in their story. With the stage appeal of a rock concert and the heart of a chosen family story, Airness is a great welcome back for Park Square (continuing through June 5).

Sunday, May 15, 2022

"The Labyrinth and the Minotaur: The Incarceration Play Project" by Wonderlust Productions at Mixed Blood Theatre

Four years in the making, Wonderlust Productions' newest piece The Labyrinth and the Minotaur: The Incarceration Play Project reimagines the myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth in which it is kept as the Minnesota Corrections system. For this project they collected  stories from over 230 people who live and work within this system, and the huge cast (perhaps the largest I've ever seen) includes many of these people, alongside seven professional actors. It's a really beautiful, inspiring, and thought-provoking piece about an incredibly relevant issue - this country's broken, cruel, and racist system of incarceration. This is a theater company dedicated to elevating the voices of the unheard, and there are few voices less heard than those of the incarcerated. Here they get to tell their own stories in an empowering and powerful way. Although the play is a bit too long (three hours and 15 minutes on opening night) and would benefit from some editing, it's very worthwhile and important. See it through May 22 at Mixed Blood Theatre; only five more performances remain.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

"Once" at DalekoArts

I finally made the gorgeous springtime drive out to New Prague to see DalekoArts' production of the 2012 Tony-winning musical Once in its sold-out final weekend. Just the second #TCTheater production*, Once is a perfect choice for the scrappy little theater in the far-out suburbs, the stage packed with singer/actor/musicians and the intimate house making it feel like we're all in a cozy Irish pub together enjoying some good craic. It's such a beautiful story, and a unique kind of musical that's really more of a play-with-music. All of the music in this Irish folk-rock score (by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who also starred in the 2007 movie from which the musical was adapted by Irish playwright Enda Walsh) is in context, in a pub or recording studio or music shop. The music is woven so naturally into the story that there's not a lot of applause during the show, not wanting to break the spell of the story being woven on stage. A multi-talented 12-person cast plus three band members embody this charming and bittersweet Once.

Friday, May 13, 2022

"Moonlit Walk Home" at Nautilus Music-Theater

Nautilus Music-Theater's second new original piece of music-theater this season is the lovely song cycle Moonlit Walk Home. It turns out that #TCTheater's favorite singing sisters Christina Baldwin and Jennifer Baldwin Peden have a talented poet for a mother, which isn't really that surprising; artistic talent often runs in families. Fern Green Baldwin put her writing aside to raise eight children and numerous plants and animals on 36 acres in the Minnesota River Valley outside of Jordan, Minnesota. She finally got back to writing in her 70s, and published her first book of poetry Moonlit Walk Home at the age of 80. Her daughters have adapted it into a song cycle, along with stage director Ben Krywosz and composer Daniel Nass. The result is a really beautiful collection of music that is not only a love letter to their mother, but also to finding poetry and beauty in the simple and mundane things of everyday life. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

"Two Jews Walk Into a War..." by Six Points Theater at Highland Park Community Center

Two Jews walk into a war. No, that's not the set-up to a joke, it's the title of a play. But it is funny, as much as a play about the beleaguered nation of Afghanistan and the millennia-long story of the persecution of the Jews can be funny. Seth Rozin's play is a fictionalized account of the last two Jews in Kabul, who hated each other but were forced to work together. He uses the humor of this cantankerous relationship to delve into some pretty deep issues of faith, community, tradition, identity, and the meaning of home. See this sweet, funny, heart-breaking little play at Six Points Theater through May 22.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

"Runestone! A Rock Musical" at History Theatre

Who else but the History Theatre can take a bizarre Minnesota legend and turn it into a super fun, entertaining, and even thought-provoking musical? Who else would even attempt such a thing? In the vein of their smash hit Glensheen (returning to St. Paul this summer after a tour through outstate Minnesota), History Theatre brings us the new original musical Runestone! A Rock Musical, a show many years in the making about the Kensington Runestone. I first saw a reading of it in 2019 and was so intrigued that I visited the original Runestone in its museum the next time I was in Alexandria. The musical's 2020 premiere was postponed along with so many things, but it's finally seeing the stage in a terrific production continuing through the end of the month.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

"The Bucket List of Booze Club" by Freshwater Theatre Company at the Crane Theater

In their first production in over two years, Freshwater Theatre Company is bringing us a new play by Michigan-based playwright Maureen Paraventi called The Bucket List of Booze Club. An odd title for a sweet and salty, funny and poignant play about female friendship and the mother/daughter bond, which couldn't be more appropriate for this Mother's Day weekend. This very real and relatable story is beautifully brought to life by the cast and creative team at Freshwater. But only 6 performances remain in this short run, so bring your closest friends, a parent or child, or yourself to the Crane before it closes on May 15 (click here for info and tickets). 

