Sunday, April 30, 2023

"True West" at Theatre in the Round

Continuing their excellent 71st season, Theatre in the Round is bringing us the dark comedy True West. No one writes the dystopian modern Western like Sam Shepard, with complex, flawed, fascinating characters in the darkest of situations. The cast and creative team at TRP have brought this dysfunctional family to life in the best way. The in-the-round space makes it feel like we're watching these brothers in a fish bowl, surrounding them on all sides with nowhere for them to escape. It's gritty and brutal, and so much fun to be on the outside of it watching this family descend into chaos. True West continues at Theatre in the Round through May 14.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

"La Cage Aux Folles" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

On the surface, the 1983 Broadway musical La Cage Aux Folles may be about drag performers, but at its heart it's a simple and beautiful story about a family that may look different than the stereotypical family we think of, but is full of love, compassion, and support. What better time to produce this musical than now, with all this irrational fear of drag queens perpetuated by politicians to garner votes and increase their power. Lakeshore Players Theatre opened their production last night, and this beautiful message comes through loud and clear. It's not perfect; it feels a bit long at over 2.5 hours, with some challenging scene transitions (and costume changes), and some line hesitancy on opening night, all of which will likely tighten up over the run of the show. But what it lacks in professional polish it makes up for in heart. It's a joyful show, with a great score, fun dancing, and plenty of humor. See it at the Hanifl Performing Arts Center in downtown White Bear Lake now through May 21.

Friday, April 28, 2023

"First Lady Suite" at Theatre Elision

Finally, three years after the planned opening, Theatre Elision's production of First Lady Suite is taking flight! The pandemic-postponed show is a fine example of what Elision does best - small cast, one act, rarely done musicals featuring mostly female artists. Four short stories about four of our First Ladies are told by a cast of six in about 90 minutes, each one a gorgeous, funny, stirring mini-musical. The show is almost entirely sung through, with a unique, lovely, and evocative score by John Michael LaChiusa (see also Bernarda Alba, done by Theater Latte Da just prior to this show's planned original opening), and shows a different side to these historical figures we think we know. Only 7 performances remain, so make your plans soon to see another rare gem by Theatre Elision (click here for info and tickets, including half-price and pay-what-you-can performances).

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

"Othello: The Remix" by Minneapolis Musical Theatre at the Phoenix Theater

On William Shakespeare's presumed birthday, I saw perhaps the most original retelling of one of his plays that I've ever seen. Othello: The Remix was created by the Q Brothers, who in 2021 partnered with Theater Latte Da on their "Ghostlight Series" of virtual cabarets for an original series of short music-theater pieces called "The Rap Pack." Their rap and hip-hop retelling of one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies (developed with Rick Boynton) traveled the world and went all the way to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London. No one better than Minneapolis Musical Theatre to bring us the area premiere of this ingenious work, the 48th area premiere for this company that specializes in "rare musicals, well done." It's clever and fast and well-cast, and I think the Bard would be pleased to know that his work is still being interpreted and speaks to people living in a much different world than he did (that's really not all that different at heart). Like they say in the show "good storytellers borrow, great ones steal" and the creators of this show stole from the best to make something unique and original. You can see it at the Phoenix Theater now through May 7 only.

Monday, April 24, 2023

"The Pajama Game" at Artistry

Artistry is back, and I think they've got another hit on their hands! After financial troubles that cancelled several shows last fall and winter, they have pulled things together and are currently presenting the first of their three-show 2023 season. The 1955 Tony winner for best musical, The Pajama Game, is a great choice for their comeback. It's a classic musical, of the type they've done so well in their long history, but it's one that's rarely done (I've never seen it). It's light and funny with a sweet love story, but not without significance in its depiction of a union demanding fair wages for workers, and features a great score with a few familiar songs, even if you think you don't know the show. This cast is dynamite, the dancing is lively, and it had me grinning under my mask for the whole show. In fact it's so good, I will happily see it twice. Scroll down for details about a special event - a Pajama Party with TCTB! There's nothing I love to wear more than my PJs, and no better reason for a party than to celebrate the return of Artistry, an important fixture in the #TCTheater community. So put on your best PJs or poodle skirt, and head on down to Bloomington to see The Pajama Game, now through May 14.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

