Sunday, March 26, 2023

"SKOL!" by Collide Theatrical Dance Company at the Southern Theater

For their latest original jazz dance musical, Collide Theatrical Dance Company took inspiration from a recent scholarly finding that a 1878 archeological find that was believed to be the body of a Viking warrior is in fact female remains. There is other evidence to support the existence of female Viking warriors, which you can read about here and I'm sure other scholarly sources. Or you can go see SKOL!, which is less historically accurate than it is an imaging of a strong female leader in the Viking culture and its reflections in today's world. For the first time since the pandemic, Collide is returning to live music accompanying the dancing (their last few shows have used recorded music), and for the first time in their history, they're using original music written for this story instead of covers of pop songs. It's an ambitious task, and after 10 years of creating original dance pieces, they're up for it. If you're someone who things dancing warriors is silly, this might not be the show for you. But if you see dance/music/theater as a way to express heightened emotions, the kind that are very much presence in war, love, and family drama, head to the Southern Theater in the next two weeks to see this fun collision of dance, music, and theater to tell a story of female power.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

"What / Washed Ashore / Astray" at Pillsbury House Theatre

In just 80 minutes, playwright Benjamin Benne succinctly writes about the experience of the death of a beloved family member with raw honesty and simple beauty. Despite the odd structure of the title, What / Washed Ashore / Astray is a very human story, with a little room for play and magic. Having recently gone through this experience, this play hit very close to home for me, and I was wiping away tears throughout the show. But it's quite lovely to see one of the most fundamental human experiences depicted on stage in such a beautiful way. Combined with wonderful performances from three of #TCTheater's best actors, an incredibly detailed set design that places us right there in the seaside cottage, and some delightfully inventive shadow puppetry, What / Washed Ashore / Astray is a must see for anyone interested in thoughtful human dramas (continuing through April 16 at Pillsbury House Theatre in South Minneapolis).

Friday, March 24, 2023

"Wish You Were Here" at Strike Theater

"A one act improvised comedy about loss and friendship. Grief is sad. And funny. And everything else." Strike Theater's latest show, Wish You Were Here, is funny and silly, and also kind of profound in the way that it shows people grieving as a part of normal life, with nothing resolved or closed by the end of it. I discovered through Family Dinner that long-form is my favorite kind of improv, because I love watching characters and relationships develop in a satisfying way throughout the course of the evening. That's definitely true here as well; in fact I wish there were a second act because there were several relationships established that I'd like to see developed further. But as it is, Wish You Were Here is a funny and bittersweet hour of an improvised dramedy. Only two performances remain - Friday and Saturday. Click here for more info and to purchase the $5-10 tickets.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Broadway tour of "My Fair Lady" at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts

The 2018 Broadway revival of the beloved Lerner and Loewe classic My Fair Lady ran for a little over a year and was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning Best Costume Design. The tour is back in the Twin Cities for the second time, but I missed it the first time around, so I was more than happy to spend a loverly evening at the Ordway with this luscious production. While a little dated, the musical "deals with issues of class, gender, societal expectations, and the intersection of wealth and power" (to quote myself). And this production, directed by the legendary Bartlett Sher, is fully aware of all of that, with some thorny conversations about those topics between its two main characters. I wish it were shorter (three hours is tough to sit through no matter the show), but I can't think of what I would cut because even the songs that have little to do with the plot (e.g., Eliza's dad's songs) are so much fun it's hard to imagine parting with any of them. If you haven't yet seen this new production and have a fondness for My Fair Lady, you'll definitely want to check out one of the four remaining performances (limited tickets remain).

Monday, March 20, 2023

"Bakersfield Mist" at Gremlin Theatre

Head to the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul for Bakersfield Mist, a tight 70-minute two-hander that elicits both uproarious laughter and pin-drop silence with the revelation of real emotion. Most of the humor comes from the odd couple pairing of a trailer park dwelling bartender and an art expert from the big city, and much of the pathos comes from the fact that these are two damaged human beings who open up to each other in surprising ways. You couldn't ask for a better duo than #TCTheater vets Jen Maren and John Middleton, or a better director than Angela Timberman. The result is a really funny and entertaining dramedy that also explores themes of art, legitimacy, grief, and humanity. See it at the Gremlin now through April 2, and since it's only 70 minutes, you can make a night of it with a visit to Lake Monster Brewing (and food trucks) right next door.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

