Friday, June 30, 2023

"LOCH MESS! The World's Largest Freshwater Musical" by Open Eye Theatre at the Bakken Museum

As Open Eye Theatre's Artistic Director Joel Sass said, the best thing to come out of the pandemic is their tradition of annual original musicals performed outdoors at the Bakken Museum's lovely green rooftop overlooking Bde Maka Ska. Well, one of the best things anyway (personally, it was my newfound love of Minnesota State Parks). In the summer of 2021, when we weren't quite ready to go back into the theater yet, there was a plethora of outdoor #TCTheater. One of the best was Open Eye's sweet, silly, and very Minnesotan musical LOG JAM! A Paul Bunyan Musical Spectacular. It was so successful and popular, they followed it up with HAIR BALL! A Bigfoot Musical Adventure in 2022. This year brings us LOCH MESS! The World's Largest Freshwater Musical (are you sensing a theme?). With book, music, and lyrics by Josef Evans and direction by Mr. Sass, this delightful and hopefully never-ending series of musicals is fun, silly, clever, and heart-warming. The 85-minute show happens at 7pm Thursdays through Sundays until July 16, and should definitely be added to your summer traditions.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

"bull-jean / we wake" at Pillsbury House Theatre

This season, Pillsbury House Theatre has been presenting work by playwright Sharon Bridgforth, whose play 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." That description applied to their January production of the bull-jean stories, "a beautifully lyrical look at love and resilience through the lens of a Southern Black lesbian woman in the early 20th century," and even more so to the conclusion of this series. bull-jean / we wake is described on the website as "a new performance installation and invitation" that "envelopes the senses with incantations, memories, and future visions that invites audiences closer to their deepest questions and longings." It's more ritual than theater, and is a joyful and life-affirming experience. The short run concludes this weekend.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

"Into the Woods" at the Guthrie Theater

Six years after their stunning production of Sunday in the Park with George, the Guthrie Theater is returning to Sondheim with Into the Woods. It's probably his most frequently produced work; I've seen it eight times now, all local productions in the last 12 years. Based on familiar fairy tales, it's also perhaps the most accessible. But once you're drawn in by the familiar stories, you find that it's surprisingly complex, with themes of good and evil, right and wrong, the consequences of choices, self-interest vs. the common good, and what happens when the fairy tale subsides to reality. It also contains some of Sondheim's most playfully clever lyrics ("while her withers wither with her") and singable melodies (the most famous songs being "Children Will Listen" and "No One is Alone"). For this production, the Guthrie has enlisted Sarna Lapine as director, niece of book writer and original director James Lapine, who obviously has a deep connection to the piece. Her direction is smart, clear, and playful, and the mostly local cast is a joy to watch. Whether you've gone Into the Woods a dozen times, or this is your first time, this production makes it well worth another journey.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

"Jersey Boys" at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres

Jersey Boys is my musical theater guilty pleasure, and the exception that proves the rule about jukebox musicals. Meaning, I'm not usually a fan of taking popular hit songs and creating a musical around them; I much prefer new original musical theater. Except for Jersey Boys, which I can't help but love and see nearly every time the Broadway tour came to town (four, although I missed last year's tour). After running for over 11 years, the Tony-winning musical closed on Broadway in 2017, but continued to tour the country for several more years. The reason I love it is not just because of the fantastically catchy music of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the sharp choreography, and the retro fashions. But also because all of this is put together very smartly in the true story of the group, dealing with the good and the bad of fame and living in the music industry.* Leave it to Chanhassen Dinner Theatre's Artistic Director Michael Brindisi to snap up the rights to the show as soon as it became available for regional productions, making this their second regional premiere this year, after the super fun and heart-warming The Prom (which closed just a week before Jersey Boys began performances). It's great fun to see a different take on this show that I love and am so familiar with. As always, the Chan delivers a top-notch production of this musical that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser (but one with substance) for the next eight months (click here for info and tickets).

Friday, June 23, 2023

"Much Ado About Nothing" by Classical Actors Ensemble at Tony Schmidt Regional Park

It's not summer in Minnesota without Classical Actors Ensemble (CAE) doing Shakespeare in a park near you! This year they're bringing us the rom-com Much Ado About Nothing, and as per usual they do it in a playful and accessible style. Performances are free and no reservations required (but recommended); you just show up with your picnic blanket, camp chair, and snacks to enjoy the show. And when you happen to get a lovely evening like I did, when the heat of the day has subsided and there's plenty of shade and even a gentle breeze, it truly is the most pleasant way to experience Shakespeare. Performances continue in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the surrounding suburbs through July 16, so find one near you and go enjoy Shakespeare the way it was intended - fun, playful, outdoors, and with the whole community in attendance.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