"We Shall Someday" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

The world premiere new musical We Shall Someday is unlike any musical I've seen. Theater Latte Da continues to expand and redefine the artform of music-theater. This new musical written by prolific and talented #TCTheater playwright Harrison David Rivers and composer Ted Shen is a series of "musical monologues" (as Director of New Work Elissa Adams says in a note in the program). Three characters each tell their story in one act of the piece through a monologue that is both spoken and sung. The three generations of one family tell the story of violence against Black Americans, as well as resistance against injustice and moving towards a better future for all. It's an epic story told in an intimate, moving, and lovely way. See the innovative We Shall Someday at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis now through May 14.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

"The Savannah Sipping Society" at Lyric Arts

Last night was a bitterly cold April night with sharp snow flurries in the air. But inside Lyric Arts, it was a warm and cozy celebration of female friendship in a springy Savannah garden. The comedy The Savannah Sipping Society may be a bit cliche (lots of jokes about bad husbands), but the cast is charming and it's wonderful to see a play about women of a certain age supporting each other through life's hardships, and encouraging each other to take risks, try new things, and live the lives they want to live. "It's never too late to make a new old friend," and it's never too late to see a feel-good comedy in Anoka - at least until May 7, then it will be too late!

Friday, April 21, 2023

"What I Learned in Paris" at Penumbra Theatre

A few months ago, the Guthrie produced a Pearl Cleage play called Blues for an Alabama Sky, a lovely and ultimately tragic story about a group of friends living in 1930s Harlem. Now Penumbra is bringing us her play What I Learned in Paris, about a group of friends living in Atlanta in the '70s. This story is a little lighter, but not without depth. It begins on the night that Maynard Jackson was elected mayor of Atlanta, the first Black mayor in any major Southern city. Our group is filled with hope at the new world this event signals, but also aware that inequality still exists, in the areas of race and gender both. Director Lou Bellamy calls it an "insightful and often provocative romantic comedy," and this co-production with Portland Playhouse is fun to watch, while still exploring important issues that are still relevant nearly 50 years after this historic election. See What I Learned in Paris at Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul's historic Rondo neighborhood now through May 14.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

NYC Theater Trip 2023: "New York, New York" at St. James Theatre

Show*: 6

Title: New York, New York

Location: St. James Theatre

Written By: book by David Thompson and Sharon Washington, music and lyrics by Kander and Ebb, additional lyrics by Lin-Manual Miranda

Summary: An adaptation of the 1977 movie about two struggling musicians in NYC (played by Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro) for which the inconic song was written, with new songs, characters, and plots added.

Highlights: This is another movie I've never seen (which I don't think is uncommon); in fact I had no idea that the song so identified with Frank Sinatra was actually written for Liza Minnelli to sing in this movie. From what I hear, this one was changed a lot, and I think too many things were added. In addition to the central love story, which is compelling if a bit cliche, there's an added element of an interracial relationship, a Holocaust survivor, a mother waiting for her POW son to return (spoiler alert that's no surprise - he doesn't), a Cuban immigrant with an abusive father (who may also be gay), and more. I saw the show in previews, so it's possible they'll tighten things up before the April 26 opening, but right now it comes off as trying to do too much with too heavy a hand. But there are some great moments. Director/choreographer Susan Stroman evokes classic musicals like On the Town in her dance montages of NYC, and there's a tap dance number done on scaffolding high above the city that's a thrill. I enjoyed the mostly new score, and the cast is fantastic. Another SIX queen, Anna Uzele, makes the most of the lead role of Francine; Colton Ryan is a charming Jimmy, with more than a little Frank in his voice, but his own interesting delivery of lyrics; and Clyde Alves is a terrific dancer and sidekick as Jimmy's pal Tommy. The set is stunning (in what I heard may be the most expensive production design ever on Broadway) - multiple massive moving three-story structures representing apartment buildings with balconies and fire escapes, absolutely gorgeous recreations of many iconic NYC landmarks using lighting and backdrops, and an orchestra pit that rises up to take center stage in the final number. And that final number? The title song, of course. And the thrill of belting out "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere, come on come through, New York, New York!" with the cast, band, and a full theater, almost makes up for what the show may be lacking. There's a great musical in there, if they can carve away the extra stuff to reveal it.