"Eurydice" at Theatre in the Round

Theatre in the Round's fantastic 71st season continues with Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice, a modern interpretation of the classic myth of Eurydice. As the story goes, Orpheus travels to the underworld to try to save his wife Eurydice from death with a song. But that's not the way this world works. As they say in the Tony-winning musical Hadestown (which is also based on this story), it's an old song, it's a sad song, but we sing it anyway. With its themes of grief, love, and loss, it's a story that's still relevant and worth telling. Especially with this well-written script and inventive staging by director Sophie Peyton. The talented cast performs in a physical theater style like I've never seen before at Theatre in the Round. It's a beautiful and magical 90-minute song, bringing new life to this old story. Playing weekends through April 2 at the oldest theater in Minneapolis.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

"By the Bog of Cats" by Theatre Pro Rata at the Crane Theater

Some people drink green beer, I celebrate St. Patrick's Day (and any other holiday, or just a regular day) by going to the theater. I had no idea how appropriate By the Bog of Cats would turn out to be as a St. Patty's Day observance. Written by Irish playwright Marina Carr, it's a tragically beautiful and beautifully tragic story in that specific Irish way (see also recent Oscar nominee The Banshees of Inisherin by another Irish playwright, Martin McDonagh). It's a great choice for Theatre Pro Rata, which has a penchant for making bold, interesting, unusual choices. With haunting live music, strong performances by the large and talented cast, and lovely design, it's an exploration of motherhood, grief, generational trauma, and what it means to be human. See it at the Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis weekends through April 2.

Friday, March 17, 2023

"Born with Teeth" at the Guthrie Theater

As the perfect companion to the Guthrie Theater's upcoming 60th Anniversary production of Hamlet, they're presenting the Alley Theatre production of the new play Born with Teeth. Based on a recent scholarly finding that Shakespeare might have collaborated with another great playwright of the time, Kit Marlowe, on the Henry VI plays, playwright Liz Duffy Adams imagines those meetings between the two men and what might have transpired. But this is no dull history lesson. It's an enthralling, dynamic, quick-witted, modern, fascinating two-hander that feels like the best tennis match I've ever seen (note: I've never seen a tennis match). The design is beautiful, but all this play needs is this brilliant script and these two gifted actors who make us feel like we're in the room with two of England's greatest playwrights as they match wits with each other, and who comes out on top may surprise you. I don't often read plays, but I just ordered this script from the Guthrie Store, because this 90-minute play is overflowing with clever, hilarious, mind-boggling lines and plot points that I want to read, study, and devour (to borrow one of those lines). If you're fan of Shakespeare, or smartly written two-handers, or historical fiction, or really great acting, Born with Teeth is a must-see (continuing through April 2 on the Guthrie's proscenium stage).

Thursday, March 16, 2023

"5" at the Jungle Theater, a co-production with Trademark Theater

"Trademark Theater tells bold stories by creating, developing and producing new works that challenge, entertain and inspire audiences." Check, check, and check. Trademark's latest new work is a co-production with Jungle Theater, a play called 5 written by #TCTheater artist JuCoby Johnson. It's creative and inventive, grounded yet fantastical, a story of friendship that deals with relevant issues like gentrification. Combining Trademark's talent for fostering new work with the Jungle's excellent production and design values results in a wildly entertaining and engaging night at the theater. 5 plays Tuesdays through Sundays at the Jungle Theater in Uptown until April 16, but don't wait too long - the small theater has a tendency to sell out especially for hot shows like this one is sure to become.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

"Diesel Heart" at History Theatre

Several years in the making, the new play Diesel Heart is now on stage at History Theatre. Adapted from the autobiography of the same name by Melvin Carter, Jr., one of St. Paul's first Black police officers (and father of the current mayor), this is a story of the history of America. Specifically, the migration of Black Americans from the rural South to Northern cities (like Minneapolis and St. Paul), the displacement of Black communities through the building of interstate freeways (see also History Theatre's 2017 play The Highwaymen), the violence faced by many Black men and women growing up in this country, and the perseverance through those hardships into a better future. Melvin Carter, Jr. is an ordinary and extraordinary man living an ordinary and extraordinary life, that's beautifully brought to life on stage by the talented cast and creative team. See it at the History Theatre in downtown St. Paul now through April 2.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

"Calendar Girls" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

Just in time for Women's History Month, Lakeshore Players Theatre is bringing us the true story of a group of women in the UK who bared it all in a calendar to raise money for cancer research after one of the women lost her husband to the disease. Calendar Girls is a story of female friendship and support, of ordinary women defying expectations, taking a risk, and making a difference. It's funny and poignant and a little risqué, with a genial cast that makes you root for these women and their friendship. See it in the beautiful Hanifl Performing Arts Center in White Bear Lake now through March 26.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