"The Burning of Greenwood" by nimbus theatre at the Crane Theater

On the day before Juneteenth, a long-marked celebration of the end of slavery that was finally made a US federal holiday in 2021, I attended a play about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Awareness of this atrocious event in our history that destroyed a thriving Black community has increased in recent years. In just 75 minutes, The Burning of Greenwood shows us a day in the life of the business owners and families in this community, and how it all changed that day in 1921. The unsettling thing is that over a hundred years later, the destruction of Black communities and lives is continuing to happen, if in less dramatic ways. Plays like this shine a light on our history and the way it reflects the present, allow the Black community to be seen, increase empathy and understanding, and hopefully pave the way for a better future. The Burning of Greenwood continues at the Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis through July 25 only.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

"You've Got a Friend" at History Theatre

Three or four times a year, the History Theatre hosts an event or concert they call "History Theatre Presents." Last night they hosted #TCTheater artists Jen Burleigh-Bentz and Bradley Beahen in a Carole King* / James Taylor tribute concert called You've Got a Friend. Jen was most recently seen on that stage in the ensemble of The Defeat of Jesse James, and Bradley's work as Music Director can frequently be heard on stages around town. In this one-night-only event, they shared songs and stories from two of the greatest songwriters of the second half of the 20th century for a fun night of music.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

"It's Not the Heat, It's the Stupidity" by Brave New Workshop at the Dudley Riggs Theatre

The common refrain: "it's not the heat, it's the humidity" can be heard frequently in a Minnesota summer. For their newest clever title, Brave New Workshop is playing off of this phrase with It's Not the Heat, it's the Stupidity (which is perhaps even more true). The longest running comedy theater in the country is doing something different for the summer. Typically their shows feature written comedy sketches, followed by a short improv section at the end. For this show, it's all improv, all the time! As host (and "boss" as the performers referred to him) Caleb McEwen said, there are just too many stupid things happening right now, and this way they can react to all of them daily instead of having a static script. Although there wasn't a lot of current events in the show I saw (yours might be different), just a lot of hilarious, clever, and delightfully stupid comedy. Each week's cast is pulled from a large group of some of the best improvisers in town, truly making each show different. The show plays every Friday and Saturday at 7:30 through August 5 (plus occasional matinees - click here for details).

Friday, June 16, 2023

"Island of Discarded Women" Live Podcast Recording at The Belvedere at Crooners Supper Club

Consider this your annual PSA to listen to Sue Scott's (longtime voice actor on A Prairie Home Companion) podcast "Island of Discarded Women." The over 30 episodes (available on your favorite podcast platform and on their website) feature comedy sketches, musical performances, storytelling, and interviews with fascinating and inspiring women. What began as a way for Sue to use her voice after she was essentially fired from her job for being "too old for radio" has blossomed into a platform to elevate women's voices from many different areas of life. A rotating cast of local actors and musicians join Sue on the island, along with resident musician Zippy Laske, who writes a new song for each episode that poignantly represents the theme of the stories being told. As a bonus, the podcast is recorded live every month, and you can go see it! Watch their website, follow them on Facebook, or join their mailing list to be notified of upcoming live recordings.

Monday, June 12, 2023

"Red Speedo" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at the Hamline University Pool

Just a few days after seeing an incredible site-specific performance of The Courtroom by Jungle Theater in a Hamline University courtroom classroom (which will be performed at the Jungle for the next few weeks), I returned to the lovely St. Paul campus for another incredible site-specific performance. Walking Shadow Theatre Company (which recently held a Feast at Black Forest Inn) is performing the Lucas Hnath play Red Speedo at Hamline's competitive swimming pool. The play is about a competitive swimmer who admits to his brother that he's been doping, and all of the action takes place at the pool. So why not stage it at a pool?! I love site-specific theater, because half of the work is done for you. You don't have to imagine you're in a courtroom or a pool, because you actually are. Then it's just sit back and enjoy the show as it plays out in a location where the story actually takes place. With Red Speedo, there's a lot to enjoy - a smart and concise script that deals with thorny issues, a strong four-person cast performing just a few feet in front of you, and a realistic and immersive design (caution: you might get splashed). Put on your flip flops and head to the pool weekends through July 1.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