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2023 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

NYC Theater Trip 2023: "Parade" at the Barnard B. Jacobs Theatre

Show*: 5

Title: Parade

Location: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

Written By: book by Alfred Uhry, music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown

Summary: A revival of the winner of the 1999 best book and score Tonys, based on the true story of a Jewish man in Atlanta wrongly accused of murder and lynched by a mob.

Highlights: Jason Robert Brown's score is gorgeous, haunting, and unsettling. As always he perfectly captures the emotions of the story in music. And the story of Leo Frank is a dark one. A Jewish man from Brooklyn who married a local woman and ran a pencil factory in Atlanta, he was an easy scapegoat when a 14-year old girl who worked at the factory was found dead in the basement. Politicians used the case to further their career, using the anti-semitism of the community and promising to "clean up" the South, and witnesses were bribed to falsify testimony. Leo was convicted by "a jury of his peers," and when the governor eventually commuted his death sentence to a life sentence after re-examining evidence, an angry but well organized mob kidnapped him from prison, transported him to the girl's hometown, and hung him from a tree. A brutal subject for a musical, but a timely and important one with the recent rise of anti-semitism. Ben Platt (Evan Hansen all grown up) is as good as expected, a beautiful and sober performance both vocally and emotionally. As Leo's wife Lucille, his staunch defender, Micaela Diamond is a great match, with a gorgeously strong voice full of emotion. The whole cast is fantastic, many of them playing unlikable characters. The raised platform on the stage puts the main action on display, with the cast often sitting in chairs around it. The stage is decorated with early 20th Century Americana, and also a few Confederate flags - disturbing to see (the show opens during the Civil War, showing the history of bigotry in the South). As each character is introduced, the historical figure's name and photo is displayed on the back wall of the theater, reminding us that this is a true story.

Seeing Parade is a beautiful and highly emotional experience. This is not a show to see to forget the problems of the day, but rather to take a square look at the often disturbing history of this country, and how that history is reflected in the present. e.g., a Neo Nazi group protested the first preview of this show - 110 years later and this ugliness still exists in our country. The power of this show is that it gives emotion and humanity to this story that Jason Robert Brown calls "a signal event in the history of antisemitism and white supremacist terrorism in this country, and the case was behind both the creation of the Anti-Defamation League and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan." What better subject for music-theater to shine a light on?

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2023 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

NYC Theater Trip 2023: "Some Like It Hot" at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre

Show*: 4

Title: Some Like It Hot

Location: Sam S. Shubert Theatre

Written By: book by Matthew Lopez and Amber Ruffin, music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman

Summary: An adaptation of the 1959 movie, set in the prohibition era, about two musicians who don drag to escape from the mob.