Saturday, May 7, 2022

"Celebrating Sondheim, Act I" by Theatre Latte Da at Crooners Supper Club

My favorite Sondheim interpreters, Theater Latte Da, return with Act II of their Celebrating Sondheim cabaret series at Crooners Supper Club. And the good news is - there are still some tickets remaining for today's two shows! Click on this link right now to snag one before they're gone, so that you too can experience this beautifully curated selection of songs from arguably our greatest music-theater creator.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

"Miss Woodhouse Presents" by Aethem Theatre Company at Elision Playhouse

In a delightful piece of Jane Austen fan fic, Aethem Theatre Company brings us the new play Miss Woodhouse Presents, written and directed by their Managing Director Kayla Hambek. It's a sort of mash-up of all of the novels, in the form of a British reality TV show. In just 90 minutes, we see love lost and won among the Dashwoods, the Bennets, and more familiar characters. Fans of Austen, who are not too precious about it, are sure to enjoy. The short run ends this weekend; you have just three more chances to see this charming play at Elision Playhouse in Crystal (click here for info and tickets).

Sunday, May 1, 2022

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" at Children's Theatre Company

To close out their 2021-2022 season, Children's Theatre Company is bringing back their original musical adaption of the popular book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I saw 2016 premiere, and although I had no prior experience with the source material, I was thoroughly charmed by it. The creative team has updated the show to add new scenes and songs, but my memory is not good enough to notice which ones, although I did note a Tik-Tok reference, which wasn't a thing six years ago. So they've tweaked the show a bit to make it feel fresh and new, but what hasn't changed is the incredible talent of #TCTheater youth (plus a few out-of-towners) in bringing to life this "clever and musically diverse score, universally relatable story of a kid trying to find himself in middle school" (as I wrote six years ago). "Whether you're a kid stuck in the middle (school), or a jaded grown-up, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Musical is simply irresistible." What follows is my 2016 review, plus a few tweaks for the current production, which continues through June 18.

"All American Boys" by Stages Theatre Company and Capri Theater

Stages Theatre Company (Hopkins) is partnering with The Capri Theater (North Minneapolis) on an adaptation of the book All American Boys, a story of how a school and its students are affected by police violence against a Black teen. It's an incredibly inspiring and insightful look at one of the biggest and toughest issues we're facing right now, and these kids (it's primarily a youth cast, like most of Stages' work) do such an amazing job. It's hard enough to be a teenager, but a teenager living with all of the uncertainties of today's world, a Black teenager living with the knowledge that they could be beaten or killed for simply trying to buy a bag of chips, it's unthinkable. This play and these incredibly talented and open-hearted young actors do a beautiful job of bringing that experience to life. Really the only thing that gives me hope these days is our young people; they can show us the way out of this mess if we just let them, and listen to them. You can do that now through May 22 at the beautifully renovated Capri Theater (click here for info and tickets).

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" at Illusion Theater

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.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

"Eugene Onegin" by Skylark Opera Theatre

Once again, Skylark Opera Theatre brings us a classic opera in a stripped down, accessible, intimate way. They're performing the 19th Century Russian opera Eugene Onegin (pronounced oh-NYAY-gun) by Tchaikovsky, based on a novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin, at The Museum of Russian Art. In an audience of about 100 arranged along a long corridor stage area, surrounded by Russian art, listening to this unamplified nine-person cast (singing in English) accompanied only by a grand piano is a uniquely satisfying musical experience. Only four performances remain, click here for info and tickets.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