"Musical Mondays" at LUSH, March 2023

Great news, my musical theater loving friends: Musical Mondays is back at LUSH Lounge and Theater in Northeast Minneapolis! After a nearly three-year pandemic-induced hiatus, this fabulous monthly showcase of #TCTheater talent returned in December of 2022. I finally was able to attend this past Monday, the 83rd Musical Mondays since BFFs Max Wojtanowicz and Sheena Janson started it some ten years ago, and the 18th I've attended. It felt so great to be back in LUSH's spacious event space (remodeled a year or two prior to the pandemic) in a room full of music, love, and friendship. There's a real atmosphere of fun and camaraderie at these events, amongst the cast and the crowd (a great place to spot local "celebrities"). But of course, the focus is the music, and it's spectacular. Every casting director in town should attend these shows to find some new talent, especially the next one, on April 10, that will feature "fresh faces" (new to MM and/or to #TCTheater). And if you're just a music-theater lover like me, it's a great place to go hear some showtunes, both familiar and new, fantastically performed by our local talent.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

"Feast" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at the Black Forest Inn

Walking Shadow Theatre Company's newest production Feast is aptly titled. Yes, you are served a meal in the event space at the Black Forest Inn, a German restaurant on Nicollet in Minneapolis, but that's not the feast I'm talking about. This is a feast of theatrical storytelling delights. This solo play written (and originally performed) by Megan Gogerty is a retelling of the classic story of Beowulf from the point of view of the mother of Grendel, the monster slain by Beowulf. Naturally, the story is a lot different from the perspective of a grieving mother, and the script brilliantly ties this ancient story into modern issues and themes. As director Allison Vincent notes in the playbill, "Sometimes plays speak to the current state of our world. Megan Gogerty's Feast screams at it." Isabel Nelson fully embodies this character, and even though it's only March, I can confidently say that this will prove to be one of the best performances in #TCTheater this year. I recommend getting your tickets now; seating is limited in the space, and word of mouth is going to spread as more people see this show. It continues through April 1 but with only a few performances each weekend, and trust me, you do not want to miss this unique experience.

Friday, March 3, 2023

"Misery" at Yellow Tree Theatre

If you're looking for an on-stage delicious thriller, that's creepy but also funny at times, and beautifully acted, look no further than Misery currently playing at Yellow Tree Theatre's cozy Osseo theater. Stephen King's 1987 novel was adapted into the popular 1990 movie, for which Kathy Bates won an Oscar. It was adapted into a play (by original screenwriter William Goldman) just ten years ago or so. It's been a long time since I've seen the movie and I don't think I ever read the book, but I knew the general gist of the story. Still, I was delightfully surprised at some of the twists and turns in the play. The tension in Yellow Tree's intimate space is palpable, and the excellent cast and creative team handily take us on this terrifying (but also fun) journey. 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Broadway Tour of "Tina - The Tina Turner Musical" at the Orpheum Theatre

The latest jukebox bio-musical to hit Broadway, and now the Orpheum Theatre, is Tina - The Tina Turner Musical. It premiered on Broadway a few months before the long covid intermission, and received a full dozen Tony nominations in the covid-shortened 2020 season. The show resumed performances in 2021 and ran for another year, and is now hitting the road. With book by acclaimed playwright Katori Hall and a score entirely pulled from pop music (Tina's songs and others), the musical is a mix of songs performed in context (concerts and record studios) and sung by characters speaking to each other. You might get whiplash as we cover Tina's long life and prolific career, with topics like child abuse, domestic violence, drug abuse, racism, sexism, and ageism all touched upon but not dug too deeply into. I admit to not knowing much about Tina Turner other than a few of her hit songs, but came away from the show truly impressed by this music icon who had a second career as a single Black woman over the age of 40, when most of the music industry saw her as a has-been. With stunning performances by the huge cast, Tina Turner fans are sure to love this show, and those who aren't will like develop a new appreciation for her. This one's sticking around for two weeks, so you have a little more time to catch Tina before it closes on March 12 (click here for more info and official ticket site).