Highlights: I wasn't expecting to love this one as much as I did; in fact, it might be my favorite of the six shows I saw on this trip. I've never seen the movie, but my friend assures me that this musical adaptation hues very close to the original (which she also tells me is regarded as one of the best movie comedies ever), with a few additions to make it more current that feel organic to the story, not forced to make a point. After Joe becomes Josephine and Jerry becomes Daphne, they join an all-women band led by Sweet Sue (the fabulous NaTasha Yvette Williams) traveling across the country to California. Serial dater Joe (there's a joke about him not remembering any woman's name) falls in love with the lead singer with Hollywood dreams, Sugar (SIX's Adrianna Hicks in a star turn). After befriending her as Josephine, Joe dons the disguise of a German screenwriter, allowing the uber talented Christian Borle to have lots of fun playing three different roles and accents. Unlike Joe, Jerry slowly discovers that he feels more like himself as Daphne than he ever has (an authentic performance by non-binary drag performer J. Harrison Ghee who wows as both versions of the character). The bad guys eventually catch up to our merry band of musicians, culminating in a tap-dancing chase scene that is simply the best thing ever. The fact that our characters are musicians allows for many fun show-within-the-show numbers, and this jazzy score by Hairspray writers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is so great I immediately downloaded the cast recording. This is a show that is perfect for touring, a crowd-pleaser that's also really well written (by playwright Matthew Lopez and comedy writer/performer Amber Ruffin) and executed (director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw keeping things light and fun). It's based on a movie people love; it has an old fasioned musical comedy vibe, a fantastic score, and super fun dancing; and it's almost subversive in the way it works in issues of trans acceptance, feminism, and overcoming racism. And this is even without mentioning the gorgeous and versatile art deco set, the bright and lovely period costumes, and the awesome band - half of which is on stage for the entire show! This is movie adaption done right - a great score and book with slight tweaks to the original, making it feel current and relevant without changing what still works.

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2023 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

NYC Theater Trip 2023: "Camelot" at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center

Show*: 3

Title: Camelot

Location: Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center

Written By: Lerner and Loewe, with a revised book by Aaron Sorkin

Summary: A revival of the classic 1960 musical about King Arthur and his court that feels more modern and relevant.

Highlights: When you think about it, who better to update this story of an idyllic and idealistic land that adovates "might for right" and "justice for all" than Aaron Sorkin, creator of the idyllic and idealistic worlds of The West Wing and The Newsroom? Sometimes we need to believe in a world that's better than the one we live in, although with Camelot, it aimed too high and came crashing down. The story is mostly the same, although it's been too long since I last saw the original to know exactly what was changed. But the characters and language are very Sorkin (which is a good thing in my book). Guenevere seems to have more agency and is an equal partner with Arthur, and when she doesn't (e.g., her arranged marriage as part of a peace treaty with France), it's acknowledged. The downfall of Camelot happens as a result of Mordred's machinations and some of the old guard's dissatisfaction with the ideas of equality and chivalry, rather than a woman's misdeeds. And Arthur was in on Guenevere and Lancelot's escape. There's plenty of Sorkinian banter and soliloquizing, the language and characters feel more modern, although not out of place in this world, and the magic has been replaced with science. 

Bartlett Sher has become an expert at directing classics in a fresh and exciting way, although respectful of the source (see also My Fair Lady and To Kill A Mockingbird, recently seen in the Twin Cities). The lightness and humor of the first act gives way to a darker second act. The staging and design at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre (which is similar in shape and size to the Guthrie's thrust stage) is stunning. A bare wooden stage, soldiers ascending from stairs at the back, starkly silhouetted trees, a backdrop of snow or light, a few period set pieces (set design by Michael Yeargan). The 30-piece orchestra (sitting under the stage), conducted by Music Director Kimberly Grigsby, wows on this lovely score. Period costumes are of dark royal colors, except for the etherial pastel gowns seen in "The Lusty Month of May" (costume design by Jennifer Moeller). Hamilton's Phillipa Soo is an absolute delight as Guenevere with an angelic voice; Andrew Burnap is a charmingly Sorkinian Arthur; and Jordan Donica (whom I recognized from the CW's recent Charmed reboot) is a wonderfully full of himself Lancelot. This production seems to lean towards #TeamArthur, and I have to agree; they're portrayed as two friends and partners who fall in love but can't quite bring themselves to admit it until it's too late.

Camelot is still not my favorite musical, but to borrow a Sorkin word, I was completely ensorceled at the opening night performance. The atmosphere, the excitement, the crowd dressed to the nines, the beautiful surroundings of Lincoln Center, the gorgeous show and performances, made it a night to remember.