"The Great Strike Theater Improvised Bake Off" at Strike Theater

The Great Strike Theater IMPROVISED Bake Off is back! The last time I was at Strike Theater was for the 2019 holiday Bake Off. After a very long intermission, Strike opened its doors again last year for sketch comedy, storytelling, and spoken word shows and classes. And this week my favorite show, the delightful spoof of everyone's favorite TV baking competition, returned for two performances only. Click here for more info on Strike's upcoming shows and classes, and read on for more about this episode of the Bake Off.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

"Parks: A Portrait of a Young Artist" at History Theatre

When I saw a reading of the then-titled The Gordon Parks Play Project three years ago, I wrote: "Friends, this is one of those experiences that transcended theater." When the reading is that good, and the playwright is one of #TCTheater's most talented and prolific, Harrison David Rivers, adding in acclaimed director Talvin Wilks, you know the finished product is going to be something special. Parks: A Portrait of a Young Artist, which has finally opened at History Theatre, is just that. Beautifully written, directed, and acted, with evocative images, well-chosen period songs, and an almost constant underscoring of music, Parks traces the origin of photographer, musician, and filmmaker Gordon Parks during his decade or so living in St. Paul as a youth. Once again his great-niece Robin P. Hickman-Winfield, a collaborator on the piece, was in attendance and spoke before the performance I attended, and it's clear that Gordon's legacy of Black artistry lives on in her, the students at Gordon Parks High School in St. Paul, and any other Black youth who picks up a camera, or a paintbrush, or a pen as their weapon against racism and injustice.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

"Ruddigore; or, The Witch's Curse" by the Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center

Another 2020 "ghost show" has returned! (And this one is a "ghost show" in more ways than one.) The Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company had just opened their production of Ruddigore; or, The Witch's Curse in March of 2020 when the pandemic shut down all live performance. Finally, two years later, they've re-opened the show for a (hopefully) full run, and it's delightful! A huge and talented cast, a gorgeously full opera, and a clever concept that pays homage to classic movies makes this show a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and worth the wait.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

"Thurgood" at Penumbra Theatre Company

Friends, if you want to be reminded of the promise of America, and have a little hope restored that this promise will one day be fulfilled, go see Thurgood at Penumbra Theatre. And you're in luck - after selling out the initial planned run (at limited capacity), they've it extended through April 10. This solo play is such an inspiring look at the icon and the human that was lawyer, activist, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and what an important role he played in the continued fight for Civil Rights. Though it seems like we've taken a few steps back in that regard lately, with new voter suppression laws and increased hate crimes and violence against Black Americans, and other communities of color, this play reminds us what is possible. And with the recent nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, who would be the first Black female Justice, it couldn't be more timely.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Broadway Tour of "Hadestown" at the Orpheum Theatre

It's an old song. It's a sad song. But we sing it anyway. Such is the song of Hadestown, the 2019 Tony winning best musical that's finally made its way to Minneapolis, just in time for spring. The sad old song being sung again and again is that of Hades and Persephone, whose relationship is responsible for the changing of the seasons (according to Greek mythology), as well as Eurydice and Orpheus' tragic love story. Singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell turned this sad old song into a song cycle, a folk opera which she first recorded with some of her folk singer friends in 2010 (which I heard her perform at the loveliest little folk festival in Minnesota, Storyhill Fest). It took almost a decade to turn that song cycle into a Broadway musical, with help from visionary director Rachel Chavkin. The result is this stunning piece of music-theater that's wholly unique and original. I was lucky enough to see it on Broadway, and am thrilled that the tour is finally here! Truly, friends, don't miss your brief chance to see it at the Orpheum Theatre before the song moves on (click here for info and tickets).

Sunday, March 13, 2022

"Orlando" by Theatre Pro Rata at the Crane Theater

Although based on a 1928 Virginia Woolf novel and adapted into a play around the turn of this century by Sarah Ruhl, Orlando speaks very much to this time, with its exploration of gender fluidity, and it's skewering of societal norms around gender identity and gender roles. Written in a modern narrative style, with the ensemble taking turns describing the story as it plays out, there's a playfulness to it despite the seriousness of the ideas presented. Theatre Pro Rata has assembled an excellent cast and team to bring the complex, modern, insightful story to life at the Crane Theater (through March 27, click here for info and tickets).