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

"Analog and Vinyl" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at the Phoenix Theater

Minneapolis Musical Theatre's latest "rare musical, well done" is a sweet and quirky little piece called Analog and Vinyl, billed as a "hipster rom-com spin on Faust." It's a smaller musical than their 2022 offerings (Hands on a Hardbody staged in a car dealership, and the not-really-a-holiday-show Striking 12). Here the band (four) outnumbers the cast (three), and it's well-staged in the intimate space at the Phoenix Theater. In addition to the classic Faustian sell-your-soul-to-the-devil dilemma, the musical also delves deep into music history and obscure references (most of which this theater nerd probably did not catch). Chalk this one up as another rarely done musical that MMT dug up brought to life in a fun, earnest, entertaining way.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

"The Wedding Singer" at Lyric Arts

I've never seen the 1998 Adam Sandler movie The Wedding Singer, and am unfamiliar with the 2006 musical adaptation (which was nominated for five Tonys). I went into Lyric Arts' new production of the musical with zero expectations, and found it to be a very fun, very funny show. It's not a particularly revolutionary story, boy meets girl, etc., but it's a whole lot of fun. The huge cast's energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to the campy '80s era is infectious, and the original score (by Matthew Skylar and Chad Beguelin, who also wrote the score for another super fun show, The Prom) is cute and catchy. The Wedding Singer might be just what you need to bring a little light and joy into these last dregs of winter.

"Sugar in Our Wounds" at Penumbra Theatre

In the beautiful and brutal play Sugar in our Wounds, two enslaved men fall in love, finding a song of love that sings in both of them. But this is the American South, shortly before the Emancipation Proclamation, so we know how this story ends. Still, it's a beautiful story to tell, one of love in the face of great danger, that reminds us of our ugly past, and also of the beauty that those who found themselves trapped in the ugliness were able to make for themselves. Penumbra Theatre's production of this play is gorgeous in every way - the design, the true and real emotions of the actors portraying these characters, and the light that it shines on the story of "queer Black love against a backdrop of imminent freedom." See it at Penumbra Theatre through March 19.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

"Mlima's Tale" by Ten Thousand Things at Open Book

It's been three years since Ten Thousand Things has been able to fulfill their mission of bringing theater to those who would otherwise never experience it, performing in prisons, community centers, shelters, and other public spaces. It feels like a good sign that maybe we're moving beyond the pandemic, or learning how to live with it, that they're able to perform in these spaces that have been deemed unsafe for the past few years. They're also back at their home base for public performances - Open Book on Washington in Minneapolis. Even though I've seen a few TTT shows at various other spaces in the last few years, for some reason this small brick-walled wood-floored room above this more-than-a-bookstore (with its coffee shop reopening soon) feels like the TTT of old. And what a perfect show to return with - Lynn Nottage's Mlima's Tale, following the journey of a "big tusker" elephant through his life in the Kenyan bush, his death at the hands of poachers, and even the journey of his tusks in the ivory market. It's funny and fantastical and tragic, and as always beautifully brought to life by some of #TCTheater's best artists in a small space with "All the Lights On," harnessing the power of collective imagination as we travel the world with Mlima. See it at Open Book now through March 12.

Monday, February 20, 2023

"Trayf" at Six Points Theater

"Trayf" is a Yiddish word meaning "food not in accordance with Jewish dietary law." In the play Trayf, currently playing at Six Points Theater, the word refers not just to food, but to anything not following the strict Orthodox laws that the characters subscribe to (e.g., secular music, mixed gender swimming, musicals!). But really, the play is about friendship, and what happens when two friends begin to grow beyond their childhood beliefs and want different things. Can they still maintain that friendship when their lives begin to move in different directions? The 90-minute play is funny and touching, and explores ideas of faith, family, and adhering to ancient traditions vs. living in the modern world. See it at the Highland Park Community Center through March 12.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

"Code You" by Exposed Brick Theatre at Dreamland Arts

Exposed Brick Theatre, "dedicated to telling untold stories, centering omitted narratives and creating art at the intersection of identities," was founded in 2004, and somehow this is my first experience with them. Last night I saw the new play Code You, written and directed by Nora Montañez Patterson, at Dreamland Arts, a sweet little venue on Hamline Avenue in St. Paul that I haven't been to since pre-pan. Code You is one of several plays to come out of Exposed Brick's 2020 "Through Our Eyes" program, in which they commissioned eight playwrights to write plays "in response to the multiple pandemics impacting MN communities." Code You starts out as fun and trippy multiple-reality narrative about friends just hanging out and having fun, but there's an undercurrent of something more sinister happening, and things get serious real fast. The short run continues for one more weekend only, and the hour-long play is short, sweet, and to the point, bringing back the fear of the unknown from those early COVID days and reminding us what we all went through.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

