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.