Thursday, March 10, 2022

"Stone Baby" by Trademark Theater and Kiss the Tiger at Icehouse

Trademark Theater's first live production after the extended intermission of the last year or two is, of course, something truly original. During the time off from live performance, they've been working on developing new work, including a collaboration with local band Kiss the Tiger, whose lead singer Meghan Kreidler has been seen on theater and music stages all over town. Stone Baby is a concert/theater/performance hybrid unlike anything I've seen before. The rock concert storytelling format in the vein of Hedwig and the Angry Inch combines original rock music and a wild story about a musician who choose her art no matter the consequences. It's completely mesmerizing, and a welcome step outside of my comfort zone of traditional theater. Stone Baby can be experienced every Wednesday night this month at Icehouse, a really cool music venue in South Minneapolis (click here for info and tickets, standing room and table seating available).

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

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

The 2016 Best Musical Tony nominee Waitress is back in the Twin Cities! Last seen in 2017, the tour is coming back around again, and it's better than ever. The quirky little 2007 movie of the same name upon which it was based (written by and co-starring Adrienne Shelly, who was tragically murdered before its release) is one of my favorites, and the musical adaptation retains the sad and joyful sweetness of this story of a woman gaining control over her own life. Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles wrote the Tony-nominated score, and it's a great one, with a more folky stripped-down sound than is normally heard on Broadway. This show gives me all the feels - it's sad, and funny, and hopeful, and inspiring. But it's playing at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts until Sunday only, so don't wait! (Click here for info and tickets.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

"The Big Blue River" by Mariah Theatre Company at North Garden Theater

It's great to welcome in a new #TCTheater company, after we've lost too many in the last two years. Theater and film actor/director/writer Patrick Coyle is debuting his new company, Mariah Theatre Company: "a boutique theatre company in St. Paul, MN producing world premieres with a mission to produce work that honestly depicts issues of mental health, suicide awareness, and addiction." Patrick wrote The Big Blue River before and during the pandemic. It's a funny, quirky, poignant play about a woman looking for connection, something probably everyone can relate to after the isolation of the recent past. He's assembled a fantastic cast of local actors to bring his story to life in the intimate space of the North Garden Theater in St. Paul's West 7th neighborhood.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

"Once Upon a Winter Night" at Open Eye Theatre

Open Eye (née Figure) Theatre's new original work Once Upon a Winter Night was postponed from January to March, which often marks the beginning of spring. But never fear, this is Minnesota, so we're still in the throes of Winter. I attended the show after a matinee at the nearby Children's Theatre, and when I left the theater and saw the slush falling from the sky and filling up the streets and sidewalks, I almost drove home. But since I was there, I decided to stay, and sloshed through the puddles into the cozy and intimate space at Open Eye for a mesmerizing magical show. It turned out OK because it was still just raining when I drove home, with everything freezing and being covered by a couple inches of snow by the morning. Which just reinforces what we who live in the frozen North know - Winter is a mysterious, magical, at times menacing thing that we just try to survive every year. But there's a lot of fun and celebration to be had in Winter too, and that's what Once Upon a Winter Night is.

"Something Happened in Our Town" at Children's Theatre Company

Something happened in our town. In May of 2020, while we were in the early days of a terrifying, deadly, and isolating pandemic, a Black man by the name of George Floyd was murdered by police on a public street with the world watching. As if this were the last straw in years, decades, centuries of discrimination, prejudice, and violence against Black people, our town erupted. The world erupted, with generations of pent-up frustration at injustices. It was, and still is, hard to process that as an adult. I can't imagine what our children felt and are still feeling. The Children's Theatre Company saw this need and commissioned playwright Cheryl L. West to adapt the children's book Something Happened in Our Town, written by three child psychologists in 2018, into a play. This story of two families, one Black and one White, and how they and the children's friendship were affected when a Black man was killed by police, offers a straight-forward and hopeful look into these issues, if a bit simplistic and heavy handed at times. Something Happened in Our Town continues through March 27, and while it may not be as fun as Annie or the upcoming Diary of a Wimpy Kid, it's a useful tool (along with lots of helpful dramaturgical info in the program) for parents and children to discuss and process what's been happening in our town over the last two years.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