"The Prom" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

This late winter/early spring, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is bringing us the regional premiere of a new original modern-day Broadway musical, a bit of a step outside their comfort zone of classics and retro pieces (like the recent '80s-set Footloose, which ran for a full year). But what a great and exciting choice The Prom is - a musical that’s all about love, inclusion, acceptance, friendship, community, and seeing the goodness and worth of all humans regardless of who they are or whom they love. It's a beautiful and necessary message, with recent threats to LGBTQ+ and transgender rights. The Prom shows is that we all belong, we all deserve to go to the prom exactly as we are, we all deserve to love whom we chose to love, be who we truly are, and be happy. That's not so radical, is it? Despite the modern message, The Prom is in many ways an old-fashioned classic musical, with big dance numbers, broad comedy, Broadway references, and a fantastic and mostly upbeat score that'll send you out into the cold singing, with a heart warmed from this beautiful story. But unlike many of their open-ended shows, this one has an end date - June 10. So don't wait too long to get your tickets and head out to the Western suburbs for this super fun and heart-warming show. Click here for info and tickets, and keep reading for information on discount tickets at the end of this post.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Broadway Tour of "To Kill a Mockingbird" at Orpheum Theatre

I was fortunate enough to see Aaron Sorkin's new adaptation of Harper Lee's classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird twice on Broadway, with its original Atticus Finch, Jeff Daniels. It was a profound experience (especially the second time, coming out of a global pandemic and a national racial reckoning), and I'm so glad this play is finally going on tour. America needs to see it and remember our history, in order to understand our present. But this is no dry depressing history lesson, it's captivating storytelling that brings new life to this familiar and beloved story. There are moments of lightness and humor, wonderful theatricality, and deeply and darkly resonant themes. It's only here for one week, so get your ticket here and then head to downtown Minneapolis to see this necessary and relevant play.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

"Native Gardens" at Daleko Arts

It's a good time for Karen Zacarías' smart, funny, socially relevant comedies. On the heels of Theatre in the Round's hilarious production of The Book Club Play, DalekoArts is presenting Native Gardens (last seen in #TCTheater at the Guthrie in 2017). Both are really fun and entertaining shows, but with a depth that might make you think a little about some important themes, while perhaps making you a little uncomfortable (in a good way). Native Gardens deals with subtle racism (and agism, sexism, and classism), inherent biases, immigration, the environment, and what it means to be a good neighbor. With a wonderful cast and excellent design on their small stage, Daleko brings out all of the humor and the nuances in this great script. Take advantage of the mild weather this February and make the drive down to New Prague to see Native Gardens (continuing through February 26).

Saturday, February 11, 2023

"RENT" by Theatre 55 at the Gremlin Theatre

I first fell in love with RENT in 1996 when I saw the original cast perform on the Tonys and all over TV (RENT was the Hamilton of the '90s). I had just graduated from college and was living on my own for the first time, so the story of young twenty-somethings trying to make their way in the world really resonated with me. I first saw the show in 1997 when the First National Tour came to the Ordway, and have seen it every time it's been in the Twin Cities (and twice in NYC). Now, 27 years and one "no day but today" tattoo later, the story continues to resonate with me, but in different ways. At a point in my life when I've lost loved ones, and it's likely that more than half of my todays are behind me, the theme of living for today, and the preciousness of life, only gets more poignant every day. It makes perfect sense to me, then, for a troupe of actors age 55 and older to embody these themes - a brilliant choice for Theatre 55, a company dedicated to "enriching the lives of elders as artists, audiences, and lifelong learners." If RENT's creator Jonathan Larson hadn't died tragically the night before the Off-Broadway opening, just shy of his 36th birthday, he'd be 63 today. Theatre 55's cast is made up of Jonathan's contemporaries, who, like him, lived through the early days of the AIDS crisis. I would tell you to go see this relevant, resonant, poignant, joyful, and utterly unique production of one of the 20th Century's best musicals, but they've sold out their entire short seven-show run. No day but today, indeed!

