Monday, November 6, 2023

"Cold Planet Warm Heart" by Fortune's Fool Theatre at Crane Theater

Fortune's Fool Theatre's new original musical Cold Planet Warm Heart is billed as "a warm-hearted, family-friendly science fiction tale that explores themes of immigration, inclusion, and the need to both discover and follow our heart's desire." I found it to be really cute and sweet, and definitely appropriate for kids (although I didn't see any in the audience on opening night). It's a feel-good piece for adults too, about community, and finding love in unexpected places, and creating a peace-filled world. Teaming up again after 2017's lovely The Lady with a Lap Dog, Daniel Pinkerton (book and lyrics) and Robert Elhai (music) have created a fun musical with great songs that are both comic and poignant. The six-person all-female cast, some of whom play multiple characters, give earnest, heart-felt, and funny performances and sing the at times intricate score well. Check it out, with or without kids, at the Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis now through November 19.

The framework of the story is a pageant, held weekly in the small town of Median, Minnesota, home of the Upper Midwest Center for Universal Peace, to commemorate the remarkable event of an alien landing in their midst some years ago. This is a fun and clever musical-within-a-musical device that allows for some exposition, and that small town pageant feel. Some of the townspeople are playing themselves, some are played by actors. The story revolves around Andy (Madison Fairbanks), short for Andromeda, a name chosen by her scientist father, who has recently died. 30-year-old Andy dropped out of school where she was studying linguistics (she knows 30 languages) and moved home to live in her mom's (Christine Killian) basement. She works as a barista in her friend and Nigerian immigrant Ifede's (Fawn Wilderson) coffee shop, and is a bit lost trying to figure out who she is and what she wants out of life. Her best friend Sprocket (Xan Mattek) runs the town fix-it shop, and may be in love with her. Into this mundane small town life quite literally drops an alien named Wubu (Ariel Pinkerton) with whom Andy strikes up a friendship. She uses her training in linguistics to communicate with Wubu using their language of sounds, and introduces them into town life. But when an ICE agent (Eryn Tvete) arrives asking for documentation for the new arrival, the community has to scramble to save their new friend.

the love triangle of Sprocket (Xan Mattek), Wubu (Ariel Leaf), and 
Andy (Madison Fairbanks, photo courtesy of Fortune's Fool)
Jen Scott directs with a sincere yet playful tone, and a little bit of "we're putting on a show!" energy. I don't see a choreographer listed, but the movement and dancing is well suited to the music and story. Songs range from funny songs like the layered "Little Green Man" to Sprocket's lovely and longing ballad "I Can Be a Hero." The score includes beautiful harmonies and interesting rhythms with overlapping lines, well performed by the cast and the on-stage four-person band led by Music Director Justin D. Cook.

Since this is a small town pageant, the painted 2D set pieces of local buildings are entirely appropriate and add that small town DIY charm. The characters are dressed in comfortable casual clothes, that still allow room for personality. Wubu's costume gives them four arms and four legs, with tentacles hanging from a green hat. Areal Leaf performs the role wordlessly as Wubu speaks in electronic sounds performed by the band, with the English words projected on a screen, but she conveys every emotion in them through her facial expressions and movement of her eight limbs. Wubu's language is sung by Andy, with Madison Fairbanks' strong and clear vocals matching the rise and fall of the electronic sounds. (Set design by Michael Haas, costume design by A. Emily Heaney.)

I really enjoyed this new original musical (my favorite thing), even if I didn't love the ending, in which Andy finds the solution to her problems in a relationship with another... being, rather than finding it within herself. I was also expecting to see more of her dealing with her grief over the death of her father, which is brought up at the beginning and then left unresolved. But on the whole, it's a sweet story with a great score, well performed by the cast.