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2023 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.

"Hamlet" at the Guthrie Theater

To celebrate their 60th anniversary, the Guthrie Theater is presenting Hamlet, a special show in the history of theater and in the history of the Guthrie. When Sir Tyrone Guthrie began his experiment in regional theater in 1963, fortunately for us right here in Minneapolis, chosen out of a bunch of cities that applied as if for the Olympics, the first show was Hamlet. It was also the final show in the original building by the Walker Art Center, in 2006, before the Guthrie moved to the big beautiful blue building on the river. Current Artistic Director and director of this production Joseph Haj calls Hamlet "arguably the greatest play ever written in the English language." It's only fitting that this show is on the Guthrie stage 60 years later, along with a line-up of new works and reinvented classics, celebrating and continuing the Guthrie's long legacy. If you've been following along, you know that I am currently in New York City, seeing as many Broadway shows as I can. But what we have in #TCTheater is every bit as good, from the Guthrie's three stages to the newest theater company on a tiny stage somewhere across town. A big part of the Guthrie's legacy is that they have fostered and attracted talented artists who have gone on to start their own companies, helping to create the rich theater tapestry that I've been lucky enough to write about for the past almost 13 years. This excellent production of Hamlet is a culmination of the last 60 years as well as a move towards the next 60.

Friday, April 14, 2023

NYC Theater Trip 2023: "Without You" at New World Stages

Show*: 2

Title: Without You

Location: New World Stages

Written By: Anthony Rapp with music by Jonathan Larson

Summary: A solo show by RENT's original Mark that continues the musical's themes of grief, love, loss, and healing.

Highlights: Anthony's 2006 memoir Without You chronicles the beginnings of Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical as well as Anthony’s personal life during that time. Living with his playwright brother Adam in a small East Village apartment, they were, like the characters in RENT, trying to make it as artists in NYC. Meanwhile their mother was fighting her own battle with cancer back in their hometown just outside Chicago, and they were flying back and forth to visit her until her death during RENT's original run. Anthony adapted his book into this piece that combines storytelling, music, and photos. He plays all of the characters in the story, many with that familiar Midwestern twang. The show is a beautiful tribute to his mother, who supported his career from childhood despite her own struggles. Anthony sings multiple songs from RENT, including some that Mark doesn't sing ("One Song Glory" and the title song "Without You"). It's always a thrill to hear this music that I fell in love with 27 years ago from one of those original voices (which BTW sounds better than ever). Anthony also co-wrote a few original songs that aptly express the various stages of this journey, with David Matos, Joe Pisapia, and Daniel A. Wiess. The latter leads the awesome five-piece onstage band, as well as music directing and orchestrating. Next to Normal composer Tom Kitt provided some arrangements, making these very familiar songs sound new and interesting. The story moves briskly over 90 minutes (condensing the book, which I'm currently re-reading), and the staging has Anthony moving around the stage with a table and a few mismatched chairs in front of a brick wall, reminiscent of RENT's original set design (direction by Steven Maler, scenic and lighting design by Eric Southern).

As readers of this blog know, RENT has always held a special place in my heart, but now, 27 years after first encountering it, I'm at an age where I have experienced grief and loss. And I see my own life stretching out longer behind me than ahead of me, making this show even more meaningful. The stories around RENT (Jonathan's untimely death, Anthony's loss of his mother, and our own stories) make its themes even richer and more resonant. No day but today, indeed. Thank you Jonathan Larson, and thank you Anthony Rapp for continuing his work and his legacy.

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2023 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts

Thursday, April 13, 2023

NYC Theater Trip 2023: "Leopoldstadt" at the Longacre Theatre

Show*: 1

Title: Leopoldstadt

Location: Longacre Theatre

Written By: Tom Stoppard

Summary: An epic story covering multiple generations of a Jewish family in Vienna from 1899 through 1955.