Friday, February 10, 2023

"Well-Behaved Women" by Theatre Elision at Elision Playhouse

They say that well-behaved women rarely make history. Well, the subjects of the song cycle Well-Behaved Women were anything but, and make history they did. They also make for a wonderful collection of songs that are each mini-musicals in themselves, and combine together for an inspiring, educational, and entertaining evening of music-theater. This show is tailor made for Theatre Elision, which for the past six years has been bringing us new or rarely done musicals featuring female casts and creative teams. A strong cast of seven women perform 15 songs in a staged concert style, and the evening builds from humor and lightness to poignant and moving songs, with a thrilling conclusion that brought tears to my eyes. It's a beautiful showcase of the things that women have accomplished throughout history in a system often stacked against them, their stories beautifully told through music. See it at Elision Playhouse in Crystal through February 18 only, with a special Valentine's/Galentine's Day performance that includes drinks and a pre-show concert.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Broadway at the Ordway: Tour of "A Soldier's Play" at the Fitzgerald Theater

The intense drama A Soldier's Play comes to St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater as part of The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts' "Broadway @ the Ordway" series. The 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama debuted on Broadway in January 2020 for a pandemic-shortened two-month run, but the good news is that this Roundabout Theatre Company production, helmed by acclaimed director Kenny Leon, is on tour across America. Thanks to the Ordway for bringing us this powerful and important piece, and for staging it at the Fitz, a more intimate space for a story like this, that might have gotten lost in a larger space like the Ordway's main theater. An excellent cast lead by Tony nominee Norm Lewis brings out all of the nuance in this layered script, and even though the opening night performance started 45 minutes late due to load-in delays (all other performances should start on time), it was worth the wait. Only six performances remain, click here for tickets.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

"These Old Shoes" by Transatlantic Love Affair at Illusion Theater

I didn't realize how much I've missed Transatlantic Love Affair until I saw their remount of These Old Shoes last weekend, one of my favorite shows of theirs. There's simply no one like them. An ensemble of seven people plus one musician creates an entire rich world using only their bodies, voices, and souls. It's simply exquisite. With origins in the Minnesota Fringe Festival (like many of our great small companies), TLA is a physical theater company that often adapts fairy tales or myths with their unique brand of storytelling. But this show, their first in three years, is an original story about a man moving into a retirement community, which allows for an exploration of aging, memory, relationships, and loss. It premiered at the 2013 Fringe Festival and was produced by Illusion theater in 2015, when it won Twin Cities Theater Blogger Awards for Favorite Play and Favorite Actor in a Play (Derek Lee Miller). I've always loved this show, but having spent some time in a nursing home recently, it was particularly resonant for me this time. It's heart-breakingly beautiful, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. See it at Illusion Theater in their new home in the Center for Performing Arts in South Minneapolis, Wednesdays through Sundays for the next two weeks only.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

"Hello Dolly!" at the Ritz Theater by Theater Latte Da

Put on your Sunday clothes and head to the Ritz Theater for Theater Latte Da's absolutely joyous production of Hello Dolly! They've set the classic musical in a racially diverse world, which is not untrue to the world of late 19th Century New York, it's just one we don't often see. They've also stripped the typically huge cast and orchestra down to about a third of the size. Though the costumes are scrumptious and the design is charming, there are no trains or trolleys driving across the stage, as seen in the recent Broadway revival and tour. But what this show lacks in size it makes up for in heart and gumption. It's a wonderful new take on a classic that lets the original story and beloved score shine. Hello Dolly! plays Wednesdays through Sundays until March 19, but don't wait too long to get tickets - this one will sell out.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

"'Til Death" by Bucket Brigade at Art House North

For over ten years, Bucket Brigade has been presenting their original "marriage musical" 'Til Death around this time of the year (including a virtual version during the pandemic). It's an endearing little show about love, life, and relationships, both the challenges and the rewards. With the added feature that the two married couples in the show are played by two real-life married couples, adding a level of realism. Creators Vanessa and Jeremiah Gamble play the long-married couple, and two couples take turns playing the young newlyweds - Anna and Damian Leverett, and Stephanie and Nathan Cousins (I saw the Leveretts, with Anna's pregnancy adding a fun twist). They've brought in a new director this year, Craig Johnson, for a fresh eye, but the show remains largely unchanged, except for one improvement - they've removed the intermission, which makes it a perfect 90-minute show. Get there early to find street parking on the icy St. Paul streets, to eat a delicious cupcake from local bakery Bake Bread (included in the price of admission), and to enjoy a pre-show concert of love songs.