"Next to Normal" at Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Twenty-five years of Peter Rothstein as Artistic Director of Theater Latte Da culminate in his final directing role, for the brilliant musical Next to Normal. Peter told us on the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers' new podcast "Twin Cities Theater Chat" that he's been wanting to direct this piece since he saw the Off-Broadway production prior to its 2009 Broadway debut, and the timing fortuitously worked out to be his last show with Latte Da. I've seen the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical seven times previously (the Broadway production three times plus four local productions) and this is as good of a production as I've ever seen. With Peter's usual clear eye for the emotional truth of the piece, this production hits every note, both musically and thematically. The local six-person cast is endlessly talented, and pours their hearts and souls out so fully, I'm not sure how they can continue to do it six times a week for a month and a half. Watching it is an emotionally exhausting but also fulfilling experience; it's a truly phenomenal production of one of the best musicals of this century. The show runs through July 16 but I highly recommend you get your tickets now before it sells out.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

"Sherwood" at Theatre in the Round

Closing out their fantastic six-show 71st season, Theatre in the Round is bringing us Ken Ludwig's swashbuckling comedy based on the familiar story of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. Sherwood is a refreshingly modern take on the legend, with female characters given more agency, and Robin Hood espousing kindness and justice. The design of the show extends to the walls, ceilings, and even into the lobby, as if we're stepping into Sherwood Forest itself, and the large and talented cast bring great energy and playfulness to the story, making the show feel like a fun summer popcorn movie. Theatre in the Round just announced their eight-show 72nd season, which also looks fantastic, including classics and newer works. But in the meantime, visit Sherwood Forest in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, weekends through July 2.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

"The Courtroom: A Reenactment of One Woman's Deportation Proceedings" by Jungle Theater at Hamline University

The Courtroom: A Reenactment of One Woman's Deportation Proceedings
is unlike any theater I've seen before. As the title indicates, it's more a reenactment than a play. All of the text is taken from court transcripts, arranged by Tony nominated theater artist Arian Moayed. If that sounds dry and boring, it isn't. It's surprisingly riveting. Yes, you have to pay attention, because the words weren't constructed to entertain and hold our attention, so it requires a little more work from an audience. There's a lot of legalize, but if you love Law and Order type shows, you'll love this. But the beautiful thing about Jungle Theater's production is that behind all the legal talk and formalities is a true human story. The cast, direction, and staging really make us feel that humanity, and at the end, the play has a truly beautiful message about the best that America, this nation of immigrants, can be. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

"Million Dollar Quartet" at Old Log Theater

This summer, Old Log Theatre is bringing back their 2016 hit Million Dollar Quartet.* Based on the historic night when Carl Perkins, "the king of rockabilly;" Jerry Lee Lewis, "rock and roll's first great wild man;" Johnny Cash, "one of the best-selling musicians of all time;" and Elvis Presley, simply "the king," had a jam session at Sun Records in Memphis, the show is a surefire crowd pleaser. The music that came out of Sun Records in that era, and these four artists in particular, defined a generation. A generation that's sure to head out to Excelsior to see this show, but these iconic musicians and songs appeal to younger generations too, and this fantastic cast brings this magical night to life with great energy. The show plays through next February, but summer is a great time to visit the lovely lake town of Excelsior with its many shops, restaurants, and beautiful views (click here for info and tickets).

Saturday, June 3, 2023

"Our Town" at Lyric Arts

Thornton Wilder's 1938 play Our Town is a classic of the American theater for a reason. It's a slice of life kind of play (or rather, three slices of life), in which not a lot happens, but everything happens. Our Town tells the story of an average American town in the early 20th Century, filled with average people. While the gender roles feel dated (the men go out to their jobs while the women stay home and take care of the home and family, and everyone is married), the themes still resonate. In fact I find the older I get, the more bittersweet the play becomes. The idea that it's the ordinary days that are the very stuff of life, and we rarely realize their value while we're in them, only becomes more relevant the more those ordinary days stack up behind you. Lyric Arts' new production uses the traditional bare bones style, and adds movement and music to help color the world of Grover's Corners. With beautifully sparse design and a talented cast, they've created something heart-breakingly lovely. You can visit Grover's Corners on Main Street in Anoka weekends through the end of June.

Friday, June 2, 2023

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" at Lush Lounge and Theater

I love Hedwig. I've seen her (and the Angry Inch) a half a dozen times (including the 2001 movie), and never cease to be inspired by this fierce and unapologetic misfit who encourages us all to be just who we are. I caught one of the final performances of Lush Lounge and Theater's production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, their second foray into the world of musical theater (I believe they did La Cage Aux Folles recently). For a bar best known for its drag shows (and being the home of Musical Mondays), both of these shows are right in their wheelhouse. And now seems like the perfect time to celebrate with Hedwig, with this irrational fear of drag culture among some politicians. To quote the director Maxwell Freudenthal, "We believe that all people are worthy of love, drag is not dangerous, and a queer person's right to exist exactly as they are is not subject to debate." You can see Hedwig for two more nights only, or check out Lush's event page to see what else is happening.