Highlights: This is prolific playwright Sir Tom Stoppard (Arcadia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, et al) at his most personal. He has woven a story of generations from his own family history. His family fled the Nazis in Czechoslovakia when he was young, and he grew up in England knowing little of that history. Now he grapples with it in a play that spans 56 years and could easily be made into a 10-episode Netflix series with the multiple characters and stories it contains, some barely hinted at. We begin in 1899, with two interwined Jewish families putting up a Christmas tree for "the papist children," a couple of its members having married Christians. In over two hours without an intermission (which is a bit long, but does contribute to the epic and unrelenting feeling of the tragic story), we follow generations of this family (children in the first act are adults in the second with children of their own that continue into the next scene) into 1924 recovering from WWI, 1938 with the impending cloud of the the Holocaust beginning to spread, and 1955 when those that are left reflect on their history. In typical Stoppard fashion there's smart and witty dialogue, a scandalous affair, a humorous misunderstanding involving a bris, and talk of mathematics and art. All of this plays out against the backdrop of this once prominent and successful family having their property, culture, and lives stolen from them.

This is one of the largest, if not the largest, casts I've ever seen in a play. 30+ actors (including children) play these characters at several different ages in a complicated family tree (helpfully displayed in the program). They're all wonderful and make the most of sometimes minimal stage time (notable cast members include Joshua Malina from The West Wing, Scandal, and more, and Minnesotan Seth Numrich who was unfortunately out the night I saw the show). The set (designed by Richard Hudson) transforms from an elegant late 19th Century Viennese apartment, to a more modern '20s home, to the desolation of pre and post WWII, all with the change of lighting, a few set pieces, and the large piece of art hanging on the back wall. These changes are happening during scene transitions behind a screen upon which is displayed historical footage of scenes from the era.

Leopoldstadt (which refers to the Jewish quarter in Vienna) is a story of generational trauma and how it affects different generations differently, even those who were not conciously aware of it (i.e., the character of Leopold/Leonard who, like the playwright, was brought up in England with an English stepfather). Specifically the generational trauma of Jewish families who saw entire branches of their family tree disappear, cut off at the root by the Holocaust and now allowed to continue. As my sociologist friend says, it's also about "the lie of assimilation." Some of the characters convert to Christianity and try to put their Jewishness behind them, but no matter what they do, they are still treated as such by the people in power when it benefits them. It's a story of family history and ancestry, and how we keep those memories and stories alive when the players are long gone. It's an epic and dense play with may layers and many questions raised, one I would like to see again. Maybe our own Six Points Theater will take it on one day, although they're going to need a bigger stage.

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2023 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

"Ragtime" by Morris Park Players at Edison High School

It's rare that I get a chance to see community theater, with the plethora of theater in this town (e.g., 20+ shows are opening in the next three weeks). But I happened to have a free night, so I was thrilled to check out Ragtime by Morris Park Players, a Northeast Minneapolis community theater that's been around for 70 years. I became aware of this company last year when they did Falsettos, of which I'm still waiting for a professional #TCTheater production since the recent successful revival. I was super impressed by this risky choice, and their execution of the tricky work. Their current show is perhaps even more ambitious in scope and theme. Although Ragtime is a more familiar show than Falsettos (two local productions in the last 11 years), its huge cast, intricate score, and themes of racism, immigration, class, gender, and labor rights make it a challenging show. While performances are a bit uneven and there may be a few technical issues, as to be expected with community theater, I'm once again impressed by Morris Park Player's execution of this work, the level of talent in this community, and the heart and passion they put into the show. Ragtime continues through next weekend only.