"Celebrating Sondheim, Act I" by Theater Latte Da at Crooners Supper Club

A memory popped up on Facebook this morning from 12 years ago: "Stephen Sondheim is a genius. I saw him tonight in a sort of Q&A, and I felt like I should have been taking notes. It was like taking a class in musical theater from one of the masters of the form." Even though I didn't take notes, I did write down what I remembered afterwards, and later that year when I started Cherry and Spoon, I posted it (you can read it here). This is a timely memory because last night I had the pleasure of watching a Sondheim cabaret by my favorite interpreters of his work, Theater Latte Da

Monday, February 28, 2022

"Monster Heart" by Combustible Company at the Southern Theater

200 years after its publication, Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein still holds a permanent place in our culture, having inspired countless adaptations in theater, film, and television over the years. There's a reason that this story of the creature who just wants to be loved and accepted, and the destruction that follows when he isn't, continues to appeal to us; there's something very human about this creature. The author's life, while less fantastical, is every bit as dramatic as her story. Combustible Company's new piece Monster Heart combines the two stories into one beautifully tragic arc of love and grief (see also Collide Theatrical's recent Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which did the same through dance and pop music). Combining text from the novel and other writings of the time with music and movement, they weave a haunting tale, shedding new light on this familiar story. Only four performances remain in this short two-week run; click here for info and tickets.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

"IN PERSON" by Emily Michaels King at the Crane Theater

Almost exactly one year ago, multi-disciplinary artist Emily Michaels King presented one of the most innovative virtual performances to come out of #TCTheater during the pandemic intermission from live performances. DIGITAL was a highly technical use of various media and software (MacBook Pro, iPhone, Zoom, recorded videos, live videos, images, audio clips, text) that was also highly personal. Now, for two weekends only, Emily is presenting a companion piece called IN PERSON and performed live and in person at the Crane Theater. It truly feels like a continuation of what was begun a year ago, as if we're watching her create this feat of technical artistry that we experienced last year, and move beyond it. If you saw DIGITAL I highly recommend you continue the journey with IN PERSON, but it's not a prerequisite; IN PERSON can also stand on its own. Like all of Emily's work, this piece is extremely innovative, thoughtful, raw, vulnerable, powerful, inexplicable, and deeply moving.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

"The Mousetrap" at Lyric Arts

The world's longest running play has arrived in Anoka! Agatha Christie's murder mystery Mousetrap opened in London's West End in 1952 and has run continuously every since (not counting the covid intermission). Lyric Arts's new production opens this weekend, and it's delightful. I had never seen the play before, so I was in the wonderful position of not knowing whodunit, until the murderer was finally revealed to audible gasps from the audience. It's less scary than spookily fun, as the audience tries to figure out whom to trust and whom to suspect amongst these unique and specific characters who come together in a boarding house just outside of London. Christie's popular and well-plotted (if a few too many coincidences) story, along with this talented cast and spot-on design, make for an entertaining evening on a chilly Minnesota night.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Broadway Tour of "Pretty Woman: The Musical" at the Orpheum Theatre

Now playing in the "Broadway on Hennepin" season at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis: the 2018 musical adaptation of the iconic 1990 film Pretty Woman. Did Pretty Woman need to be made into a musical? Probably not. Is it fun? Sure. Is the cast bringing it and making the most of every moment? Absolutely. Was it worth driving through snowy Minnesota streets to see original RENT cast member Adam Pascal? You betcha! To be honest, he's the only reason I saw the show, not being a fan of movie adaptations in general. But I can't deny that it's a fun show with fantastic performances by the entire cast, and if you love the movie, you might love seeing it come to life on stage. Is it the best show in this 2021-2022 season? Not by a long shot, but I had a great time. It's only in town for a week; click here for more details and ticket info

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

"Falsettos" by Morris Park Players at Edison High School

There's a ton of great community theater in the Twin Cities, but I don't get to see much of it because I'm kept more than busy attending shows by the plethora of professional #TCTheater companies. But when the only local theater to do Falsettos (in my recent memory) is a community theater, I'm there. The 1992 multiple Tony winner had a successful Broadway revival a few years ago, and I fell in love with this messy and real love story when I saw the filmed version in a movie theater, and the subsequent tour. I just happened to see that Morris Park Players, a Northeast Minneapolis-based company that has been around for 70 years, was doing Falsettos, and I was lucky enough to catch their final performance. This is not an easy musical, think Sondheim-level complicated lyrics and rhythms, and I was super impressed with MPP first for choosing it, and secondly for the way they handled the material with energy, skill, and heart. It looks like they do one or two shows a year, so I'll be watching for their next choice. You can too (follow them on Facebook here), or better yet, find out what community theater is performing in your neighborhood and give them your support!