"Blues for an Alabama Sky" at the Guthrie Theater

Escape the bleak Minnesota midwinter to spend a few hours in the Harlem in the summer of 1930. The dramedy Blues for an Alabama Sky has romance, betrayals, friendship, grief, fashion, and even a little music. There is tragedy in this story of a group of friends living in NYC's large and thriving Black community in the early part of the 20th Century, but the focus is on aspirations and dreams as they strive to make their lives and their community even better. A talented cast and gorgeous design bring this story to vibrant life. See it on the Guthrie Theater thrust stage now through March 12.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

"Noises Off" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

The classic farce-within-a-farce Noises Off is a perfect choice for Lakeshore Players Theatre's winter show; two and a half hours of laughter will warm you up on a cold night. It's ridiculously funny and very meta as it gives us a glimpse into what it takes to make a show, and all the things that can go wrong. Fortunately for the real show, things go very right. Everyone in the nine-person cast as an absolute delight (most of them playing actors playing characters), and director Greta Grosch (of Church Basement Ladies fame) keeps everything hurtling towards the finish line in a beautiful display of organized chaos. Add to that the impressive set that you get to watch the hard-working four-person run crew transform not once but twice, and it's just an all-around good time. Sometimes what you need is what one of the characters says in the show: "I don't go to the theater to listen to other people's problems, I go to be taken out of myself, and hopefully not put back in again." This show delivers on that, although you likely will have to be put back in again when you go back out into the cold and not as funny real world. See Noises Off weekends through February 12 at Hanifl Performing Arts Center in lovely White Bear Lake, plus a pay-what-you-can performance on Monday February 6.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

"The Root Beer Lady" at History Theatre

My first visit to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was in February of 2016, when I went on an eco-spirituality dogsledding trip with my alma mater, College of St. Benedict. We stayed at Wintergreen Lodge in Ely (owned by Arctic explorer and St. John's alum Paul Schurke, member of Will Steger's 1986 dogsledding expedition to the North Pole), visited the headquarters of the Save the Boundary Waters campaign (which just recently had a huge win with a 20-year mining ban in the BWCAW watershed), and of course, traveled by dogsled through the pristine wilderness of Northern Minnesota. I was so enamored of the beauty and stillness of the place that I convinced my friend that we needed to do a canoeing trip. We signed up for Ely Outfitting Company's annual "Women in the Wilderness" trip that fall, where we were joined by other adventure- and nature-seeking women, led by our friendly and knowledgeable guide Kate, for an incredible four days and three nights in the BWCAW. I've traveled and hiked all over the world, but this is the most fully immersed in Nature, far away from any signs of civilization, that I've ever been. Our little group had such a wonderful time and got along so well that we reunited last summer for another amazing trip. 

Saturday, January 28, 2023

"The Book Club Play" at Theatre in the Round

I used to be in a Book Club with a group of work friends. Once a month we would gather at someone's house, eat good food, drink wine, catch up on each other's lives, and maybe eventually get around to talking about the book. Which not everyone read, but I always did, and I would get frustrated that not many people wanted to actually talk about the book, at Book Club! I relate perhaps a little too much to the character Ana in Karen Zacarías'* hilarious play The Book Club Play, now on stage at Theatre in the Round. It's essentially a study of humanity as seen through the very specific phenomenon known as the Book Club. It's also an exploration of books, literature, art, and what makes some worthy and some not, some popular and some not. And are those two things mutually exclusive? You can see the very funny, real, and relatable The Book Club Play at the oldest theater in Minneapolis weekends through February 19.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

"The Girl on the Train" at Lyric Arts

Several years ago, everyone was reading The Girl on the Train. The hugely successful psychological thriller was published in 2015 and has sold over 20 million copies. It was soon followed by a movie adaptation starring Emily Blunt, in 2016. But did you know that it was also adapted into a stage play? I didn't either, until Lyric Arts announced it as part of their 2022-2023 season. I wasn't sure if the trippy story filled with memories, flashbacks, and hallucinations would translate to the stage, but with some impressive technical elements employed by Lyric Arts, it does. A great cast, a suspenseful story (especially if you've never read the book or have forgotten the ending, like I had), and a tight interplay between recorded scenes and live performances make for an entertaining night (or afternoon) at the theater. Get some popcorn at the concession stand, and it's even better than going to the movies (continuing through February 5).