Friday, April 7, 2023

"The Closing Night Audience Q&A for ROCCO'S CRIMES" by An Alleged Theatre Company at the Phoenix Theater

If you've been to a post-show discussion, aka talkback, aka Q&A, you know that sometimes they can be really great, and sometimes they can be painfully awkward. And sometimes even both at the same time! New theater company An Alleged Theatre Company plays with that idea in their original play The Closing Night Audience Q&A for ROCCO'S CRIMES. It's a clever conceit that allows them to poke loving fun at this theater thing that we all love so well, and maybe take too seriously sometimes. The cast is delightfully committed to the earnest silliness, showing off a bit of improv skills as well. See it at Phoenix Theater in Uptown this weekend or next weekend only (don't mind the unfinished entry way - it's open!).

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Broadway tour of "Hamilton" at the Orpheum Theatre

After four and a half long and eventful years, the Pulitzer Prize winning musical and cultural phenomenon Hamilton has returned to Minneapolis (rescheduled from summer 2021). I'm lucky enough to have seen it five times now, and every time I see it, it has a different resonance. From the fall of 2015 when things felt hopeful, to the night before the 2017 presidential inauguration when they did not, to now - not too long after this and every other live performance was shut down for a year and a half. Hamilton has something to say about every moment in our history and present. Senator Amy Klobuchar kicked off press night talking about the Save our Stages Act that provided aid to performing arts venues during that very long intermission, so the overwhelming feeling last night was gratitude. Gratitude that we were all able to be "in the room where it happens" - it, of course, being theater. Gratitude that Lin-Manuel Miranda's singular creation is still going strong and more relevant and amazing than ever. Hamilton is the quintessential American story told through the quintessential American art form - musical theater. While not without some continuing challenges, that art form is back, in big and small ways. And it doesn't get any bigger than Hamilton. It's the rare phenomenon that doesn't just live up to the hype, it exceeds it. And it's the rare three-hour show that doesn't seem too long; it's engaging from start to finish and never lets up its whirlwind tour through the early history of this country. Limited tickets for the month-long run are still available from the official seller here (please DO NOT purchase tickets from third party vendors), or enter the daily lottery for the chance to win $10 tickets.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

"Again" by Theater Mu at Mixed Blood Theatre

"At Mu, we believe universality can only be found through specificity." I agree with Theater Mu’s Artistic Director Lily Tung Crystal. Here she’s talking about their new original musical Again, but it's true of all of their work. For 30 years, Mu has been telling specifically Asian American stories from the Asian American perspective, about universal themes of life that anyone can relate to. Again is about Hmong American women living with cancer, an experience that's all too familiar to many people. The story isn't about being Hmong, it's about being human – relationships, career crises, disease, grief – from the specific background of the artists. Despite the heaviness of the theme, I found the musical to be much lighter than I expected, really more about friendship, community, and perseverance than loss and dying. The talented four-person cast (some of whom are purportedly making their professional theater debuts, although that's hard to believe) is charming and fun to watch as they bring this story to life. See it now through April 16 at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

"The Revolutionists" at Park Square Theatre

"Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?" This quote from Hamilton (coming to Minneapolis next week) could also describe Park Square Theatre and Prime Productions' co-production of The Revolutionists. Both pieces are a more inclusive retelling of history, both take place in the late 18th century, both feature citizens staging a revolution to make their country a better place. The Revolutionists is the story of four historical women in the French Revolution, so "who dies" is most of them (Madame Guillotine comes for us all in the end), and "who tells your story" is Lauren Gunderson, one of the most produced playwrights in the country and one of my favorites. She has a knack for writing historical women as if they were alive today, with modern language and experiences that relate directly to today's world. Her dialogue sparkles with wit and meaning, her characters are real and fully rounded people, and this fantastic four-person cast brings them to vivid life on Park Square's stage. Sadly, this will be the last play on that stage for the foreseeable future; Park Square has cancelled the remainder of their season to regroup and recover from a couple of tough years, and hopefully come back stronger next season. So don't miss this chance to see their always great work, this time made better by collaboration with Prime Productions, a company that focuses on telling stories by about women in their prime. The Revolutionists is another in a series of smart, successful, entertaining collaborations this #TCTheater season (continuing through April 16 only).