Sunday, February 20, 2022

"Marjorie Prime" at Theatre in the Round

Now playing at the oldest theater in Minneapolis: the 2015 Pulitzer Prize finalist Marjorie Prime. This is the third show in Theatre in the Round's abbreviated five-show 70th season, which is an eclectic mix of traditional works and more interesting pieces like this. In just 80 minutes, the trippy and futuristic Marjorie Prime explores issues of aging, dementia, grief, depression, suicide, artificial intelligence, and complicated family dynamics. It's a fascinating and layered look at a multitude of relevant topics, well done by this cast and creative team. Continuing weekends through March 6 (click here for details).

Saturday, February 19, 2022

"Man of God" by Theater Mu at Mixed Blood Theatre

It's so exciting to continue to welcome #TCTheater companies back to the stage after the very long extended intermission of 2020-2021. Today's edition: Theater Mu, who are finally presenting the dark comedy Man of God, their first onstage production since Peerless in February of 2020. Man of God was originally scheduled to close out their 2020-2021 season, which included the fantastic virtual full production Today is My Birthday. Now the star of that show, Katie Bradley, is making her directorial debut on this new play by Anna Ouyang Moench about a Korean-American Christian youth group on a mission to Bangkok who discover Pastor isn't who they think he is. It's a brutal look at sexual abuse, harassment, and living under the male gaze, which is especially relevant in a time when hate crimes against Asian Americans, particularly women, are on the rise. See this funny, entertaining, thought-provoking, heart-breaking play through March 6 at Mixed Blood Theatre (click here for details).

Monday, February 14, 2022

"Footloose" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is back with their first show created after the long pandemic intermission of 2020-2021. After their 2020 production of The Music Man was finally able to return last summer and continue through January, the Chan is turning the page to Footloose, the adaptation of the classic '80s movie. While it's not my favorite musical, being both a movie adaptation and a (partial) jukebox musical, this production makes the most of the material and is a super fun time at the theater. As always at the Chanhassen, every element of production is smooth and professional, the music and dancing are fabulous, and the cast is top notch. It's nearly impossible not to have a blast at the Chan, and this Footloose is pure entertainment from start to finish. The show will continue through the summer and into September, but weekends are already starting to sell out and summers are always busy, so make your plans now to cut loose in Chanhassen.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

"Fearless 5: Music" by Fearless Comedy Productions at the Historic Mounds Theatre

This was my first time seeing Fearless Comedy Productions' Fearless 5 show: "an evening of one act plays in which an ensemble of actors perform 5 original short plays, written by 5 different playwrights, and directed by 5 different directors." This year's theme is music, and combining music and theater is my favorite kind of storytelling, so I couldn't resist. In an era of jukebox musicals, movie adaptations, and repeated revivals (e.g., the upcoming Broadway touring season, which has not a single new original musical), it's exciting to see local playwrights explore the idea of music-theater, whether it's through full-blown musicals, or merely with music as an idea behind the story. Check it out at the cool (and possibly haunted) art deco-era renovated Historic Mounds Theatre in St. Paul's Dayton's Bluff neighborhood, Fridays and Saturdays through the end of the month (tickets just $10 - click here for details).

Saturday, February 12, 2022

"An Evening with Ella and Harold" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

The Queen of Jazz and one of the greatest composers of the American Songbook -  a match made in music heaven. Such is the subject of the new original play with music by Lakeshore Players Theatre. An Evening with Ella and Harold parallels the lives and stories of Ella Fitzgerald and Harold Arlen, featuring music from the 1961 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Song Book. Though they never met, the two were connected by music. Local playwright Alayna Jacqueline imagines a sort of conversation between them, for a lovely evening of music history and performance.