Monday, January 16, 2023

"The Belle of Amherst" at The Woman's Club of Minneapolis

The Woman's Club of Minneapolis has been around since 1907, and they've been in their current home since 1928 - the big beautiful building adjacent to Loring Park, which was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places. I saw a handful of shows there pre-pan (including Minnesota Fringe Festival shows, a Skylark Opera Theatre production, and that time I met Gavin Creel). I'm excited about their ongoing Arts and Culture program, which includes concerts and, hopefully, more theater events. A limited engagement of the solo play The Belle of Amherst, starring TV/film/theater actor Linda Kelsey, was there last weekend. There is a 600-seat theater on the lower level (where I saw Nickel Creek perform over 20 years ago), but the upstairs lounge area is a great performance space too (that's where Sue Scott's podcast Island of Discarded Women records live once a month or so). This play was in that space, which was just the perfect location for this story of Emily Dickinson's life and poetry. Unfortunately the short run is over (and sold out or very nearly), but keep an eye on The Woman's Club for upcoming events.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

"the bull-jean stories" at Pillsbury House Theatre

This year, Pillsbury House Theatre is presenting the work of playwright and author Sharon Bridgforth, whose work Dat Black Mermaid Man Lady / The Show they produced in 2018, about which I wrote "It's a piece that defies explanation, that maybe shouldn't be explained, but rather experienced." Their current production the bull-jean stories, to be followed by bull-jean/we wake this summer, is a little like that. The amazing Aimee K. Bryant plays a dozen or more characters, all telling stories about a woman known as bull-jean, or bulldog-jean, in a lyrical and non-linear way. It's really beautiful, moving, and almost dreamlike storytelling (continuing through February 5).

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Lorna Landvik Presents "Pages and Stages" at Bryant Lake Bowl

I navigated road closures, the poorly plowed streets of Uptown, and parking challenges to see local author/performer Lorna Landvik's new show Pages and Stages at Bryant Lake Bowl last night. And it was worth it, because the release of laughing (and singing) with a group of people is a great way to enter the new year. Lorna has started off many a year with her show Party in the Rec Room at Bryant Lake Bowl, and this show is similar (but without the margaritas made on stage). Combining storytelling, improv, singalongs, and discussions of her books, Lorna entertains the crowd for 90 minutes. But more than that, she makes us feel part of the event. She's so personable and naturally funny, and very Minnesotan (despite her time spent in L.A., of which she has many great stories). She chats with the audience in a non-threatening way (but maybe don't sit in the front row if you don't want to be asked questions), asks for improv suggestions, and really makes an effort to reach out to everyone in BLB's little theater (even adjusting her mike when people in the back said they couldn't hear her). If you're a fan of her books, or of Party in the Rec Room, or just need a night of fun and congenial laughter, go see Lorna any Friday or Saturday in January.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

The Jungle Theater Presents "King Gilgamesh & the Man of the Wild"

I don't know why someone would decide to premiere a new work of theater for a week in early January in Minnesota, but those of us who attended one of the seven performances during and after the biggest snowstorm of the season are lucky that the creators of King Gilgamesh & The Man of the Wild did just that. Seth Bockley, Ahmed Moneka, and Jesse LaVercombe (the latter familiar to Jungle audience from his performances in the beloved Christmas at Pemberley plays) have developed this work the last five years, with several workshops, some in Minnesota, and are debuting the finished product at the Jungle as part of their "Jungle Presents" series, in a nearly sold-out run. Next, they're taking it to the Under the Radar Festival in NYC, and who knows where beyond that. This mash-up of one of the oldest stories ever told with the creators' real-life stories is beautifully told, with music and movement, in a thoughtful, polished, funny, moving, and life-affirming way.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

2022 #TCTheater Favorites - Finally, a Full Year of Theater!

2019 was a fantastic year of theater, during which I saw over 200 shows. Then came 2020, and a global pandemic that shut down theater for much of that year and into the next. With increasing vaccinations and decreasing infection rates, theater came back in the fall of 2021, but not without cancelled performances and entire productions due to new variants and higher infection rates in the winter months. It hasn't been an easy road, with the COVID requirements put in place by Actors Equity (union) for the safety of artists and patrons, a significant decrease in theater attendance, and financial instability that caused at least two local theaters to suspend all performances. But if there's one thing we've learned the past few years, it's that artists will find a way to make art. I couldn't be happier that in 2022 I finally experienced a full year of theater again, with some really amazing and creative work by our intrepid local theaters. From the Broadway tour of Come From Away in January (during which they flew in cast members from across US and Canada to keep the show up and running in the high Omicron days), to my second viewing of Theater Latte Da's new holiday classic Christmas at the Local on New Year's Eve, I saw about 140 theater performances in Minnesota (not counting a few out of state theater trips and 23 Minnesota Fringe shows in 7 whirlwind days), which is a pretty great bounce-back from the last two years, if not quite up to pre-pan levels. And now I have the difficult task of narrowing down the amazing shows I saw this year to a small list of favorites. Here are my 10 (or so) favorite musicals, plays, new work, and more.