Sunday, July 30, 2023

"Pickup Truck Opera Volume 2: Romeo and Juliet" by Mixed Precipitation at Loppet Trailhead

One of #TCTheater's favorite summer traditions is here! After years of presenting a "picnic operetta," Mixed Precipitation has switched to the "pickup truck opera" format, which is basically the same except for no passed snacks, and there's a pickup truck. A 2011 blue Ford pickup truck to be exact. Previously they've performed in and around the pickup, in addition to using it to haul the show around the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota, but this year it sits on the sidelines (although it does enter the show at one point). What's consistent through the years of outdoor performances is a fun and accessible production of a classic opera mashed up with pop songs, retold in a playful and modern way. So pack a picnic, grab a lawn chair, and find a performance of Romeo and Juliet (a mashup of Bellini and Fleetwood Mac) close to you! Even if you live in northern MN, the Pickup Truck Opera is coming for you! (Click here for schedule and to make reservations.)

This is not Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, it's Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini's The Capulets and the Montagues (with libretto by Felice Romani based on an Italian play). So the story is a little different than what we're familiar with, but we still have the warring houses and star-crossed lovers (and a few familiar speeches from Shakespeare). This adaptation of the opera (written by Denzel Belin) sets the story in modern times between two warring social media companies, with Juliet a "social media darling" and Romeo a "viral stunt sensation." But Juliet is tired of the performative life of clicks and likes, pretending to be excited about her arranged marriage to Tebaldo when she really loves Romeo. Romeo tries to run away with Juliet, and fights a duel with Tebaldo, but unfortunately this story has the same tragic ending as Shakespeare. This is perhaps a bit more sober of a story than these summer outdoor operas usually tell, but there's still plenty of fun and romance and music along the way to the inevitable conclusion.

And about that music. A three-piece band (usually led by Music Director Gary Ruschman, who was out for the preview performance I saw) plays this lovely Italian opera whilst the cast sings (unmiked, natch) in Italian. There are no word-for-word supertitles, but rather short and quippy phrases that summarize what's going on, displayed on a charming scroll (with which there were a few low-tech issues at the preview performance that I'm sure will be smoothed out). A few pop songs sung in English are interspersed throughout and well-placed in the story, including Fleetwood Mac's The Chain and Landslide, plus others of that era. And somehow, despite the disparate musical styles, it all works and flows together.

the cast of Romeo and Juliet (photo courtesy of Mixed Precipitation)
Under stage director Tara Moses, the talented eight-person cast is playful and present, conveying all the extreme emotions but not being too serious about it. Our Romeo and Juliet are KrisAnne Weiss and Jennifer LeDoux, who sing some gorgeous duets. The cast also includes Paul R. Coate as Juliet's fiancé (also on guitar), Nick Miller as Juliet's father, Joshua Eidem as Juliet's life coach, and ensemble members Jacob Miller, Alijah Goetting, and Scotty Reynolds.

I saw the show in a lovely spot in Theodore Wirth Park at the Loppet Trailhead, just outside of the visitor center with snacks and bathrooms. Locations and amenities vary so be sure to check the website, but all locations are outdoors, so bring sunscreen and water and something to sit on. The backdrop is mini proscenium on a trailer, on which some scenes take place, but mostly they perform in an open area right in front of the audience. Set pieces are minimal, but the charmingly DIY props are pretty elaborate, including a pop-up diorama displaying a series of scenes between Romeo and his stunt rival, Juliet's brother (who dies in the most hilariously tragic way). The colorful costumes are a mix of modern and period. (Set design by Alex Hathaway, props design by Woody Timberheart, and costume design by Rhiannon Fiskradatz.)

Mixed Precipitation's summer outdoor opera theater has been a tradition since 2009. If you've seen them, you know why. If not, let this delightful new take on a familiar story be your introduction to the unique brand of fun and accessible opera/pop music mashups that Mixed Precipitation offers, and excels at. Pickup Truck Opera Volume 2: Romeo and Juliet continues at various locations in the Twin Cities and in Greater Minnesota through September 10 (click here for all the details).